Sometimes all it takes is one play. The entire game, drive or series can come down to one single snap of the football and which team is capable of executing a play that does more than just shift momentum in their favor, but changes the game.
There were several of those in the Pittsburgh Steelers' most recent victory against the St. Louis Rams in Week 3, and today we'll highlight three plays which changed the game for one reason or another. The Steelers won the game 12-6, and certainly needed each one of these plays to advance their record to 2-1.
Time to set the scene. This was the opening drive for the Steelers and they faced a 3rd-and-5 well inside Rams' territory. They were on the cusp of Josh Scobee's field-goal range (especially in a dome), but after Scobee's early season missteps, settling for a long-range field goal is certainly not the best option.
This play epitomized how good Le'Veon Bell is out of the backfield. As you see in the GIF above, Bell is blanketed upon his release from the backfield by the Rams ILB. It's the trust of Roethlisberger in Bell's receiving ability, and his incredible one-handed catch which turn this play from a possible incompletion into a huge gain for a first down. This play didn't result in a touchdown, but it did sustain the drive and was well within Scobee's comfort zone to give the Steelers an early 3-0 lead.
Imagine if this play had gone incomplete and the Steelers tried a long field goal, only to miss. Third down plays are huge, and Le'Veon Bell creates a mismatch in every sense of the word. This was truly a game-changing play, even on the opening drive.
As you can see at the onset of the play above, Ben Roethlisberger had already left the game with a left-knee injury and Michael Vick has taken his place under center. At this juncture in the game, the Steelers had failed to move the football the past two series, which resulted in three-and-outs. Deep in their own territory, the Steelers needed a play, and they turned again to No. 26 to get the job done, but this game-changing play was a team effort.
Take a look at the blocking here. The beautiful hole opened by Beachum and Foster, and the great pulling block from guard David DeCastro which helps spring Bell for a big gain to flip field position. Notice the patience Bell has in waiting for DeCastro to do his job. If he hits the hole immediately, the play is stopped for a short gain or no gain at all. The patience by Bell is what makes this play successful.
Look for the Steelers to deploy similar formations and plays against the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday Night Football. Although this play didn't lead to points, it flipped the field in the Steelers' favor and, in a defensive battle like this 12-6 game, sometimes that's enough to win.
The 'All-22' view of this play shows what a tiny window Nick Foles had to complete this pass. With Lawrence Timmons blanketing his receiver, it would take a perfect throw by Foles to complete this pass. Will Allen, who's playing the deep half of the field, reads the throw and is able to make a play.
This is a play the Steelers usually have seen fall incomplete the past few seasons. Players have been in positions to make plays, but they're unable to seize opportunities to alter the outcomes of games. Allen's interception was the first by a safety since one by Troy Polamalu in 2013. It had been quite a while since a Steelers safety had come down with an interception.
The Steelers' defense has been a surprise to many throughout this young 2015 season, and if they can keep making plays when they present themselves, as Allen did here, this could be a unit more than capable of winning games when the offense falters.
There weren't as many key plays to choose from following this 12-6 victory, compared to the team's 43-point rout a week earlier against the San Francisco 49ers. But that doesn't take away from the importance of these plays and the impact they had on the game.
If the Steelers are able to take comfort in anything with the absence of Ben Roethlisberger, they've still got tremendous offensive playmakers in Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Heath Miller and Markus Wheaton at their disposal. Leaning on those players during Roethlisberger's absence will be key to keeping the ship afloat until the captain returns to duty.
Defensively, the Steelers need to continue being opportunists. The defense is improving every week, and the communication errors which plagued the team in Weeks 1 and 2, have decreased significantly. As Mike Tomlin would say, their arrow is "pointing up".
The season isn't over yet for the Steelers, and these key plays point to reasons for hope regarding the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers and throughout Steelers Nation.