It came down to the wire, or more specifically, to a few 3rd-and-long situations for both teams.
Football often comes down to just a play or two, but it really was evident in Pittsburgh's Week 6 loss at Tennessee one team made bigger plays.
3rd down conversions and stops told the tale of this game, tied at 23, with three minutes left. Pittsburgh had ample opportunity to close it out and set up for their first road win of the year, but one breakdown led to another, that led to another and so on.
Picking up at the start of the third quarter:
- Steelers are down 16-10, and put a nice drive together to start off the third quarter. It's 2nd and 6 from Tennessee's 11 yard line after a nice run from Isaac Redman.
- Something we're going to see a lot more of from now on. Tennessee drops eight into coverage on the next two downs, wrecking a crossing route intended for Heath Miller (ended up being a long pass to Will Johnson, who, despite his efforts, would have needed a phenomenal throw by Ben Roethlisberger to score his first touchdown), and a completely blanketed five-receiver pattern. Nice job by Tennessee's defense, but the Steelers are going to need to find a way to run the ball against three-men fronts to get the receivers some air at the back of the end zone. With zero threat of a run, the Titans had five defensive backs in the end zone.
- Ike Taylor is in coverage on his buddy Kenny Britt again, and Matt Hasselbeck goes for him again. This time, a slowly run post-corner. Britt complains for the flag, but the defender has the right to that spot just as the offensive player did. If he ran the route with any sense of urgency instead of rounding it off he may have gotten the call.
- I only bring this up because A.J. Green isn't nearly as lazy as Britt is. And I bring that up because Ike will be facing A.J. Green quite a bit Sunday. I'm not worried about this at all. Ahem.
- If officials are simply going to rule every time the ball hits the ground a fumble, then they need to give coaches another challenge. I don't really want them to have more of them, but the play they ruled a fumble on Ben Roethlisberger is one of the most ridiculous calls on the field ever. There is absolutely no way they did not have a clear view of Roethlisberger's arm going down to the ground as the ball comes out. They only called it because they don't want to blow the play dead, thus eliminating the challenge.
- Yes, it is interesting that I'm pointing this out, despite my years of rankle and ire over rules favoring the offense. This one does benefit the defense quite a bit, but it's so falsified, it really eliminates the need for officials. If they want to eliminate their jobs just a few games into their hard-fought CBA, I guess that's their business.
- Get the bleeping call right the first time. That's all I'm saying. Don't lean on replay.
- Tennessee's All Defensive Backs nickel defense is back on the field for a big third down play. Presnap, they have two safeties 15 yards off the ball, the nickel 13 yards off the ball and each corner is in man on Wallace and Brown seven yards off the ball. At the snap, one safety drops to 20 yards off the ball, and the nickel shifts over to double-team Wallace. Roethlisberger steps up against the soft pass rush and plays a little pitch and catch with Miller for the first down.
- That's critical for this offense. They need to get the receivers some help by drawing defenses in by running the...wait, didn't I just write this?
- Second drive this half the offense has gone 2nd and 6 into 3rd and more than 6. This may be important by the end of the game. Redman goes for a loss of two yards on second down, setting up a 3rd-and-8.
- The late-and-long situation brings out - yep - Tennessee's Length of Yosemite deep defense, again rushing three against the Steelers three receivers.
- Miller stays in to block with Baron Batch, and Wallace, Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are released into the pattern. Each of them are facing two defenders in whichever zone they enter, and there's still a deep safety.
- Roethlisberger throws a laser to Sanders as he's going to the ground. Great throw, great catch, first down. Unbelievable how Tennessee could allow that. Their seven guys dropped into coverage defended everything east of Memphis, but didn't cover the sticks against three wide receivers.
- Tennessee is absolutely unequivocally not getting beat deep. A run game could suck in the safety-oh nevermind. You get the point.
- Let's boil it down simply. Positive play on first down leads to a good second down situation, but the Steelers fail to convert. Third and long brings out the whole of the Titans secondary and backs them closer to Memphis, and they just sit back and wait for underneath throws. How many times are the Titans going to give that pass up? There's your second half offense, by and large.
- That quick screen to Brown had the makings of the screen run to Brown with Miller plowing the road. The Titans read it well, though, and the corner got close enough to take Miller's block at the line of scrimmage. Definitely a quality play, but if Leonard Pope could have reached the linebacker (asking a ton, but Miller could make it), Rainey may have gotten to the goal line.
- They go back to Brown to draw interference (easy call), and eventually, Batch plows his way in for the score.
- Excellent drive, and much needed. The offense should have been able to sit on this lead the rest of the game.
