Let’s start this off by being fair: I did not expect the Pittsburgh Steelers to prevail over the New England Patriots; I truly didn’t. Being a Steelers fan, albeit a new one, doesn’t make me blind to the most likely outcomes.
I understand that this is going to be a much different experience than being a Patriots fan when Brady was on the team, or even a Buccaneers fan with Brady at the helm…you simply expect to watch your team(s) win those games. It’s confusing when anything else happens.
I remain a huge personal fan of MIke Tomlin, who, as I have said, I consider the second-best coach in the league right now. Unfortunately, he found himself matched up against the best coach in the National Football League.
Okay, let’s take a look at my prediction and keys to victory and see how those went:
For the Steelers to win this game:
- They must get pressure on Mac Jones even with the absence of T.J. Watt. Second-year Quarterback Mac Jones completes a high percentage of his passes and can be pretty dangerous when he is given time to look around the field. While he may not have had a top-tier TD:INT ratio last season, he is usually pretty careful with the ball and doesn’t have much of a tendency to just heave it somewhere.
- The Steelers must NOT lose the turnover battle. While they won’t necessarily need to have a 5-0 domination in the turnover battle as they did against the Bengals, the Steelers simply do not have an offense that can afford to give opponents extra possessions. In fact, the Steelers have an offense that could use an extra possession or two of its own every game.
- The Steelers must generate some first downs and they must design some plays that use the ground to do it. Obviously, this is easier said than done with the Offensive Line that the Steelers have, but they have got to mix it up so that the offense stays on the field longer this game. I don’t care how good your defense is, you’re not going to win forever when the opponent’s time of possession is 65% more than yours is. Belichick defenses are too good at capitalizing on even the smallest quarterback mistakes and tend to be all over the place in coverage, so the less Trubisky has to throw to advance the chains, the better.
PREDICTION: I hate to do it, but:
Patriots: 20 Steelers: 16
Actual Result: Patriots 17, Steelers 14
This basically went as I expected. It was also somewhat a game of threes as there were three total Field Goals to three total touchdowns. Unfortunately for the Steelers, the Patriots had two of the three touchdowns scored in the game whilst it was true of Field Goals for the Black & Gold.
With that, how did these keys to victory go? Let’s look into it:
1.) Pressure on Mac Jones–Nope, not really. Mac Jones was sacked zero times, in fact, they only put three QB hits on the guy throughout the entire game.
The problem is obviously the absence of T.J. Watt. The man is a one man wrecking crew on his own, and opposing quarterbacks are the demolition site…actually, the field would be the demolition site, so the quarterbacks…oh, hell with this metaphor!
Anyway, even when Watt doesn’t get to the quarterback, it’s often because he’s drawing the attention of two blockers. When that happens, it enables other guys on the Steelers blitz package to get to the quarterback, more than that, it tightens up what offenses are able to put together because of the commitment that they have to make to pass protection.
In any event, Mac Jones was able to avoid sacks and the Patriots’ offensive line was able to protect him. Because they could mostly handle the blocking on a one-on-one basis, it was a matter of Mac Jones being able to identify the likely blitzers, in addition to the guys in front. Mac Jones handled that task well; he handles most tasks pretty well, so the Patriots eeked out a slim victory.
2.) The Steelers must NOT lose the turnover battle–So, the Steelers lost the turnover battle. They lost the turnover battle 2-1 as both quarterbacks had one interception, but Gunner Olszewski also coughed the ball up to the Patriots.
Honestly, this game was closer than I would have expected if I could somehow go into it knowing that the Steelers would lose the turnover battle AND would fail to ever sack Mac Jones. If you’d have asked me for an expected score under those circumstances, my reply might have been, “I don’t know, what? 31-13, something like that?”
In fact, I thought it would be important for the Steelers to just win the turnover battle by one or two, and looking at the final score, I feel a bit vindicated in knowing that two Steelers takeaways may well have made the difference in this game. On the other hand, it could be argued that such is true in ANY close game, but even more especially low-scoring ones.
