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FILM ROOM: How the Steelers’ offense won the game in the fourth quarter against the Rams

Even before the days of Matt Canada overseeing the Steelers’ offense, the unit has been highly inconsistent and even anemic for stretches. It wasn’t as if that changed a ton when Pittsburgh ventured to Los Angeles to battle the Rams in SoFi Stadium. Through three quarters, the Steelers had scored just 10 points; cumulatively, Mike Tomlin’s team garnered just 300 yards and was a miserable 4-for-12 on third down.

But, when the clock ticked to the fourth quarter and the Steelers flipped the field, a light switch seemingly turned on.

In the final frame of the contest, Canada’s offense had three possessions, which entailed two touchdowns and a sequence to close the game. The team’s latter two drives combined to account for over 10.5 minutes of game action, with the final one preventing the Rams from having a shot to come back trailing by seven points.

In effect, the Steelers’ offense actually went out, executed extremely well when it mattered most and won the black and gold a game — a concept that few can recall happening for Tomlin’s defense-fortified squad.

How, exactly, was Pittsburgh able to cash in success repeatedly in the fourth quarter? A combination of great sequences, excellent blocking and much-improved play from quarterback Kenny Pickett.

1st Drive

As the remaining seconds waned from the third quarter, Pittsburgh jogged over to the opposite side of the field with a crucial third-and-8 upcoming. At their own 43-yard line, the Steelers were close to being in range where one would go for it on fourth down.

With three receivers aligned in a bunch to the field side, the Steelers successfully diagnosed the Rams’ pressure look — something which has been a repeated struggle dating back to last year. From there, Pickett bought time in the pocket, another crucial element given his propensity not to step up in the face of pressure.

Regarding route combinations, TE Darnell Washington ran a crosser to the right side, drawing a defensive back with him. That left just 2-on-2 to the left side, with Connor Heyward’s deeper corner route occupying another DB. Ultimately, Diontae Johnson put his foot in the ground on a whip route, generating space against Derion Kendrick. Pickett threw a dart to Johnson and allowed the receiver to turn up field afterward, netting 39 yards.

To call that play much-needed may not be hyperbole. It demonstrated progress in a multitude of facets where Canada’s offense has remained subpar for much of the season, and put Pittsburgh in the red zone.

Two plays later, Tomlin’s side tied things up courtesy of a 13-yard toss from Jaylen Warren. As has been a familiar refrain, Pittsburgh has usually been pitiful on running toss plays for the last few seasons, but something materialized on this key down.

The best block of the play may have belonged to LG Isaac Seumalo, who helped secure the defensive end before working up to the second level to mitigate the inside linebacker. To his left, LT Dan Moore Jr. absolutely tossed that same DE out of the club, while Washington completely bulldozed the OLB aligned wider. At center, Mason Cole gets enough of the DT and, crucially, doesn’t draw a holding call. RG James Daniels, too, helps open a lane by meeting the backside safety in space.

Warren, to his credit, does a good job locating the cutback opportunity and accelerating in for six. But, at its most fundamental level, this toss is blocked exceptionally in all its component parts — a very refreshing sight.

2nd Drive

After forcing a three-and-out defensively, the momentum started to turn gold. The team’s next drive only reinforced that.

While the possession began with an 18-yard George Pickens slant negated via a taunting penalty, the Steelers actually regrouped and marched right down the field nonetheless.

Let’s begin this drive’s breakdown with a play that can easily be viewed as trivial, but which extended the offense’s time with the ball: a quarterback sneak on third-and-2. With only four Rams aligned inside of the guards, Pittsburgh knew that it had a favorable matchup leverage-wise, and performed to that degree. Notice how low Seumalo gets, and how Pickett puts his head down, absorbs contact and nets a first down.

It’s not quite the Eagles’ famed (infamous?) Tush Push, but Seumalo has robust experience working with Philly OL coach Jeff Stoutland to create maximum leverage. This concept will repeat itself later in this analysis.

Immediately afterward, the Steelers took a deep shot on first-and-10. With the Rams appearing in a Cover 4 look, Pickett recognized that he may have Pickens one-on-one to the backside if the safety didn’t peek. Because of strong eye manipulation from Pickett, the Steelers got just that, and capitalized: Pickett threw a terrific back-shoulder fade to No. 14, who picked up 21 yards.

Admittedly, it is rather concerning just how much the Steelers’ offensive success relies on Pickens catching fades. However, don’t fix it if it isn’t broken, I guess.