- Especially since they get another splash play by Lawrence Timmons. For as great as Timmons has been the last three weeks, this playcall ks perfect, and a well-timed and perfectly executed blitz by Will Allen.
- Yes, Will Allen. Second big play of the game. Don't forget his faceplant forced fumble in the first half.
- Hasselbeck seems to read Timmons and Larry Foote, who are showing fire blitz toward the offensive right side A and B gaps. Hasselbeck motions WR Kendall Wright toward the line, indicating his was making a hot read.
- Foote rushes, but Timmons slides over in coverage of the middle zone - right where Wright, the hot receiver, is going. Allen come hard off the way outside edge, and by the time Hasselbeck picks him up, Timmons has already gotten in his path. He throws it right into Timmons' gut.
- Nothing fancy at all about Batch's touchdown run. Just a nice push by the line, and Batch cuts the counter up inside to paydirt.
- How many games over the years have the Steelers lost when leading by four with eight minutes left in the game? Can't be many.
- Want to know why? Of the Titans' next 12 plays, four of them went for 12 yards or more, and one was a pass interference call against Taylor.
- On Wright's big 35-yard completion, the Titans ran the same kind of pick play Peyton Manning and the Broncos ran at Kennan Lewis and Cortez Allen. The Steelers corners are in man with two deep safeties, and the linebackers dropping into hook to curl zones.
- Cortez Allen follows his man outside, and Lewis is with Wright, who ran a deep dig, until he either trips up into Wright's feet or slips on the ground, but he fell down as Wright started to break across the safeties zone.
- Ryan Clark is on the offensive right hash, and is staying deep, respecting the double move of Cortez Allen's cover. Will Allen is floating deep along with Ike Taylor's cover, who's not going anywhere, but fails to recognize Wright running unchecked deep in the middle of the field. Probably the easiest throw Hasselbeck made all day, and a back-breaker for the Steelers on 3rd-and-long.
- This is where the wheels fall off.
- 1st and 10, Roethlisberger hits Miller on a quick and poorly thrown pass. Miller makes a great catch, and that easily could have been tipped in the air for an easy interception. Judging by the way Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace appeared to be blocking on the other side of the field, and the way Baron Batch turned around quickly looking for the ball, this play may have been intended to be a swing pass to Batch. If that was the case, he could have gotten a few yards more than Miller did.
- 2nd and 6, to start off with, the Steelers are facing basically nine Titans players in the box. Roethlisberger makes some kind of signal, whether that's a blocking change or a play change, I don't know, but the hand off goes to Batch on what appears to be designed to run off Ramon Foster's right side. Adams is blown deep into the backfield, cutting off the angle on Adams, and forcing Batch to cut back up the field, where he's got nothing but a yard loss.
- 3rd and 7, a classic Roethlisberger scramble. He gets chased out of the pocket after Miller (who was in to block on 3rd and long, in case anyone was wondering what Todd Haley felt of Max Starks' performance in this game) drove his guy around him. Roethlisberger escapes to his left, but the play had receivers flooding on the left. Batch was also in pass protection, but he released at the same time Roethlisberger spun away from contact. For a brief second, Ben had Batch all alone, and if he could just have controlled his body enough he could have made that completion.
- Could have been enough for a first down, too. Would easily have been the play of the game. That would have been asking quite a bit, but the drive stalled on three suspect plays, that all blew up for a variety of reasons.
- To kick or not to kick...Tomlin said "kick," and judging by the way the offensive line was starting to fall apart and Roethlisberger had made a few poor decisions in wake of that pass rush, I'd say his reasoning was he didn't want to turn the ball over without having given his team a chance to put points on the board. Debate it now and forever, all I'll say now is he didn't have a high percentage option anyway, and it's possible all three choices - field goal, go for it or punt - probably had equally high risk of failing.
- Kick falls short, and I'm not sure there's an honest Steelers fan among us who felt the defense had enough left to send this game to overtime.
- I didn't think there was a way in the world Harrison was in man coverage, even on a primarily blocking tight end like Jared Cook. I think Harrison was in man coverage on that play. And it wasn't even close.
- That being said, it's fair to point out A.) this defense is designed for surprise and everyone plays a little bit of everything. B.) the intention of the play was to get either Cortez Allen (blitzed from the slot while the safety picked up his guy) or Larry Foote (stunted into B gap) to land at the passer. Tennessee did a great job picking it all up, leaving the play exposed at its weakest point. Timmons' interception was the result of an unexpected blitz. This play wasn't too different from that. But they live and die with the blitz.
- They died Thursday. Onto Cincinnati. Please, no 1-deep coverage and get the running game going.