In fact, the interceptions were almost self-negating. Both interceptions would come in the first quarter, the first coming off of a deflected Mitch Trubisky pass that found its way to a Patriots defender. I’d hate to take Trubisky to task on this one, but I don’t think it was a great ball. It wasn’t exactly triple coverage, but he tried to thread the needle either to the right of or over the head of the inside man, and the defender did make a good diving play to tip the ball, but I still don’t know about making that throw.
A snap would take place not even 45 (game) seconds later which would see Mac Jones drop back on a Patriots 3rd & 5, feel pressure coming in on him, fast, from his left (this was one of the few QB hits that day) and then Jones would make a very ill-advised throw downfield into double-coverage. On the other hand, some might say it wasn’t THAT bad and just call it an arm punt, though you’d usually expect your punter to pin the Steelers inside the ten, or at worst, the twenty, given where he’d be punting from.
With that, the result of the two interceptions in this game was just the Steelers ending up with much worse field position than they had before Trubisky’s…not ‘bad’...but questionable throw.
The other turnover in the game was not quite as neutral. Gunner Olszewski managed to muff an attempted punt return that he had absolutely no business trying to catch and run with anyway. If he called a fair catch, I certainly didn’t see it, but a Patriots special teamer had a great position on Olszewski either way. There was a time that you’d never think about anything other than a fair catch (or letting it go) on that ball because, once upon a time, trying to catch that and run would result in you having your head promptly removed from your shoulders.
In any event, it was a muff on one of those knuckleball punts that the commentators even referred to as a, “Wobbler,” why Olszewski didn’t just let it go, I have no idea.
Anyway, giving the ball to the Patriots at the twenty you are defending is usually not the best game play, so it went about as expected as New England would punch it in for six just over a minute later.
Ultimately, the Steelers lost the turnover battle, one of those turnovers led directly to a Patriots touchdown, which is arguably the difference in this ballgame.
I didn’t go as far as to say the Black & Gold needed to win the turnover battle, but I said they must not lose it. Not to pat myself on the back or anything, but I am going to take a second and pat myself on the back…especially since my Week 3 takes will probably be exactly wrong.
3.) First Downs on the ground—Eh, it was alright. Although, the one piece of good news from this game is that Trubisky threw some really nice intermediate and deep balls, particularly in the second quarter. He targeted Diontae Johnson (followed by Pat Freiermuth) the most; the offense even had a few drops that weren’t at all on Mitch.
Anyway, the ground attack produced 91 yards on 22 ground plays, so that’s an improvement. Najee Harris even had a better game, despite having a little bit of a banged up foot, and ran for 49 yards on 15 attempts, which isn’t great, but is at least over three yards per attempt.
The Steelers converted more than half of their third down tries and also only had two fewer First Downs for the game than did the Patriots, so I am going to say this was an offensive improvement that’s not inspiring, but did enough to keep the game close. Overall, my grade is that the Steelers basically did Key #3 successfully (enough).
As I remarked above, I thought the offense had an okay game, especially compared to the winning effort in Week 1. Mitch Trubisky got to take a few intermediate shots downfield and I thought most of those passes looked pretty good. There were also a couple of drops that weren’t on him with the most egregious of those probably being a Freiermuth drop in the second quarter where Pat seemed to have extra yards on his mind rather than securing the biscuit first.
The running game looked much better, unfortunately, it still didn’t look good. It was at least enough of a threat that the Steelers were able to run a balanced offense to keep the Pats D from selling out against the pass and stuffing the run just with their front guys.
Trubisky got sacked three times, compared to one time last week, but Patriots defenders generally had a tougher time getting to the Steelers in the backfield than the Bengals did in Week 1 as only three tackles (aside from the sack) were for a loss.
I remain sick of the Steelers throwing short of the chains on long, or longish, third down conversion attempts. That’s not on Mitch; it’s on Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada; they did the same thing when Roethlisberger was the quarterback.
In addition to the muffed punt, another key moment that turned the game, in my opinion, was the decision to punt with roughly 6:40 left in the fourth quarter rather than the Steelers trying to attempt a 4th and 2 conversion. I know, I know…that’s probably going to be a bit controversial on my part, but the Steelers had managed only 14 points, to that point (and in the game), so I figure attempting the 4th and 2 conversion is your best shot at winning.
