Someway, somehow, the Steelers find a way more often than not. They did it once again in Los Angeles to defeat the Rams 24-17 and advance to 4-2.
It wasn’t a pretty start. The first half was the default first half for the Steelers- trailing 9-3, the offense looked terrible, and the secondary couldn’t slow down Puka Nacua. A Tutu Atwell touchdown on a wild throw cemented a bad first half for the Steelers, but they had some luck on their side. Brett Maher missed three kicks (two FGs, one PAT) and the Steelers took advantage of just about every opportunity thrown their way.
On the first play from scrimmage in the second half, T.J. Watt did what he does best and changed the game by intercepting Matthew Stafford and returning it inside the five yard-line. Pittsburgh turned that into six points off a Kenny Pickett one-yard touchdown run. The Rams would answer later on with a Darrell Henderson score and two-point conversion, but the remainder of the game belonged to the Steelers.
A 49 yard catch-and-run by Diontae Johnson helped set up a Jaylen Warren touchdown run from 13 yards out. The Steelers’ defense held strong, giving Pittsburgh the ball back almost immediately, which resulted in Najee Harris scoring the game-winning touchdown.
Stat-wise, Kenny Pickett didn’t do anything extraordinary. That said, he was efficient, and he made some good throws, and he made them when the Steelers needed them most. He got the ball out quick, especially when targeting George Pickens on the outside. If I’m going to be criticial of Pickett, I also have to give credit when it’s earned- he played very well today.
Pickens and Diontae Johnson, for all intents and purposes, were his only targets on the day, but they thrived. “Gin and Juice” combined for 10 of Pickett’s 17 completions, with Pickens going for 107 yards and Johnson going for 79, respectively. Both Johnson and Pickens had five receptions.
The offense also got in a groove in the run game, as well. Harris and Warren combined for 85 yards on 20 carries- not gaudy numbers, but more efficient than the run game has been. The offense had a slow start, but the second half was as good of a two-quarter stretch as we’ve seen from this team in a long time.
Defensively, the secondary allowed four receptions of 20 or more yards to Puka Nacua, who caught eight passes for 154 yards. However, Cooper Kupp only caught two passes for 29 yards, and Matthew Stafford went 14-of-29 through the air. The Steelers got consistent pressure and sacked Stafford twice, including Nick Herbig getting his first career sack. Larry Ogunjobi had the first sack of the game for Pittsburgh early on a third down after quick pressure from Alex Highsmith.
While it’s a shame he has to play this role to begin with, Minkah Fitzpatrick has been an absolute dog in the box. He led the team in tackles, and had multiple run stops in the backfield, including one that came on a third down to force a field goal, which was missed by Maher. Montravius Adams also had his name called a lot for pressures up the middle and multiple run stuffs.
We can’t talk about the defense without mentioning Joey Porter Jr. He was matched up multiple times against Nacua and he held his own with multiple passes deflected, and he also prevented a catch by Cooper Kupp on a crosser on third down. The more he sees the field, the better he seems to play.
Now, there were some flat out dumb mistakes that need talked about, Pickens was called for a blindside block that he didn’t need to even try to make, as well as a taunting call. The blindside blocked negated a big catch and run by Johnson, and cost the Steelers a potential touchdown. Johnson, himself, had a taunting call later on after Ahkello Witherspoon was flagged for pass interference. Instead of the Steelers getting 15 yards, the penalties offset. These undisciplined penalties need cleaned up. They didn’t cost Pittsburgh this week, but they can’t allow that to continue.
Levi Wallace also continues to be a total liability. He was beat on the touchdown reception by Atwell, as well as the two-point conversion by Cooper Kupp. I’d say there is no reason for him to continue to see the field, but we have been saying that for the last month and a half, and nothing has changed, so I’ll save my breath. Patrick Peterson didn’t look much better, but the bar isn’t high for the Steelers’ cornerbacks as a whole right now.
Overall, the Steelers are in a good spot record wise, and it was good to see the offense come alive in the second half-specifically with the run game. They are now 4-2 heading into a huge game against a very good Jaguars team that will look to throw the ball all over their secondary, and they are more than capable of doing just that. Right now, though, Pittsburgh can enjoy the win on the plane ride home from SoFi Stadium knowing they are just a half game out of first place in the AFC North.