Thursday Night Football games usually are not very good. Players and coaches only get 4 days to prepare, and the quality of play usually is lacking. However, for the Pittsburgh Steelers, on Thanksgiving night the black and gold were executing at a pretty high level en route to their 6th win of the season, and second in a row.
We are going to take a look at four plays which we felt were “game-changing plays” in the 28-7 win for the boys from the Steel City.
Let’s get this party started.
Already with a 7-0 lead, thanks to a Le’Veon Bell rushing touchdown, the Steelers defense was able to get the ball back in the hands of their offense, and the offense wasted little time putting more points on the board.
The first play we diagnose is one which is almost undefendable in today’s NFL. The back shoulder throw, when the route is run by a player like Antonio Brown, and the quarterback throwing the ball is like Ben Roethlisberger, sometimes you just have to throw your hands up as a defender.
Just like Vontae Davis did here.
Being the best receiver in the world often times means knowing just how to manipulate defensive backs, both physically and with their eyes. Brown does both of these on this play. When he reaches the 4-yard line Davis is convinced the throw is going to be a back corner throw.
Why? Watch Brown’s eyes throughout the route. He is locked on the end zone, and he waits for Davis to look back at the football when he turns his head. Once Davis does this, he is vulnerable to the back shoulder throw. His entire body, and momentum, is carrying him forward, and Brown just has to turn and catch the football for a perfect touchdown strike.
Some will say Brown gets away with a little “ole” with his left arm while turning to catch the football, but the best receivers in the league get breaks like this on a weekly basis. The push, if any occurred, certainly wasn’t egregious.
With an early 14-0 lead, the Colts knew their back was against the wall without Andrew Luck. Field goals weren’t going to do the trick in the red-zone, and Chuck Pagano went for the touchdown twice on fourth-and-goal situations, and failed on both. Let’s take a look at the first attempt.
Some fans love to hate on Lawrence Timmons. No, he isn’t as good in coverage as he used to be, but his football IQ can still help the team in a lot of scenarios. Like the play above. Tolzien knows exactly where he is going with the football after the snap.
He looks off the safety, and turns to fire a bullet to rookie wide receiver Chester Rodgers. Tolzien likely thinks Shazier is blitzing on the play, which would require Chester to simply sit down in the vacated spot for an easy touchdown, but when Shazier drops into coverage it changes things. Remember he is a backup quarterback with 4 days of prep leading into this game.
Nonetheless, Rodgers’ move is enough to create space, but you see a blur flash across the screen. That blur is Timmons. Reading the quarterback’s eyes, Timmons, or maybe just a poor throw, require Tolzien to throw behind Rodgers. Shockingly, Rodgers almost corrals the pass, but Mike Mitchell wisely comes over to dislodge the ball from the receiver, giving the ball back to the offense.
As stated before, this was just the first of two fourth-and-goal situations. The second was more dicey for the black and gold, but came away with the same result.
This fourth down pass intended for Phillip Dorsett had to be perfect. Dorsett’s move was enough to create separation from Timmons, but the pass wasn’t able to be caught by the young receiver.
Timmons was in good position, but in reality this should have been a touchdown. Tolzien put the football where only his receiver could catch it, it hits the receiver’s hands, but falls harmlessly to the turf. That’s 0-2 in fourth-and-goal situations, and left the door wide open for the Steelers offense to add more points to the scoreboard.
This is exactly what the offense did after Mike Mitchell’s interception in the fourth quarter. When most expected the unit to simply settle for a Chris Boswell field goal, the team put the pedal down with a nifty route by Brown for his third touchdown of the game.
Brown has Vontae Davis’ number, always has, but when he left with an injury, his backup didn’t do too well for himself. Here you see a 3rd and 4 play where the defender is expecting the out-route to Brown for a first down, a play the Steelers run a lot in these types of situations.
What he doesn’t expect is Brown to put his foot in the ground and turn it up field for an easy touchdown as he waltzes into the end zone untouched. Maybe he was supposed to have safety help over the top, or maybe he just guessed wrong, it is tough to tell with this angle, but one this is certain — Roethlisberger to Brown is still a ridiculous combination anywhere on the field.
Unlike in previous games where the defense stood tall, or the offense took flight, this game had it’s moments for both the offense and defense. A football game can be won or lost by just a handful of plays, and the Steelers won those plays in Week 12.