Otherwise, you’re punting the ball to a team with a decent ground attack and a quarterback who has only made two real mistakes in the game (In addition to the interception the Steelers’ defense tallied, Jones threw another ball that, by all rights, should have been picked, but was dropped). For that reason, I hated the punt and believed that the most likely result of the Patriots drive would be for the Steelers to end up with the ball (after a Patriots punt) with much less time on the clock and, AT BEST, the same field position…though I also thought the field position would end up being worse.
Again, Trubisky made some decent intermediate throws, many of which found their marks, but the Steelers weren’t moving the ball so well that I would want to have fewer than two or three minutes, potentially, to have to try to get in field goal range…just to force overtime.
I’m pretty confident that they would have went for that 4th and 2 from their own thirty has they been down anywhere from 4-8 points and needed a touchdown, but the fact that they only needed a Field Goal to tie, in my opinion, is why they went with the more conservative decision. Personally, I just don’t think the Steelers offense was moving the ball well enough, or fast enough, to go the conservative route…especially since Trubisky is going to be forced to throw if the Patriots manage to burn a lot of clock.
The end result was far worse than that, unfortunately. The Patriots ran the ball straight down the Steelers’ throats for the rest of the game and the Black & Gold would not see another offensive possession. 17-14; that’s all she wrote.
Offensive Strong Points:
1.) Diontae Johnson is truly ridiculous. His feet are arguably better than his hands; he might be one of the best sideline receivers I have ever seen; I guess time will tell.
2.) Look, Mitch Trubisky played better than his 73.8 QB RATE would indicate. His line was 21-33 for 168 yards, one touchdown, one pick. You can do worse than that against a Belichick defense. He also didn’t have any truly terrible throws that I noticed; the throw resulting in an interception might have been ill-advised, but it also took a great defensive play to get that tip.
Of course, I expect the public and the talking heads to be clamoring for Pickett and crapping all over one, Mitch Trubisky. They did it last week…and the Steelers WON last week. Are they going to be talking about the muffed punt leading directly to the Patriots touchdown? Probably a little bit, but I suspect they’ll be talking more about Trubisky.
Trubisky put together a great touchdown drive in the second half and also looked excellent in the second quarter. There were a few drops that weren’t his fault, particularly the second quarter drop by Freiermuth that could have turned into a big play.
The Steelers lost this game because they lost the turnover battle…in maybe the worst way you CAN lose a turnover battle by one turnover and also because they couldn’t get to Mac Jones very often as a result of T.J. Watt being out; they absolutely did NOT lose this game because of Trubisky.
3.) The running attack didn’t look great, but it certainly looked better. You don’t need to have the best running attack in the league to keep the defense honest, and the Steelers certainly do not have the best running attack in the league, but the ground game was competent this week.
Offensive Weak Points:
1.) I think the play calling wasn’t great, at times. I absolutely hate throwing short of the sticks on third down plays, but the Steelers sure like to do it a bunch. I’d almost rather see Trubisky spread the field out and try to take off with it if he can’t find anyone; you could maybe even get creative and keep a lateral open as an option. Whatever the case, throwing short of the sticks and hoping for your defender to break a tackle with his back to the defender as he catches the ball usually isn’t going to work too well.
Furthermore, I still maintain they should have went for it on 4th and 2 from their own 30 with fewer than seven minutes in the game. Again, even if the Patriots hadn’t managed to run the clock out, the most likely result of NOT going for it is to end up with worse field position with even less time on the clock. I’d rather roll the dice on getting the fresh set of downs NOW closer to midfield. Are you really telling me you don’t have a gadget play that can get two yards with a high probability?
Defensive Strong Points:
1.) The Steelers’ pass coverage was pretty good, which it needed to be to keep the Black & Gold in this game as Mac Jones was sacked exactly zero times and there was only one tackle made behind the sticks all game.
