SEATTLE — The Steelers marched into Seattle and came out with a win for the first in 40 years. Their 30-23 victory was vastly different from any other this season, but what can you attribute the win to and is some of the game script replicable from here on out?
Aggressive Mike Tomlin
So, where did this side of Mike Tomlin come from suddenly? Yes, Pittsburgh’s head coach, who by most metrics is one of the more conservative coaches in the NFL, has turned into a gunslinging, analytics-riding guru in the last two weeks. Seriously, there’s a lot to like about the process that Tomlin has made within most of his decisions over the past two weeks. But on Sunday, it was startling to see Tomlin go for it on 4th-and-5 in opponent territory from the jump. When you consider just how much he shelled himself in against the Colts, this is a dramatic change. Pittsburgh consistently went for it when in doubt, and their aggressive style paid dividends.
But it was more than just that. Mason Rudolph said after the game that Tomlin called the critical pass to George Pickens that officially clinched the game for the team. Tomlin’s motto was ‘scared money don’t make money’ and in that area, they saw the single-high coverage coming, and trusted Pickens to win his route.
“There’s probably a lot of quarterbacks that could’ve completed that one,” Rudolph said. “No safety helped. George got the separation. I’m appreciative of that. I think a lot of coaches and a lot of play callers want to be conservative there and just run it out, but we’ve got a very aggressive head coach who, I think made that call at the end of the day, so it paid off. ”
Make no mistake, that play takes some cajones to call. Not only that, it was the same play that Pickens nabbed an 86-yard touchdown on a week ago. That’s going back to the well at the right time and something Tomlin should be commended for over the last two games. If he can do that all season, the Steelers will be in a much better spot.
Joey Porter Jr. Gets Thumped
It had to happen eventually. DK Metcalf schooled Joey Porter Jr. for most of the game, and he shadowed him. Yet, Metcalf put up over 100 yards, and when Porter was on him, he got three catches for 86 yards. It was the most yards allowed by Porter this season in one game.
Joey Porter Jr. aligned across from DK Metcalf on 26 of 32 routes (81.3%), his 6th shadow coverage game since Week 7 (T-most in NFL).
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 1, 2024
Porter stood tall at the end of the game with two end zone shots thrown his way, though Metcalf has caught the second one 100 times in his career before. Still, the length of Porter is a disruptor. However, he was a net negative today in an undermanned secondary. Metcalf blocked Porter out of plays many times, and throughout the day, Porter generally looked a step slow at recognizing everything going on in front of him.
Yeah, he’s a chippy dude,” Porter said. “Trying to be physical with you before and after the play. I didn’t let it affect me too much. There was a little bickering before in the first half, but second half, I felt like I really locked in and started playing good football.”
Naturally, it was going to happen. Porter would have a game where he felt flat and could not erase an opposing top receiver. Now, it’s on him to respond to this level of physicality and speed in the future. That’s his next goal as a player, and it will likely come in the offseason by getting stronger and strengthening his technique.
Steelers Offense Jelling Together
Remember when George Pickens was mad a week ago and weeks before that when Diontae Johnson got frustrated? Everyone was ticked off. It doesn’t seem like that anymore. To Pittsburgh’s credit, a successful offense has come out of the fruit, where this group fell short throughout the year. Everyone is eating except for Pat Freiermuth, but that’s okay with him. This is becoming a very unselfish offense the longer it goes along.
“I’d probably just say guys coming together,” George Pickens said of what sparked the offense. “You go through, like, so much adversity during the season, and these 15, 16 games toward the end, I feel like guys now are really locking in. All we got is ourselves.”
If you ask about the Steelers’ offense, they had this in them all along. They might not be wrong; they just needed a quarterback to give them some legitimate life. There’s an energy this team plays with now that Rudolph is back there. His confidence and poise infects the rest of the unit.
“We always had it in us, it’s just the ability of all the offense to lock in as a whole,” Broderick Jones said. “Everybody being on the same page, all 11 guys that’s on the field, playing on one band, one accord, and just continuing to execute. Us imposing our will throughout the whole game, that’s a big factor in it.:
Johnson feels like there has been an uptick in effort. He isn’t wrong. Pickens threw a block that sprung Warren. Everyone celebrates together. Freiermuth pulls Najee Harris into the endzone for a touchdown despite having two targets in two games. This is all coming together to be a really unselfish offense that plays for each other and has fun playing with one another on top of that.
