For those Steeler fans out there who have had the great privilege of attending a game at Heinz Field, you know the experience of the game is much different than viewing it on television. Between the constant replays and commentary, it is not always easy to notice everything that is broken down. But sometimes the in-person experience can bring things that may or may not be noticed by the cameras. Most importantly, feel for the game in stadium and how momentum is shifting for or against the Steelers cannot be replicated on a screen.
First off, it was a very strange experience heading to Heinz Field Sunday. For the first time I can recall, I did not hear a single “here we go” chant before the game. Not on the Gateway Clipper. Not on Art Rooney Avenue. Not in the Great Hall, and not in the Ford Fan Zone. Maybe I just missed them, but usually fans are chanting like crazy, even at preseason games. But not this past Sunday.
Confidence in this team was low coming in, but the first drive of the game started building some energy. It began with the Steelers finally getting a first down on their first drive of the game in 2018. Then it was marching the ball down the field with a balanced running and passing game. Next was the touchdown which really wasn’t. But there was a feeling that it didn’t matter – the Steelers were going to get into the end zone. And then the stadium erupted with the touchdown. The energy was back.
The missed PAT gave the fans a little bit of a reality check. It was a very subtle reminder of the woes the Steelers have faced thus far in 2018. It was also a reminder of the defense yet to prove itself which was about to take the field. But after a couple first downs, the defense dug in and forced a punt. With the ensuing touchdown drive, it felt as if the Steelers may have turned a corner.
There were some bumps along the road. In the second quarter even before the interception, it was obvious Ben Roethlisberger was forcing the ball to Antonio Brown. It seemed every time AB was the target, the throw was off-line. Then the poor decision to force the ball in Brown’s direction rather than throw it away squandered a great scoring opportunity. Having the halftime lead was nice, but leaving at least three points on the field was troubling. Fans still weren’t sure what to expect for the second half.
The defense changed the worrisome tone right away. After giving up one first down, they forced yet another punt. The response was a drive that ended with the first Ben-Brown touchdown. It seemed like the momentum was finally rolling in the Steelers’ direction.
The defense responded again, forcing a three and out. Then the play which sealed it for the fans in the stadium was the blocked punt which gave the Steelers the short field. It was that play which allowed the stadium to watch the game with confidence in a team who was not going to be denied on this day.
There were several aspects of the Steelers win that were apparent during the commentary-free in-stadium experience:
- Joe Haden was the man. He followed Julio Jones wherever he went and kept him from even recording a catch in the first half. Jones was not a factor in the game until it was already out of reach.
- The run game matters! Not playing from behind and being able to establish both the run and the short passing game to the running back is key to allowing things such as the play-action pass to be effective.
- L.J. Fort was having a great day, even before the TD. Not only did he bring pressure on the blitz, his tackling was solid.
- Terrell Edmunds is improving. He made a nice tackle on third down to force a punt. But the play that really stood out to me was late in the game when he missed a tackle. After not making the play initially, Edmunds got back up and came back into the play to help get the receiver to the ground. Not giving up is exactly what you want to see out of a young player.
- It was nice to see a defense that was bringing pressure from various places. After the Artie Burns almost interception (which would’ve been a very nice catch if he had made it), it was great to see the Steelers come back with a blitz, even though they did give up the first down. Even then, the Steelers continued to bring pressure which led to the strip-sack and touchdown.
- There were some different personnel packages deployed on offense. My personal favorite was a “13 personnel” package with three tight ends, Antonio Brown, and James Conner. With the defense going with a run-heavy response, the Steelers bunched all three tight ends to the right while splitting James Conner out wide with AB to the left in order to pass. Additionally, a 47-yard touchdown coming on play action mad the offense seem to at least have some new wrinkles.
I’m hoping the NFL network replays the game at some point this week so I can try to break it down from the TV perspective. But even if I don’t get to see the game in its entirety, I was like many Steeler fans that slept well after a great in-stadium experience.