2.) The Steelers run defense controlled the Patriots throughout most of the game, but then totally disappeared in the game ending drive, which is odd, because that’s when you know that the Patriots are going to be pounding the rock.
Defensive Weak Points:
1.) Obviously, not getting to the quarterback for any sacks and not being able to take down Patriots rushers in the backfield. Again, when you often have to double-block T.J. Watt if you ever hope to contain him, that frees up other defenders to come crashing in and makes all of them look better. The Steelers’ defenders have a much tougher time playing against one-on-one blockers and Jones did a good job identifying who the pass rushers would be.
Every third and long situation that the Patriots faced came as a result of some offensive penalty that preceded the third and long on that series; it’s actually surprising to see the Patriots be so undisciplined as they committed an uncharacteristic seven penalties costing them 55 yards to the Steelers three penalties for 20 yards.
You really can’t rely on opposing offenses to commit infractions to send them backwards, so the Steelers are going to need to find a way to force the opponents backwards by drawing up ways to get to quarterbacks, or opposing running backs, in the backfield.
Obviously, muffing that punt was awful and led directly to the Patriots touchdown that decided the game, essentially. I think that the Steelers offense did enough, though perhaps JUST enough, that they could have won this game otherwise.
Pressley Harvin (Punter) failed to ever pin the Patriots deep and had a couple of extremely shallow punts in the fourth quarter. He basically gifted the Patriots midfield in the middle of the third quarter, but fortunately for the Steelers, that drive would lead to their own punter, Jake Bailey, putting it in the endzone for a touchback and giving the Steelers the 20, which is better position than they should have started with in what would become their final offensive drive.
Follow that with another sub-50 Pressley Harvin punt that would see the Patriots start their final offensive drive from their own thirty, though arguably, field position didn’t matter quite as much since the goal was for them to run the clock out anyway, which they did, and the Steelers never got the ball back.
Steelers kicker, Chris Boswell, at least went 2-for-2 on Field Goals, which would include a 52 yard make, so that’s always good to see.
Pittsburgh Steelers +3.5 @ Cleveland Browns -3.5
The Steelers are going to take a short trip to Cleveland this week to take on the 1-1 Cleveland Browns. The Browns, to date, narrowly defeated their former quarterback, Baker Mayfield, and his Carolina Panthers by a score of 26-24. In Week 2, the Browns would lead the New York Jets by a score of 30-17 with fewer than two minutes remaining in the festivities, but then Joe, “Yes, I am still in the league,” Flacco would connect with Corey Davis for a 66 yard touchdown, the Jets would recover an onside kick, and Flacco would orchestrate a drive leading to Flacco connecting with Garrett Wilson for another touchdown.
Greg Zuerlein did not miss the extra points, Jets, 31-30.
I don’t think the Steelers are going to be able to count on a total Browns collapse in the last two minutes, so they are going to have to devise a game plan that doesn’t count on that.
Three Keys to Victory:
1.) Get to Jacoby Brissett:
-Jacoby Brissett has been pretty safe with the ball so far this season and has a stat line, after two games, that looks pretty similar to that of one Mitch Trubisky. Brissett completed more than 80% of his passes last week against the Jets, connecting on many short throws and screens.
I don’t expect the Browns offense, or Brissett, to take too many risks or make too many questionable throws. I don’t think zero sacks, which is the number that the Steelers had against the Patriots, is going to get it this week, so the Steelers are going to need to pressure Brissett into making some questionable decisions, or, at a minimum, being forced to throw the ball away.
In the absence of T.J. Watt, that might be easier said than done as Brissett has only been sacked once in each game so far. Much like Trubisky, Brissett can also move around using his legs a little bit, but I would say that Trubisky is a little better at throwing on the run than Brissett.
Also, Brissett is mostly going to try to connect on short strikes, so we need the Steelers to force some 2&10 and 3&10 situations by breaking up some of those short routes to force Brissett to drop back and attempt some intermediate or long balls…and then get to Brissett before he can or force some bad throws.