“I would say this effort and everybody just wanted more, that’s what I’ve seen throughout the week,” Diontae Johnson said. “We locked in our practice, dialed in and I were just minimizing the little mistakes. And once you do that, you can, you, you can count on like us making the right plays, making the right decisions.”
That ability to adapt to new roles and become selfless within the system is important. Over the last two weeks, no egos have come between the Steelers and their offensive success. That needs to be the standard moving forward.
Mike Tomlin Not Losing His Locker Room
The Steelers had plenty of talk about Tomlin losing his locker room weeks ago. He has many flaws that are chronicled well on this site, but the Steelers know they have a guy who can pull a culture change out of his magic hat. Tomlin speaks to players. That happens every year. It has not led to a postseason berth this year or a win, but when this team looked like they would spiral out of control, Tomlin put this group right back on the rails. That is why people trust him so much behind the scenes.
“It feels different just like I said earlier, just the guys coming together, the camaraderie,” Pickens said. “I’ve been on a team where camaraderie wins championships, so guys coming together for sure.”
That’s coming after weeks of this team being in turmoil and unable to get into the headlines positively. For one, it shows how much a competent quarterback can change feelings. But on the other side, Tomlin deserves plenty of praise for turning this ship around. The only question is, if he had gone to Rudolph earlier, could he have turned it around even sooner? Maybe, but either way, the team’s response is commendable.
Defense Stands Tall in Weighty Downs in the 2nd Half
One of the biggest developments in the second half of this game was the Steelers’ undermanned defense, which stood up to the Seahawks’ offense. While Pittsburgh’s offense worked down the field in record time, converting their scoring opportunities, the defense did allow explosive plays and drives. But Geno Smith and company never put up another seven on them after the first half, and that was a massive difference in the game when it came down to it.
“That’s football, particularly this time of year, they got an explosive group,” Tomlin said. “They got a veteran quarterback, they got an awesome group of weapons, receivers, tight ends, running backs. I’m appreciative of the efforts of everyone, particularly on the short field. I just thought it was the difference particularly in the second half, holding them to field goals and being solid down there on the short field and to be honest, after we experienced a lot of attrition at linebacker and safety, we hadn’t done a lot of that, so it was cool to see that happen.”
That is before you consider the strip sack by Nick Herbig to give Pittsburgh a huge turnover. The defense had plenty of issues, and some will only be fixed by offseason additions, particularly their lack of speed in the secondary. But it is commendable down as much as they were at linebacker and safety what they did in this game. A lot of teams would have naturally folded and Pittsburgh did not, and that is why they are coming home with a huge win.
Steelers Offense Has Play Calling Questions
The Steelers did a fantastic job to put up an impressive 30 points against the Seahawks. I thought the aspects of the gameplan were solid. Run the gap runs against an injured Seahawks front without Jordyn Brooks and force them to match the physicality on the perimeter. Seattle’s two-high presentations over the last two weeks were a new adjustment that helped them limit explosive plays, but now with the Steelers. The run game came down on them so hard it forced them into Cover 3 shells.
Once that came out, the Steelers expected to see man coverage and ran the crosser that turned into a 42-yard Diontae Johnson reception. All of that was great, but I have serious questions about the play sequencing down in the red zone.
Three plays stick out. First, a 2nd and three toss play to Najee Harris after going downhill had ultimately hampered Seattle all day. Harris missed a hole, but it really was a poor play call at that spot to go laterally with one of the guys who was killing Seattle downhill all game. Second, on 2nd and 13, the Steelers took Pickens and Johnson off the field to bring on 13 personnel in a condensed set with Allen Robinson II as the wide receiver. He would motion in and become the in-line blocker. It brought the entire defense into the box and forced Pittsburgh into an awful third-down spot. They would settle for a field goal. Third, the jet sweeps to Warren on the goal line. Generally, I would like the play call, but not when the Seahawks kept an extra defensive back on the edge to allow the linebackers to flow over the top. Bobby Wagner stopped him short.
The sequencing and calls in this field area are still highly concerning. Pittsburgh did not give some of their best playmakers chances to make plays in the passing game. That needs to come change against the Ravens and if they make it there, the playoffs.
Alan Saunders contributed to reporting from Seattle