Subsequently, Canada went back to the ground — but, he added a wrinkle. On a run up the gut, Moore Jr. pulled and worked all the way up to LB Ernest Jones IV, leading the way for 10 yards for Najee Harris.

That trot proved to be the longest for Harris all afternoon, and it’s easy to see why. The running back did nicely to hit the hole and get skinny. It’s also worth shouting out a good seal block from Cole on the other side.

Pittsburgh was inching closer to the red zone, and this second-down pass moved the team into that territory. Utilizing another bunch, Allen Robinson works to draw the attention of the safety on a dig, while two Rams mirror a Heyward curl route. That put Johnson against Kendrick yet again, and the receiver bested the corner once more. With Kendrick in inside leverage, Johnson smoothly cut outside on an out route for an 11-yard pass.

I also can’t say enough about this throw from Pickett. Los Angeles only rushed four, but one was ILB Christian Rozeboom. Harris blocked Rozeboom decently, but Pickett still had heat in his face and made a difficult throw look smooth, with nice anticipation and accuracy.

Pittsburgh advanced the ball five more yards after a defensive penalty on Raheem Morris’ bunch, which allowed Canada to draw maybe one of his better calls this year. Working from the Rams’ 14, the Steelers implemented a PA Boot, with Pickett faking the handoff to the right side to Harris. As Pickett worked back across the play, Heyward was wide open in the flat, forming an easy pitch-and-catch. The tight end rumbled all the way down to the 3-yard line, and Pittsburgh scored on the ensuing play.

The play fake worked beautifully to distract Carnell Lake, who’s late meeting Heyward in the flat. Additionally, having Pickens run a corner route to the outside of the bunch put two blue jerseys away from Heyward.

3rd Drive

Now up 24-17 on the Rams, the Steelers’ defense forced another punt from the home side (particularly because of pressure from rookie DL Keeanu Benton). The Rams probably never anticipated not touching the rock again with 5:28 to go in the game, but that’s exactly what transpired.

Let’s start with the first play of the drive: a 7-yard run from Harris. With Seumalo and Heyward both pulling, Harris displays patience before knifing upfield. RT Chuks Okorafor had a terrific block to spring this lane for No. 22, while the pullers neutralized the 5-tech. Further, Washington and Daniels converged perfectly at the second level.

Harris picked up nothing on the next run, establishing a third-and-3. Not to worry, though: the Steelers had another response.

With two receivers to the field side and the Rams in Tampa 2, Pickens ran right up the seam for a slot fade; Rozeboom, the hook linebacker, was not able to retreat in time. Up front, Los Angeles showed seven rushers, but dropped three out. Aaron Donald is still Aaron Donald, though, and got pressure against Moore Jr. Nonetheless, Pickett hung in the pocket and unleashed a perfect strike down the field despite taking a shot.

As with the aforementioned play, this down reflects honed pocket skills from Pickett — and, it even works Pickens over the middle of the field, something which fans and analysts have continued clamoring for. All told, the catch gained 31 and put the Steelers in Rams territory.

Two short runs yielded a third-and-8 for Tomlin & Co, and the team answered the bell. The crucial two-play sequence starts with this third-down throw from Pickett to Robinson.

With Morris flashing pressure, the Rams sped up Pickett with a stunt, not to mention Seumalo falling down. Yet, Pickett diagnosed the play urgently, noticing Robinson backside against Ahkello Witherspoon in man coverage. Pickett put the ball on Robinson’s chest, and the ex-Ram accrued seven to make it fourth-and-1.

And, ultimately, the most contested play from this game. While the spot of the ball was highly questionable (for the record, it did seem like the Steelers were short), this was still a good call by Canada, who’s been liable to making things more complicated than necessary in short-yardage situations.

As he did earlier, Pickett trails a lunging Seumalo to move the sticks and, crucially, ice the game on a sneak conversion.

Overall, Canada’s group looked leaps and bounds improved in the final 15 minutes of the team’s win over the Rams. Rarely if ever do we see the Steelers humming in both the pass and run game, but that’s largely what happened. Pickett, too, appeared considerably more poised in the pocket and deadeye accurate on challenging throws.

Whether this proliferates against the Jaguars for an extended period will be the telling question, and history would indicate that it won’t. However, Pittsburgh did lead the league in rushing success rate this week, which feels like a legitimate building block moving forward — especially if all five of its O-linemen and tight ends block at this clip.


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