2.) Drop Browns in the Backfield:
-Another area where the Steelers struggled against the Patriots was that they only had one tackle for a loss…the entire game!!! The Browns have a man named Nick Chubb playing for them; the same NIck Chubb who has averaged 114 yards on the ground these two regular season games and also punched it into the endzone three times last week.
The problem with Nick Chubb is that he represents a viable threat to just run for a first down in virtually any situation, excepting only third and very long. If the Steelers fail to drop Chubb in the backfield, and he remains healthy the entire game, then I don’t see how they win.
The entire defensive strategy for this game is going to consist of forcing Jacoby Brissett to attempt some deep passes, or alternatively, all but concede that offensive drive. Based on how the Steelers got to the Patriots in the backfield, which is to say that they did NOT get to the Patriots in the backfield, I’d be surprised if the game unfolds this way, but it will be needed.
3.) Balanced Attack:
-The one thing the Steelers did better last week, compared to Week 1, was run the ball. THey weren’t great at it, but the ground was at least a viable threat.
Let’s start from the position that the Steelers offense doesn’t have the goods to win in a shootout. Beginning with that assumption, the Steelers are going to need to win this game by controlling the tempo, which means the offense staying on the field.
In terms of time of possession, the Steelers did better against the Patriots, despite losing the turnover battle, than they did against the Bengals. That being said, the Steelers still were at a considerable deficit when it came to the amount of time that the two offenses spent on the field.
The Browns can score quickly and efficiently, and have a rather unique way of doing so in the modern day NFL—the ground game. Chubb can snap off a big gainer at any time, in fact, he has longs of more than twenty in both of the last two games. Obviously, that opens up the passing game for the Browns, which makes the short passing game dangerous because there are just so many threats the Browns have that can create first downs.
With that, the Steelers offense MUST stay on the field. We saw improved run blocking and an improved ground game against the Patriots, but I don’t think that’s going to be enough improvement. The Steelers are going to need to snap off some first down runs that get them into 2nd-and-5 (or shorter) situations, thereby opening up the entire offensive playbook for the second down play. From those situations, they could get Freiermuth working the middle, have Najee Harris for a potential dumpoff, Trubisky can use his legs if he can’t find anyone and you’ll have Diontae Johnson working an intermediate to long route along the sidelines to Trubisky’s left, which is where Trubisky really likes to try to find him.
That could lead the Steelers to longer offensive possessions, which I think is going to be key in this game because, once again, I see no way for them to win in a shootout.
My Prediction: (I feel so sick about this) Steelers: 17, Browns: 24
I simply don’t think that the Steelers are going to stay on the field on the offensive side of the ball for enough of this game, which means Nick Chubb is on the field; the best way to contain Nick Chubb, perhaps the only way, is for him not to be on the field to begin with.
Mission’s Monday Vitriol
Chargers 24 @ Chiefs 27: It’s a really tough gig for the Chargers to play seventeen away games per season, and you’re bound to lose some of those. Mahomes was characteristic near-perfection, and with one pick, Herbert was shy of near perfection; that’s the difference.
Panthers 16 @ Giants 19: The Giants start the season 2-0 for the first time since 2016, which was also the last time they started 1-0, or had a winning record, for that matter. It’s going to be a tougher go when they have to play teams who don’t suck and/or actively meltdown towards the end of the game. This won’t last. It can’t last. The fate of the Universe relies on certain constants, one of which is the Giants being awful.
Jets 31 @ Browns 30: Speaking of late game collapses, the Browns managed to let Joe Flacco air it out for two touchdowns in the last two minutes of the game. For the Jets to win at all is somewhat improbable, but the Browns managed to let them accomplish that in one of the least probable ways. It’s a shame (for the Browns) they didn’t have a quarterback who could also throw the deep ball well, not yet, anyway.
Colts 0 @ Jaguars 24: Hahahahahahahahaha!!!! Man, the Jaguars just own these guys lately! Also, given his three interceptions, I’d say the Jaguars defense put Matty on ice. Ryan has been all but finished for a while now anyway.
