Tim Benz: Steelers’ feats of strength from win over Rams not all on defense
Color me impressed.
I never thought they could do it. Three straight wins out of the bye— all at home — for the Steelers normally isn’t something to make yourself go slack-jawed.
But it’s mighty impressive when two of the opponents are still above .500 after losing here and the Steelers got those victories without — at various times — starters at quarterback, running back, defensive end and guard.
Not to mention a former All Pro receiver who is currently wallowing in NFL purgatory.
Yup, the Steelers managed to sweep all three games at Heinz Field coming out of the bye, and have won four in a row overall. And despite all those holes on their roster, they’ve played their way right into the thick of the wild-card conversation.
And maybe better.
So let’s award our “Feats of Strength” for Sunday’s 17-12 win over the Los Angeles Rams.
The Steelers defense was tremendous on third downs.
The Rams weren’t a great third-down offense, clicking at 40% for the season coming into the game. That was good for 14th in the league. So just slightly above average.
But the Steelers made them look inept on Sunday, allowing just one Los Angeles third-down conversion in 14 tries.
“We knew what they were doing,” safety Minkah Fitzpatrick said. “They like to target certain players on third downs, and we just went out there and executed our game plan really well.”
If you throw a pair of fourth-down attempts into the equation, the number was 1-for-16 for L.A.
Part of what helped the Steelers on third downs is the job they did on Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp.
He was shutout the whole day. No catches. Just four targets.
“We knew on third down he was their guy they always throw to,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “We were throwing different looks at him. We were doubling him a lot. Making sure that on possession downs they were going to No. 81 (George Everett) and No. 17 (Robert Woods). Whenever he was in the slot, whoever ended up on him had a safety with him. We practiced it all week.”
A lot of that coverage in the slot was originated by cornerback Mike Hilton.
“The plan was to take him away and let everyone else beat us,” Hilton said. “I was on him the whole game. I had help. We were able to take him out of the game.”
Cupp had 17 first-down receptions on third-down throws this season. That was the best total in the league entering Sunday. But he was blanked by the Steelers defense at Heinz Field.
The Steelers created four more turnovers Sunday, three interceptions and a Fitzpatrick fumble return for a touchdown.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) November 10, 2019
Fitzpatrick has been a part of seven turnovers during seven games as a Steeler.
“He’s living right. He’s always in good position,” Haden said. “The tipped balls just don’t hit the ground. He’s always there being able to get them.”
The team has 26 takeaways on the season. Only the New England Patriots (27) have more.
Meanwhile, next week’s opponent, the Cleveland Browns, went the whole game against Buffalo without a giveaway on Sunday. But they have given up 17 turnovers. Only three teams had more.
So you know the Steelers will be hunting for the ball Thursday night.
Take it away, Trey
Last week, an NFL highlight account on Twitter credited safety Terrell Edmunds with a 45-yard run that was actually turned in by his brother, Trey Edmunds.
I’m wondering if they were similarly baffled when the running back intercepted a ball thrown by punter Johnny Hekker.
INTERCEPTION on the Fake Punt as the #Steelers D keeps taking the ball away #UnderReview possible fumble at the end of the play #LARvsPIT #LARams #SteelerNation #NFL100 #NFL #SportsTalkLine pic.twitter.com/qOtqkoPtzf
— Steven Van Over (@StevenVanOver) November 10, 2019
Edmunds says it was his first pick since high school and now plans on having a bet with his brother — who has yet to get an interception this year — as to who will end the season with more.
“We haven’t discussed yet, but it’s something to talk about,” Trey Edmunds said. “Or I might just take my one and be happy.”
Good call, Trey.
The last scoring drive
It was easy to get frustrated with the offense. Just one offensive touchdown in 60 minutes. Four drops. Numerous penalties.
But the drive that resulted in Chris Boswell’s 33-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter was clutch.
It went for 14 plays and 60 yards, and it chewed up eight minutes.
“We were trying to score,” receiver Diontae Johnson said. “Six is better than three, but we got the three and were able to close it out.”
Most importantly, the Steelers converted two third-down conversions and a fourth-down conversion as well.
They failed on nine of their previous third-down attempts before starting that drive.