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. In this second installment, we will look at a protection breakdown at the end of the second quarter that prevented the Steelers from taking a 10, or even a 14, point lead into halftime.
The Steelers had an uneven start to the 2014 season, nearly blowing a huge lead to the Cleveland Browns, barely stepping off the team bus in Baltimore and experiencing an offensive explosion against the Carolina Panthers. In week four, they faced the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who had just given up 56 points to the Atlanta Falcons 10 days prior. All signs pointed to a 3-1 start and consecutive wins for the Steelers. On paper, at least.
Ben Roethlisberger would be sacked on the game's third play, fumbling a ball that would be recovered by the Bucs. Tampa Bay would score a few plays later to take the lead in the opening minutes.
The Steelers would pull it together, though, and would have a 17-10 lead nearing halftime, and driving for more points, until another sack would wind up halting any scoring chance they had.
The Situation: Pittsburgh's ball, 3rd and 6 at the Tampa Bay 26 (2Q 0:32)
Roethlisberger is in shotgun, all alone in the backfield. Four receivers are split wide, two on either side, with Heath Miller lined up next to left tackle Kelvin Beachum. Six defenders are in the box, with two linebackers showing blitz along with four defensive linemen. Roethlisberger takes the snap, but all five receivers are well covered. No routes go more than ten yards downfield, but there is little time to progress through the reads, and Roethlisberger is sacked for a six-yard loss.
What went down?
At the snap, both linebackers who were showing blitz drop into coverage, while the defensive linemen stunt on both sides of the line. Defensive tackle Da'Quan Bowers moves across the face of left guard Cody Wallace, who is starting in place of Ramon Foster. Wallace hands off the crossing Bowers and picks up the looping defensive end perfectly, but Kelvin Beachum is slow to pick up Bowers and is beaten badly to the outside. Using his momentum and considerable strength, Bowers is able to get close enough to the quarterback to grab the collar of his jersey and pull him down.
Roethlisberger gets up looking for a flag for a horse-collar tackle, but it is correctly pointed out on the broadcast that the penalty does not apply to any player inside the tackle box (Rule 12, Section 2, Article 15).
Anything but a loss of yards is acceptable here. The Steelers still had one timeout, and at the 26 yard line, were already in line for a 44-yard field goal. A completed pass taken out of bounds could have stopped the clock, and the play ended with 27 seconds, meaning there was still enough time to rush to the line for one more play before calling a timeout. But the sack left them at 4th and 12. A timeout was called, and Shaun Suisham would miss the 50-yard field goal attempt, his first miss of the year. In a situation where three points were likely and seven was possible, the Steelers would not score any. They would go on to lose in the waning seconds by a mere three points.