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One play from the Steelers 2023 preseason which shows execution is everything

There is such a fine line in the NFL between success and failure. One play can change the game for either the right or wrong reason, and fractions of inches can be the difference between success and failure. It’s why we tune in and why the phrase “any given Sunday” exists.

Additionally, narratives surrounding NFL teams, particularly the Pittsburgh Steelers because that’s who we know and love, can go from one extreme to the other based on the smallest thing. When a play works perfectly, it’s brilliant. But if one little thing goes wrong, whether by the fault of your own team or a great play by the opponent, the decision was obviously the wrong one. Hence why Mike Tomlin often says, “it’s a results-driven league.”

I’m going to give the example of one play from the preseason that very well could have changed the narrative heading into Week 1 of the 2023 season. The reason I’m choosing this specific play is because it was very close to falling into another category that Steelers fans often complain about. So let’s get to it…

It was the Steelers third preseason game against the Falcons in Atlanta. The Steelers were playing their starters while Atlanta rested basically everyone on both sides of the ball who would be considered their first unit. The Steelers received the opening kickoff, but after a penalty they began their drive at the Pittsburgh 8-yard line.

After a 2-yard pass from Kenny Pickett to Allen Robinson followed by 3-yard jet sweep by Calvin Austin, the Steelers were faced with a 3rd & 5 at their own 13-yard line.

This was a very key play. Were the Steelers going to continue with the success the first unit had seen in the first two games, or would they suffer their first three and out of 2023?

As we all should know by now, Kenny Pickett completed a pass to Diontae Johnson for a 33-yard gain which set the Steelers up close to midfield. In case you didn’t remember, here is the play:

So why am I bringing up this play? Was there something that barely made it by where the Steelers were successful?

Actually, this is more about the decision and the execution of that decision more than any kind of close call. And here is why…

How many times have we heard from Steelers fans in recent years their frustration with throwing a deep pass on third and short?

I know this was more during the end of the Ben Roethlisberger era, but there were constant complaints about the Steelers being in a situation anywhere from 3rd & 1 to 3rd and 6 and seeing the ball thrown 20–30 yards down the field. Unfortunately, too many of those passes fell incomplete. But what about the ones that didn’t?

This is what happened precisely on this play. The decision to throw the ball to Diontae Johnson where it was caught right around the 40-yard line was the correct call. He was open. The key was the pass had to be on target and Johnson had to come through with the catch. And because of great execution, they made it look easy.

But for the fun of it, let’s play devils advocate for just a moment. What if the ball was slightly under thrown? Or overthrown? What if the ball was right on target and it deflected off Johnson‘s hands? Would it still been the right decision?

If the Steelers don’t convert on that play, I’m sure many would criticize the decision to throw deep with that down and distance as well as being at that position on the field. The Steelers would have then been forced to punt, and who knows how good of a field position the Falcons would have started the first drive of the game. There’s really no way to accurately hypothesize exactly how everything would have played out.

But as Steelers fans are excited for the upcoming season and the potential of their first team offense, that excitement would probably not be near as much without the conversion on the third offensive play of their third preseason game. The Steelers offense would have shown they were capable of the other end of the spectrum by going three and out, and perhaps the play call or the decision of Pickett to throw that pass would be floating around as a talking point in Steelers Nation. Instead, the Steelers first offense continued the drive for a touchdown, followed it up by another touchdown, and removed their pads with a perfect five-for-five in scoring touchdowns for the preseason.

So what is the one thing that made the difference?

Execution.

I’ve waited 10 days since this play occurred to bring this topic up, and I have not heard one Steelers fan question the decision to throw that ball on thrid down. Not one. But if the Steelers hadn’t executed the play perfectly, I’m sure I would have heard plenty about it.

Execution is everything.

As the 2023 season rolls through the fall, there will be plenty of changing narratives around the Steelers. I don’t even want to hypothesize what they could be at this time. But in almost all of them, the difference will be whether or not the Steelers execute their plays well or they do not. Even a poor decision can be bailed out with great execution, and sometimes the wisest decision looks terrible because of poor execution.

The 2023 Pittsburgh Steelers have shown us a glimpse into great execution on both sides of the fall by the first units. It is this execution that will be key to everything for the Steelers upcoming season.

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