PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers were not even close to beating the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, falling behind by three scores before attempting to make a game of it, and even that didn’t last long, as things devolved into a 30-7 drubbing.
They were, as head coach Mike Tomlin put it, “kicked in the teeth.”
In such a game, many, many things went wrong for the Steelers, but the one that Tomlin highlighted was the team’s failures on third downs.
“I thought they did a really good job of staying on schedule on offense and being in manageable third downs that allowed them to win enough of those third downs, it’ll reduce you in those circumstances where you can’t create splash,” Tomlin said. “On the other side of the ball, we didn’t win enough possession downs to be competitive. You can’t start games 0-and-5 on third down and think you’re going to have the type of day that you desire. You’ve got to win the weighty downs.”
The team’s offense finished the first half 1 for 7 on third downs, and the only conversion was on a 3rd and 1. In fact, in the entire game, the Steelers converted only one third down of more than two yards.
The lack of third-down conversion meant that the entire offense was unable to get any kind of rhythm going.
“You don’t have enough snaps,” he said. “You’re going three and out. You can talk about the run game, but run game issues were not enough snaps. …
“We’ve got to win the weighty downs. Everyone has to win the weighty downs. That’s just the lifeblood of ball possession, and we didn’t do a good enough job today on either side, but particularly how we started offensively.”
While the Steelers struggled, the 49ers put on a master class. They finished 6 of 13 on third down for the game, but were able to keep the ball rolling by not needing long conversions. They faced only one third down on each of their first two scoring drives, converting 1 of 2. On their third, they scored a touchdown without needing a third down. They then picked one first down on the way to a Jake Moody field goal. Three conversions turned into 20 points, and the game was basically out of hand.
“You move the chains a little bit, you get in a rhythm, you start playing the football that we know we can play, and we didn’t do that,” quarterback Kenny Pickett said in his analysis of the aftermath. “Got to get first downs early, move the chains and get guys settled into the game.”
Apparently, that’s easier said than done.