Steelers Continue Defying Gravity in 23-19 Victory Over Packers
It’s no secret that statistics sometimes lie. In the strange case of the 2023 Pittsburgh Steelers, besides their impressive 6-3 record, only a few of the other numbers appear to be adding up.
For example, out of 32 NFL teams, the Black-and-gold currently rank 28th in both total offense and total defense. The Steelers rank 30th in team receiving, 29th in team passing and 20th in team rushing. Their offense also ranks 30th in first downs. Yet in the crucial category of turnovers, the Steelers currently are tied with the Cincinnati Bengals for the No. 1 spot in the league with a +10 ratio.
Not surprisingly, the Steelers victory over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Acrisure Stadium was aided by a pair of timely interceptions — the final one snatched by Damontae Kazee to snuff out the Packers’ last-ditch bid for what would have been a game-winning TD. Once again, it was the Steelers defense stepping up with the game on the line to thwart the opposing offense. After the Packers managed only six points on two FGs in the third quarter, the defense shut them out in the final quarter.
Offensively, the Steelers reversed their familiar pattern of being lethargic throughout the first half. They scored on their first two possessions including a 9-play, 75-yard drive in the first quarter and an 11-play, 60-yard drive in the second quarter. Their running game was unusually potent, with Jaylen Warren rushing for 101 yards on 15 carries while Najee Harris added 82 yards on 16 carries. The OL was uncharacteristically effective, consistently creating running lanes for Warren and Harris. Warren’s deceptive speed and ability to bounce off of tacklers was particularly impressive.
While Kenny Pickett completed only 14-of-23 passes for 126 yards, he continued to demonstrate his cautious approach by avoiding any interceptions. The offense had no fumbles and this absence of turnovers was an important factor in a narrow win. The Steelers kicking game also was on point with Chris Boswell nailing all three FG attempts and Pressley Harvin III booting five punts for a 44.8-yard average.
Besides the Steelers’ impressive rushing attack which accounted for 12 of their 18 first downs, the offense converted only 4-of-13 third down attempts while averaging only 5 yards on passing plays. On the positive side, the Steelers converted 2-of-3 red zone opportunities. While their passing game remains unremarkable, improvement in the ground game is definitely a positive sign.
All things considered, it’s uncanny that the Steelers currently find themselves sitting near the top of the AFC North. They continue to reveal a very narrow margin for victory which hinges largely on their ability to avoid turnovers on offense while creating them on defense. But so far this season, the Steelers have managed to make their quirky combination of strengths and weaknesses pay off. While the offense still isn’t close to where it needs to be, we’re seeing definite signs of progress. And despite not ranking anywhere near the top in team defense, Steelers defenders have shown a remarkable ability to shut down opponents late in games and take the ball away.
Regardless of statistics which appear to speak more accurately of a 3-6 team, the Steelers’ collective grit with games on the line has been the key difference so far this season. The next two divisional matchups at Cleveland and Cincinnati are likely to test this formula for success even more severely.
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