Most games feature one or more big plays -- pivotal plays that make careers and highlight reels. But nearly as often, a hidden play occurs that seems minor at the time, but a retrospective look reveals the enormity of it's impact on the game. This series examines some of those plays that subtly, but certainly, affected the outcome of games for the Pittsburgh Steelers, win or lose. Today, we will look at a how a single step before the ball was snapped may have dictated the results of the season opener against the Cleveland Browns.
Mistakes happen. It's the reality of the human condition that we will do things to negatively affect outcomes for ourselves and our peers. The most painful of those mistakes are often the ones we make by doing things right.
For the Browns, that happened on a red zone play as they were poised to take the lead, or at least tie the game at three.
The Situation: Cleveland's ball, 2nd and 9 at the Pittsburgh 16 (1Q 6:58)
Cleveland comes out in the pistol formation -- the quarterback is not immediately under center, and the running back is lined up directly behind him. Cleveland has two wide receivers lined up to the left side, and two tight ends tight to the line on the right, both in a three-point stance. Wide receiver Miles Austin, lined up two yards to the left and one yard behind the left tackle, begins moving in motion from left to right. At the snap, he runs a slant, with cornerback Cortez Allen in coverage. Quarterback Brian Hoyer's throw goes to Austin's back shoulder, as Allen has the front side well covered. Austin backtracks to make the catch at the 13 and Allen, now badly out of position, misses the tackle. Austin covers another nine yards to the four, but a flag is thrown for an illegal shift on Austin.
What went down?
Tight end Jim Dray reaches his position to the right of Jordan Cameron, the other tight end, and lines up directly beside him, on the line of scrimmage. Jordan Cameron realizes that he is now covered up and ineligible as a receiver, and wisely backs up. This makes him eligible again, as he is now technically in the backfield. The problem, though, is that Austin has already begun moving. That put two men in motion at once, and the flag was thrown quickly.
The play resulted in a do-over of the second-down play, this time at 2nd and 14. The next two plays would result in zero yards, as Brett Keisel forced a throw-away on second down, and a screen to Cameron on third down went nowhere. The Browns would settle for a field goal, tying the game at three.
Had the play stood, though, it would have been 1st and goal from the Pittsburgh 4, with momentum. Two plays prior, Hoyer had hit Cameron for 47 yards. The penalty changed the down and distance drastically, though, and forced two throws, when they could have taken four shots from the four instead. One step backward, prior to the snap, potentially kept four points off the board for Cleveland.
They would go on to lose by just three.