Following each game in the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers season, I will highlight the event or string of events in the game that is the turning point. Not all turning points will be earth-shattering, but are meant to give a unique look at how we arrived at the outcome of the game, one that may be hard to see during the first live watch.
This part of the season we’re often talking about the Steelers “stacking wins.” Unfortunately, this year, there’s been no semblance of a winning streak. After Pittsburgh put together its most convincing win of the season, downing the New Orleans Saints 20-10, there was some hope that this team was finally turning the corner following their bye week.
As we now know, that was not the case as the team turned in a disappointing 37-30 loss to their AFC North rival, the Cincinnati Bengals. The offense finally turned it up for their first 30+ point output since week 11 of last season. While they were much improved on the scoreboard, context is important. Their final touchdown of the day came with under a minute left in the game, and while it did put them within an onside kick recovery of a chance, it was too little too late. The defense deserves its fair share of criticism for giving up 37 points, but the offense’s inability to move the ball in the second half and finish drives is what eventually sunk this team. That is why this week’s turning point will be broken down into three offensive drives.
The Steelers came out of halftime with a 20-17 lead and followed it up with three consecutive three-and-outs, in the meantime conceding the lead to the Bengals with a touchdown of their own.
Time and time again this season it has felt like if the defense doesn’t make a game-changing play, it was going to end up in a loss. TJ Watt turned in that play for the team with an impossible interception (unless you’re named TJ Watt) jumping up and catching a Joe Burrow pass at the line of scrimmage, the second of its kind from him this season.
The offense took the field at the Cincinnati 21 and did nothing with it. Essentially turning in a fourth consecutive three-and-out. It gets tougher to swallow when the chances are there. The Steelers went back to a concept they worked earlier in the game, both times they had open guys and simply didn’t execute. Quarterback, Kenny Pickett, goes through his progression, coming off Najee Harris on the rail route, and finds Diontae Johnson open on a drag route. However, Pickett throws it in the dirt and they choose to take the points.
While it did result in a field goal, they had to capitalize with seven points in that situation and take the lead. Instead, they gave the ball back to the Bengals down a point. Cincinnati would respond with their own field goal, returning the lead to four, after a kickoff return that put them in great field position.
While that was likely the initial “turning point” of the game, the Steelers next two offensive possessions were equally damaging to their chances to win this game.
The Steelers would find themselves in Cincinnati territory after a deep connection from Pickett to Pickens, putting them again in striking distance to take the lead yet again.
Offensive coordinator, Matt Canada, wanted to go for the kill shot on the very next play and dialed up a flea flicker. Trick plays are never appreciated unless they work, unfortunately, this one came down to poor execution. While you could certainly complain about the route distribution here as Pickens and Pat Freiermuth are running right next to each other, if Najee Harris delivers a better toss back to Pickett, he’s likely able to hit either one here for a deep completion and possibly a touchdown .
After the flea flicker, the plays go as followed:
- 2nd and 10 – A run that loses two
- 3rd and 12 – Left tackle beat, left defensive end unblocked, Pickett sacked
- 4th and 22 – Punt from the PIT 49
The offense’s disappointments aren’t done yet. The defense was able to hold a backed-up Bengals offense to a three-and-out of their own and Pittsburgh took over with the ball already in the Bengals territory.
Najee Harris would run it up the gut for a gain of 13 to Cincinnati’s 34.
The chances were again looking good for this offense to be able to turn the tide of the game. Instead, they turned it into the Pittsburgh special of shooting themselves in the foot.
On back-to-back plays, they were charged with holding and an illegal man downfield after a miscommunication on a QB/RB exchange in the backfield.
This turned a 1st and 10 from the 34 to a 1st and 25 back at the Bengals 49. As expected, they weren’t able to convert and had to punt the ball back to the Bengals with nothing to show for it.
If you weren’t keeping track at home, on three consecutive second-half drives, the Steelers’ offense found themselves in these situations while down four points:
• 1st & 10 at CIN 21
• 1st & 10 at CIN 39
• 1st & 10 at CIN 34
The drives resulted in three points and zero lead changes, truly an unacceptable performance.
While the defense did give up 37 points, including the game-sealing 8-play, 93-yard touchdown drive directly following the third drive outlined, it’s hard to go through these scenarios and not point to the offense’s failure to capitalize in prime spots as that’s why the team lost the football game.
What did you feel was the turning point of the game? Leave your thoughts and comments below!