Dolphins 42 @ Ravens 38: Late game collapses are the order of the day and this one keeps the AFC North knotted up at 1-1, unless you’re the defending AFC Champions, in which case you’re 0-2 instead. The Ravens allowed Miami to outscore them 28-3 in the fourth quarter and the Dolphins won it on the strength of SIX Tua Tagovailoa (thanks, Google!) touchdowns. Depending on what the Bills do Monday, the Dolphins might lead the AFC East.
Buccaneers 20 @ Saints 10: The Buccaneers have won it with defense the last two weeks with Tom Brady playing the uncharacteristic role of competent game manager. I’m not going to say I expect mediocrity from Tom Brady to continue as I would like to be the one person who has never been proven wrong in that regard. Jameis Winston is just a story of ups and downs, mostly downs, three picks was actually kind of a balanced week for him…I expect 5-0 or 0-4 lines from him in TD:INT categories.
Commanders 27 @ Lions 36: Wentz looked good, but Goff looked better. The Lions lost the second half 27-14, but they managed to basically coast to victory on their first half dominance. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but with a little more consistency, the Lions could be good this year. Not Matt Stafford as QB good, but maybe a Wildcard contender.
Seahawks 7 @ 49ers 27: I don’t think anyone expected any other result; perhaps some people expected the 49ers to dump more points all over the Seahawks’ sorry asses. Let’s face it: we all knew the Seahawks were basically conceding this season when they didn’t find a way to pick up Baker Mayfield; I said as much earlier this year. Geno Smith completed 80% of his passes with an average aerial distance of 0.4 yards, or something, and had no touchdowns against one pick; it was another really great day for him!
Falcons 27 @ Rams 31: The Falcons almost came back to win this one, believe it or not, they outscored the Rams 17-3 in the fourth quarter. They even scored off a blocked punt! But, then they remembered the rules–teams are only allowed to win by huge halftime deficits AGAINST the Falcons.
Cardinals 29 @ Raiders 23: I have a friend who had a Moneyline bet on the Cardinals text me at halftime that this game was finished (as well a few others) with the Raiders up 20-0, I replied, “I tend to agree, except Cards/Raiders might not be totally out of the question; there’s not a lead the Raiders can’t blow.” Death, taxes and the Raiders making a mess of things. How is Rich Bisaccia not your Head Coach!!!??? He gets that mess of a team to the PLAYOFFS last season, for the first time since 2016, for the second time since 2002, and you let him $%^%$^&*$%^&* go!!!??? Josh McDaniels!!!??? For Josh McDaniels!? I’m surprised McDaniels didn’t resign before even visiting the stadium again. I hope the Raiders go 2-15 this year and McDaniels is fired midseason.
Texans 9 @ Broncos 16: The Texans tying the Colts in Week 1 will probably be the highlight of their season; yes, the same Colts who just got their asses handed to them by the Jaguars. When is Russell Wilson going to start looking more like Russell Wilson and less like Tim Tebow? It’ll happen, Broncos fans, don’t worry.
Bengals 17 @ Cowboys 20: I thought Dak Prescott might have to worry about his starter gig for about nine minutes. It might not have been long, but it was long enough for the Cowboys to hang onto this win against the 0-2 defending AFC Champions. What the hell is going on with the Bengals offense? I don’t get it; Burrow distributed the ball reasonably well.
Bears 10 @ Packers 27: Expected. The Packers are better than mediocre and the Bears have been the reigning NFL Mediocrity exam.
Tennessee Titans @ Buffalo Bills: (VI Consensus: Bills -10)--Good gravy! I think -10 might be a little much, but I would see the Bills winning this game. I’ll probably eat these words, but I think the AFC’s Super Bowl representative is really just a coin flip between the Bills and the Chiefs this season. It’ll be interesting to see how the Bills perform against Miami, though.
Minnesota Vikings @ Philadelphia Eagles: (VI Consensus: Eagles -2.5)--I actually think the Vikings are going to pull off the upset here and I think picking off Jalen Hurts on one or two key turnovers will be how they do it. Granted, that will suck for Vikings fans, get their hopes up once again just to miss the Playoffs, probably due to a missed chip shot field goal, at some point.