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Steelers film room: George Pickens’ physicality and team hustle pay off

Physicality and hustle are necessary ingredients for an AFC North win.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Headed into the bye at 3-2 and sitting atop the AFC North wasn’t anything that was widely predicted for the Steelers. Yet, here we are. This is as good of a time as any to take delight in the latest victory with a look through the view of the All-22.

Pickens Power

While there’s been talk that George Pickens has diva-like qualities, most divas don’t enjoy the dirty work. Pickens indeed does love to celebrate the spectacular catch but it may be just part of him letting the whole world see that he is one bad dude on the football field. This first clip comes midway through the fourth quarter where Jaylen Warren took over on the Steelers’ drive that led to a Boswell field goal, cutting the Ravens lead down to 10-8.

After getting to the Raven 31 via a spectacular 23-yard catch-and-run, Warren would take this handoff on the next play and get 10 more yards using a hurdle, a spin, a stiff arm, and the blocking of Pickens who begins the play at the bottom of the screen. (WARNING: this play is a jet sweep!) Pickens puts a shoulder right into the chest of 230-pound linebacker Patrick Queen and just stuns him.

How do you follow that up? If you’re George Pickens you smack two guys around on the very next play, helping Warren gain another 16 yards. The All-22 gives us a great look at Pickens. He starts the play at the bottom of the screen, knocking a poor defensive back right on his keister and immediately seeking out his next victim. The safety that starts the play on the hash mark at the five-yard line never saw it coming.

Disaster avoided

Remember how hopeless this game felt until the final 10 minutes? This next clip shows how close it was to an immediate horrendous start for the defense. This is the opening possession of the game. The Ravens have a third-and-two at their 33. The defense is expecting a between-the-tackles run, but Lamar Jackson sees Alex Highsmith crashing down to get the running back. Jackson keeps the football and in three strides he has a lane you could taxi an airliner through. Once he hits the 40-yard line, he has cleared every Steeler defender except Damontae Kazee. Kazee does what he needs to do. There’s little chance of bringing down Jackson in the open field without some help from his friends. He dances with Lamar and doesn’t let him get over to the sideline. There are only two Steelers to that side of Kazee and eight to his other side. Cole Holcomb disengaged from the left guard on the opposite hash mark and came to save the day. This very easily could have been a touchdown on the third play from scrimmage.

Desmond King sighting

The Steelers signed defensive back Desmond King on the roster cut day. With some “below the line” play from the other slot cornerbacks, many wondered why King wasn’t being used. I found his only defensive snap of the game. He starts the play on the hash mark at the three-yard line. At the snap, he presses the hole where the play is designed to go. Running back Justice Hill initially heads to the hole but cuts back to his left where an over-aggressive Cole Holcomb has lost outside contain on the play. King trails Hill into the endzone. You may notice that King is sliding to his right pre-snap. He had gotten onto the field late for this play and there was a communication issue with Minkah Fitzpatrick. It’s quite possible King was misaligned in the confusion.

Coverage has it’s moments

Sometimes it feels like the Steeler defensive backs can’t cover anybody. It was refreshing to see a few plays where every single guy did their job. This is a third-and-six early in the third quarter. On this play, the Steeler secondary blanketed everybody until the pass rush forced Jackson to scramble out of bounds after a one-yard gain. At the top of the screen, 20 yards downfield, a wide receiver breaks open on Levi Wallace, but Jackson had already tucked the ball away to make an escape and Wallace had deep safety help on the play as well.

Hot Rod Hustle

I don’t know if tight end Rodney Williams has a nickname, but I’m giving him this one. Anybody who watched the game remembers Williams desperately trying to corral the football unsuccessfully at the back of the endzone for a TD after Miles Killebrew blocked a punt. Here’s another “disaster avoided” situation where his hustle pays off. After Gunner Olszewski fumbled a punt return with six minutes to go in the game, Joey Porter Jr would snag his first NFL interception a few plays later to give the Steelers another chance.

“Hot Rod” begins this clip on the right side of the screen. He doesn’t stop running. He follows the play and when the Ravens recover the fumble and have a clean path to the endzone he takes off like a rocket (Rocket Rodney?). Around the 12-yard line, three Ravens are running together towards the game-clinching TD until No. 87 hits them like a runaway freight train.

Take some George Pickens getting physical, a Kazee and Holcomb tag-team, sprinkle in some timely coverage with a heavy dose of Hot Rod Hustle and what do you have? The Steelers sitting in first place in the AFC North.