The Pittsburgh Steelers survived a close game against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night, resulting in a 23-20 overtime victory. The Seahawks may have been starting Geno Smith and Alex Collins over Russell Wilson and Chris Carson, but a win is still a win, and the Steelers enter their bye week at a salvageable 3-3 record.
As always, there are plenty of takeaways to be had:
1. The Wizard of Boz
In a year in which NFL kickers have had some unbelievably terrible games, Chris Boswell continues to be one of the most valuable players on the Steelers’ roster. Against Seattle, Boswell was 2/2 on extra points and 3/3 on field goals, including a long of 52 yards on his crucial fourth quarter attempt and a game-winner that went straight down the middle late in overtime. His injury-plagued 2018 season aside, Boswell has been one of the best kickers in the NFL during his time with the Steelers. His reliability is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Perhaps the most common critique of Steelers’ All-Pro linebacker T.J. Watt is that he doesn’t make big plays when it matters. But Watt silenced any of his remaining doubters with an overtime performance for the ages against Seattle, in which he recorded two sacks and a forced fumble that put the Steelers in position to kick the game-winning field goal. And even though Watt’s best stats came in overtime, he was pretty good in the four quarters that preceded it, recording three tackles for loss and two batted passes.
Watt is proving that he’s absolutely worth the contract Pittsburgh signed him to before the season, and those who disagreed with the deal should be finding it harder and harder to defend their position.
3. 0 seconds, 1 second? 3 seconds?
I’m still trying to figure out what happened in the bizarre play that ended the fourth quarter against the Seahawks.
Seattle wide receiver D.K. Metcalf made a nice sideline grab with less than twenty seconds left on the game clock, but he tried to gain more yards instead of stepping out of bounds to stop the clock and set his team up for a game-tying field goal. Steelers’ corner James Pierre then made a great play, punching the ball out of Metcalf’s hands. The fumble was recovered by Freddie Swain of the Seahawks, but by then the clock was running out and Seattle had no remaining timeouts.
Swain got the ball back to the hashmark, only for it to be spotted by what appeared to be a Seahawks player instead of the referee. But even that wasn’t enough for Geno Smith to spike the ball in time, as the stadium clock apparently hit zeroes. On the NBC broadcast it showed one second left.
The referees decided to review Metcalf’s unmistakable catch, which put three seconds back on the clock. It was determined that Metcalf did in fact make the world’s most obvious reception, and Seattle kicked the game-tying field goal with time expiring.
Some may argue that the end of game debacle doesn’t really matter as there may have been a second left on the clock regardless, and the Steelers still won the game anyway. But if Mike Tomlin, who usually is among the NFL’s most level-headed coaches, had such an angry response, perhaps it shows just how unusually terrible the officiating on this play was. There’s an expected level of incompetence for all NFL referees, but even that was somehow exceeded Sunday night.
4. On a different page
Chase Claypool is a talented receiver, but he’s had quite the sophomore slump so far this year. Besides his struggles making contested catches, Claypool has had an issue with staying on the same page as his quarterback, catching only 2 of his 7 targets on Sunday. On what has become a common occurrence, Roethlisberger missed Claypool by a mile on a vertical route the quarterback was expecting Claypool to turn around on.
On face value, it seems like Claypool and Roethlisberger’s miscommunication lands squarely on the shoulders of the young wide receiver, but does any of the blame go on Roethlisberger, who could be making the wrong reads? That's a question only the Steelers know the answer to, and it’s something they’ll have to fix if they want to unlock the potential of this offense.
5. Is that a run game?
Thanks to rookie runner Najee Harris and a rapidly improving offensive line, the Steelers finally have a fairly consistent run game. Steeler guards Trai Turner and Kevin Dotson have long been solid run-blockers, but it was the impressive play of inconsistent center Kendrick Green that really sparked the line’s play against Seattle. Harris rushed 24 times for 81 yards against Seattle, and even Kalen Ballage managed to record 15 yards on two carries. It was by no means a gaudy stat line, but it was clear that the team finally has what it takes to trust their runners to gain 3 or 4 yards on each carry, a major step forward for the offense.
6. Where’s Minkah?
Minkah Fitzpatrick is one of those players who can still be very good when he’s not showing up on the screen or stat sheet. His slow start last year was largely due to the fact that teams just weren’t throwing at him. However, while Fitzpatrick has showed up on the field this year, it hasn’t been in a good way. He was an offender in the Steelers’ run of missed tackles Sunday night, and the rest of his season hasn’t been much better. The NBC broadcast showed that he was ranked as the 84th safety in football out of 85 entering the game (per PFF). Of course, game grades and stat lines aren’t everything when it comes to football, but Fitzpatrick looks like he’s in desperate need of a big game when the Steelers resume their season.
7. Poor depth
Despite a Herculean effort by Cam Heyward, the lack of depth on the Steelers’ defensive line is beginning to show. Following a tremendous first half of defense, the line was continually driven back in the second, allowing Seattle’s backup runner Alex Collins to gash the Steelers to the tune of 101 yards on the day. Pittsburgh really needs to get Stephon Tuitt back at some point this season to strengthen the positional group, but that might not be the only answer. Youngsters Isaiah Buggs, Isaiahh Loudermilk, and even Henry Moundeaux have had flashes this season, including some against Seattle. It will take time, but as they continue to improve the Steelers may have strong depth on their defensive line once again.
8. Getting involved
Ben Roethlisberger mentioned that he wanted to get tight end Pat Freiermuth more involved in the Steelers’ passing game before the game against Seattle. He did just that, getting the rookie a career-high 7 receptions for 58 yards. It wasn’t exactly a breakout performance, but it showed that Freiermuth could be a reliable contributor for the offense. His strong hands and athleticism were evident on some of his more difficult catches and routes, showing that he might be a valuable piece in replacing what JuJu Smith-Schuster brought to the offense from the slot.
9. Not bad for a seventh-rounder
Tre Norwood did have his breakout game for the Steelers on Sunday, making several big third down stops and recording a tackle for loss and pass defensed. He was known for being a cerebral player during his draft, and it’s definitely shown on the field. For a rookie seventh-rounder, Norwood is bringing a lot to the Steeler defense, and paired with another pleasant surprise in Arthur Maulet, the Steelers have a sneaky good group of slot cornerbacks on the roster.
10. Splash plays for Highsmith
Alex Highsmith has had a nice season so far, but he hasn’t been as successful rushing the passer as some had hoped this season. That all changed on Sunday, when Highsmith played much like he did this preseason, showcasing a mix of speed, power, and technique. He recorded 1.5 sacks against Seattle in a performance that should have received more recognition if it hadn't been overshadowed by T.J. Watt’s end of game heroics. Alex Highsmith is really starting to come into his own as both a run defender and pass-rusher. It’s been great to watch his development throughout his young career.
The Steelers get to head into their bye week on a 2-game winning streak. Hopefully this is just the beginning of more to come.
Don’t forget to stay tuned to Behind the Steel Curtain for all things Pittsburgh Steelers throughout the 2021 regular season.