If you’ve followed this column after every Pittsburgh Steelers win, you know where it originated. Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs once famously said a football game can be boiled down to just a handful of plays, and when you look at a game for a full 60 minutes you can see exactly why the legendary coach would think such a thing.
There are big plays, both offensively and defensively, which ultimately help turn the tide in the favor of the black and gold. Today we break down three plays which helped set the tone, and finish off, the Buffalo Bills in Week 14, en route to their fourth win in a row.
Play 1: Antonio Brown 40-yard Reception
In the first quarter, and no score, the Steelers came out in a no-huddle offensive look, using the short passing game as an extension of the running game. After a Le’Veon Bell rush for two yards on Pittsburgh’s second offensive possession, Ben Roethlisberger went up top for Antonio Brown, and it connected for a 40-yard completion.
For as bad as Roethlisberger was at more than one time this game, this throw was an absolute dime.
The Steelers come out in a 4-wide look, with trips to the right of the formation. Le’Veon Bell is in the side car left of Roethlisberger, and you can see just how route combinations can leave the best wide receiver in the NFL in one-on-one coverage.
Le’Veon Bell sliding out to the left flat out of the formation, and all other routes underneath, just look at the attention everyone, but Brown, draws. By the time the single-high safety realizes the far side cornerback was left on an island, it was too late. Beautiful throw, amazing catch, 40-yard completion. The Steelers would tack on the first touchdown of the game just a few plays later.
Play Two: Artie Burns Interception
Time to flip the switch to the defense, and one of the big momentum swinging plays made by the defense in this game. After Roethlisberger’s 3rd, and worst, interception, the defense didn’t just stand tall, but got the ball right back to the offense.
On the Bills’ first play after the touchback, Tyrod Taylor stares down Marquise Goodwin, and rookie Artie Burns comes up with the interception. Now, when watching the play, it looks as if this interception could be one of the easiest of his young career, and it just may be that, but these are the types of plays Steelers fans have seen defensive backs drop repeatedly throughout the years.
Burns not only comes up with the football, but shows discipline in the defensive scheme. As Burns passes Goodwin to Sean Davis in the back half, he realizes his responsibility in the flat is vacant. With no one there, he drops back into coverage and is able to intercept the pass. When watching the play several times, it looks as if Davis could have come up with the pick if Burns wasn’t able to get his hands on the football.
Bad throw. Bad decision. Great defense by two rookies.
Play Three: Le’Veon Bell 3rd Qtr. touchdown
With the score still close at 14-7 in the third quarter, the Steelers drove the football deep into Buffalo’s red-zone. With 5 minutes left in the quarter they turned to their primary play maker to extend their lead, and that play maker was behind an offensive line who was in beast mode throughout the entire game.
As the Steelers line up in the class ‘I-Formation’, Roosevelt Nix is leading the way as Chris Hubbard and Jesse James anchor the left side of the “heavy” package. Sometimes the most subtle nuances can make a play work. Watch Nix off the snap. His quick jab step to his right, followed by Ben Roethlisberger turning in concert with Nix’s fake, cause the middle linebackers to each take a step to their left.
David DeCastro then vacates his right guard position and pulls with the help of Nix leading the way for Bell. Of Bell’s three touchdowns this was possible the easiest, as he walked into the endzone, but watching Nix finish off a defensive back trying to make a tackle is always enjoyable.
This touchdown made the score 21-7, and helped pave the way for the Steelers 8th victory of the season.
Conclusion: Although the Steelers dominated the play from start to finish in this game, some key turnovers kept the Bills hanging around. Without these three plays, the Steelers could have easily been tripped up in a game they absolutely had to win. Nonetheless, the Steelers made enough plays to win the game and continue their trek to an AFC North crown, and a postseason berth.