Even 2020 can’t prevent the Steelers from finding another wide receiver diamond in the draft. Juju, Johnson, and Claypool were all not drafted in the first round. Yet here they are making big-time splashes early in their careers to support an aging Ben Roethlisberger. In only his 4th game in the NFL, Chase Claypool fueled the Steelers offensive explosion that helped them earn a 38-29 victory. With the win, the Steelers start 4-0 for the first time since 1979 and they won the Super Bowl that year.
It’s been an interesting last couple of weeks for the Steelers to say the least. Pittsburgh had a makeshift bye in week 4 due to the Titans’ inability to control COVID-19. For reference, the last time the Steelers scored 30 points or more in a football game was week 13 in 2018 vs the Chargers. The offensive production was a much-needed breath of fresh air even if it was against a subpar defense. 38 points came in a variety of ways from both methodical drives with lots of third-down conversions (11/15) or big plays made by Claypool or McCloud.
Top to bottom there were a lot of positives to take away from this game. Most notably the seven to eleven connection was superb today as Claypool scored four touchdowns, 3 three receiving and one rushing. Claypool is one of three rookie receivers to amass four TDs in one game in NFL history.
Playcalling must be commended overall but especially when it comes to the matchups and positions Claypool was put in. The Steelers used a whole lot of motion, quick passes, and the reverse/jet sweep game which froze the Eagles corners on the outside numerous times. It looked a lot like Kyle Shanahan’s playbook, who happened to face the Eagles last week. Randy Fichtner and Matt Canada put together a great gameplan to attack the Eagles defense based on the weapons they had to use and what they saw on tape.
Big Ben had another sharp game with 239 yards on a 79% completion percentage and a 3-0 touchdown to interception ratio for the day. Once again the Steelers gameplan for Ben was to get him going with some shorter and easier completions and then later in the game they let him throw deeper down the field. Ben was missing a couple of key pieces as Dionte Johnson and David DeCastro left the game with injuries and didn’t come back.
The offense still put points on the board and rookies Claypool and Kevin Dotson stepped up. Dotson came in for DeCastro and struggled at first, but the O-Line recovered and held their own for the rest of the game. Both Kevin Dotson and Chukwuma Okorafor weren’t starters in week one but have stepped into big roles and have been successful against tough matchups in the Eagles’ line and JJ Watt.
Now it wasn’t all sunshine and roses offensively as the Steelers had a few too many penalties down the stretch and weren’t able to get a steady ground game. They did have 136 rushing yards but lots of those were on a couple of long runs from Ray-Ray McCloud and James Conner.
To this point in the recap, I’ve given the Steelers almost nothing but praise. Well, that would be because I’ve just talked about the offense. The offense bailing out the defense, oh how the tables have turned. This game was a defensive nightmare for Pittsburgh, and not just for one half, all game long.
Wentz and the Eagles went three and out on their first two possessions but from there they shredded the Steelers secondary and didn’t allow too much pass rush to get home. Philly drove up and down the field on five out of the next six Eagles’ possessions and scored touchdowns on four of those drives.
The run game was held in check with the exception of one big 74 yard TD run by Miles Sanders in which Hilton missed a tackle in the open field and no other Steelers could catch up to the speedy Sanders. Travis Fulgham was an absolute one-man wrecking crew and decimated every corner the Steelers put on him for ten catches for 152 yards and a score. Pittsburgh clearly weren’t prepared for him as he never had one huge gainer but instead catch by catch picked apart the Steelers no matter who or what kind of coverage they put on him.
To make matters worse it was just him killing the Steelers every drive, as nobody else in the Eagles receiving core did all that much and yet Keith Butler couldn’t adjust. Nelson and Haden were both beaten by Fulgham consistently in deep coverage and short. They also both made a few good plays on the ball as Nelson ended up with two interceptions off bad throws by Wentz. Haden had two key pass breakups late in the game with one to prevent a long ball TD and the other on a third-down slant route.
Another disappointment from the defense was the horrid tackling on all levels. Minkah Fitzpatrick for all of his greatness in pass coverage has not improved and if anything has regressed as a tackler. In terms of pass rush, the Steelers had five sacks and eleven QB hits but the stats lie a bit here. The truth is the pass rush wasn’t consistent enough considering the Eagles were rolling out backups on the line. It showed up at the very end of the first half but it was completely absent when the Eagles were making their comeback.
Tuitt was the best performer on the line with three total QB hits that included 1.5 sacks. Watt had a sack and two more TFLs to bring his total to eight in four games. So why in the world has this Steelers defense been so much more suspect than last season? My theory is this, last year the Steelers defense needed to play that well in order to win but now they know they have an improved offense so there are fewer expectations to perform at that high of a level.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, this was another game that should have been over after they grabbed a 31-14 lead in the third quarter. But in classic Steelers fashion, they allowed a lesser team to claw back. Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of positives to take from this win but the Steelers are still searching for a wire to wire convincing win on both sides of the ball.