Film Room: Missed opportunities stall Steelers offense

Everyone thought the Steelers offense would be the great equalizer against the New England Patriots defense. It wasn’t that they were wrong in their assumption, as Pittsburgh had plenty of opportunities to give the perennial AFC Super Bowl favorite a run for their money.

Those opportunities, unfortunately, did not materialize.

Let’s take a look at how some of those missteps could’ve changed the game, while adding a few other positive notes from Sunday’s AFC Championship game.

Sammie Coates

A surprise for sure, was Sammie Coates coming into the game on the offensive side of the ball, after nursing broken fingers and a hurt hamstring for the latter half of the season.

I’m sure the thought process for getting Sammie on the field, was to help stretch the New England defense, and open up the run game for Le’Veon Bell.

It nearly worked out.

I won’t speculate the reason for the drop, but this 3rd-and-1 would’ve gone for a huge gain, and gotten the Steelers into scoring position on their first possession. Instead, they had to punt.

Now, people are going to criticize coaching. Why not run here? Why not a short pass?

Well first of all, everyone is pretty much covered. Second, this isn’t unlike other games the Steelers have played, going for broke when they think the defense might be sleeping. It’s the poker equivalent of going “all in”, and when you hit: jackpot.

When you don’t, you punt… already down 3-0.

Young receivers

At times they didn’t step up, but at others, they did.

One of the better performances in this game came from Eli Rogers, who was targeted 10 times, catching 7 of those passes for 66 yards.

On the Steelers first touchdown drive, Rogers had three of those catches, one of which moved the chains on 3rd-and-10 from the Steelers 16.

Man coverage isn’t always perfect on the defensive side, and the Steelers expose the coverage on Rogers by sending Jesse James on a route which tangles the Patriots defenders, enabling Rogers to get open, and complete a big gain (while also moving the chains).

DeAngelo Williams

I mentioned this drive ended in a touchdown, and that would come from DeAngelo Williams, who was thrust into service following Le’Veon Bell’s injury (he tweaked his groin).

Watch as D-Will finds a gap between LT Alejandro Villanueva and LG Ramon Foster.

The main reason I like to point out this play, is that it was another 3rd down, 3rd-and-1 from the Patriots 5. Williams would plow through, and get all the way into the endzone.

The Steelers did not use a jumbo package in this situation, which differs a bit from latter on when Williams would not get across the goal line, with the line of scrimmage inches away. When critics talk about the lack of a fullback in the later situation (I’m guilty) realize they were successful running to the left on this play.

When tried later, the Steelers loaded up the right side of the line, and went with a similar misdirection. Unfortunately (there’s that word again) the latter play failed to work.

Cobi Hamilton

It was a mixed night for Hamilton, who failed to convert on several key plays early on.

The first of those failures was a signature deep route on first down, where Hamilton appears to have the ball drop into his bread basket… and then drop to the ground.

Hamilton beats his coverage, and Ben puts a perfect pass in place, but the former practice squad player can’t haul it in, which was surprising, considering he came down with a similar catch in the regular season finale against Cleveland.

This drive would end in the overturned Jesse James touchdown, and subsequent field goal, plays later… six here would’ve been nice, and cut the Patriots lead to 17-13/14 (depending whether or not if Tomlin would go for two).

Hamilton was also the the target on the failed touchdown try on fourth down, early in the fourth quarter.

In another similar scenario, Hamilton runs a fade pattern. Ben puts the ball where only he can get it, and Cobi can’t come down with it.

Several analysts, fans, etc. all went after Hamilton for this, but he had made a similar play, catching a touchdown against the Dolphins in Week 6. Similarly, Cobi tipped an attempted “high point” catch in the preseason too, so his reliability has been contested.

Unfortunately (again) this is one where if Cobi just goes straight up, there’s probably a pass interference penalty, and a new set of downs: but then he wouldn’t be able to catch the ball.

He goes to make the play, and Logan Ryan ends up “cleanly” defending the pass, per league rules.

Hamilton finally came down with one of his two catches, the final Steelers touchdown, late in the fourth quarter.

While the route was run to perfection, it was too little too late.

Perhaps, it’s a bit more promise for next season, to see where the receivers are, and watching them compete for a limited number of roster spots. I felt the young players made strides, but some key drops (even one by Antonio Brown) ultimately stalled the Steelers offense. The lack of execution killed them on the field, and on the scoreboard.

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