2019 Recall: Steelers, and their defense, continue surge over slumping Rams
Steel City Underground presents our 2019 Steelers Recall: a look back at Pittsburgh Steelers games and storylines from last season.
Grit and determination truly defined the Steelers midseason turnaround to a 4-4 record.
While not the smoothest path to reach .500, the job that head coach Mike Tomlin had done was beginning to turn heads and put him into the “coach of the year” conversation.
Yet, there was another bump in the road ahead in the form of last year’s Super Bowl runner-up coming to town, the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams were still a team to be feared, and with the way the Steelers had started slow against the Dolphins and lucked out by a last second missed field goal, there was some doubt as to which team would show up at Heinz Field during this Week 10 clash.
The Rams sported a number of offensive weapons, as well as a nasty defense led by one of the league’s greats: former University of Pittsburgh standout Aaron Donald. Just how would the Steelers overcome the visitors?
The game started about as ugly as you’d want. The Steelers offense took the field first and would make a critical mistake on their third play of the drive. Mason Rudolph stood in the shotgun awaiting a Maurkice Pouncey snap: one that would sail over his head and get picked up by the Rams Dante Fowler, who walked it in from 26 yards out for an easy touchdown.
The Steelers were down 7-0 and barely had the football. The error would almost cost them the game.
Fortunately, the Steelers defense was determined to make its mark. If there’s one game to go back at and view as a defining moment for the 2019 Steelers defense, this was it.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff was terrorized all game, throwing two interceptions and sacked four times, finishing the day with a 51.2 QB rating. T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward were among those terrorizers, but so was Tomlin, who joined in on a day of coaches gambling for a victory.
Coach T. would challenge a play early in the game which threw fans in the stands off – no one knew why Tomlin had thrown the red flag, but replays showed a Goff pass attempt going backward and flailing out-of-bounds.
The officials had ruled it incomplete, but the replay changed the call to a fumble and a loss of nine yards for the Rams. A huge pivot point with a little over three minutes elapsed in the game and down seven points already.
The Steelers would finally even the score several series later at the end of the first quarter when Mason Rudolph capped off a 9-play, 82-yard drive by finding his college teammate James Washington in the endzone.
The game would feature next to zero offense as it approached the two-minute warning. Then, Minkah Fitzpatrick struck – again. The Steelers safety had the awareness to scoop up a loose ball, from a Javon Hargrave sack of Goff, and take it back for a defensive touchdown; something he had become known for doing throughout the season.
The third quarter would also start poorly for the Rams, as Goff was picked off by Joe Haden, and then on the next offensive drive for LA, they would attempt a fake punt that would also get intercepted – by Trey Edmunds (Terrell’s brother, who was a reserve running back).
Both offenses continued to struggle as Greg Zuerlein hit a 30-yard field goal to close to within four points, with the Steelers up 14-10 to begin the final quarter.
The Steelers would go three-and-out, then hold the Rams to five plays before receiving the ball again – and seeing Mason Rudolph sacked in the endzone for a safety, closing the gap to a two-point Steelers advantage.
The Steelers defense rose to the occasion yet again forcing a three-and-out following the free kick back to LA’s offense. The Steelers would fail to convert on 3rd-and-1 but Coach Tomlin had seen enough of backing down and allowing his defense to tire.
From his own 34, Zach Banner reported into the game as an eligible receiver, used as an extra offensive lineman in a jumbo package that instead turned into a Mason Rudolph bootleg pass completed to the aforementioned Trey Edmunds for six yards.
The gutsy play would extend the Steelers drive to a mammoth 14-play, 8:00 minute drive, but only end in three points with the Steelers still up, 17-12.
Tomlin’s call to go for it on fourth down could’ve been disastrous, particularly on a day where Steelers receivers dropped several passes… but it paid off, unlike Sean McVay’s fake punt call.
This left the Rams with only 2:39 in the game to attempt to score – the Steelers defense held the Rams, who gave the ball back with 1:30 left after a failed fourth down conversion.
Amazingly, the Rams weren’t done, as the Steelers were unable to do much but make them burn their three remaining timeouts – Jordan Berry punted back to LA, who got to meet the Steelers defense’s full force one last time.
T.J. Watt would strip-sack Goff on the Rams first play of the drive; recovered by their offense and still having some life left, a defensive penalty would see LA get a first down at their own 47. The Rams would commit a false start, then find Minkah Fitzpatrick roaming the secondary, as the All-Pro would pick off Goff with the assistance of Haden.
Mason Rudolph re-entered the field for a victory formation clock-burning kneel down to finish the game with the Steelers improving to 5-4 on the season by a final score of 17-12.