The Pittsburgh Steelers (and Ben Roethlisberger) played their second-to-last home game in Week 15. They faced off against the AFC South-leading Tennessee Titans, who sported a 9-4 record entering the game this past Sunday. Despite a poor offensive performance, the Steelers were able to use four turnovers and four field goals to push past the Titans. The 19-13 win leaves the Steelers at 7-6-1 and keeps their playoff hopes alive with just three weeks left in the regular season.
Pittsburgh Steelers Win Over Tennessee Titans Was a Close Contest
Tennessee Grabbed an Early Lead
The Steelers got the ball first in their Week 15 game but were unable to do anything with it. Ben Roethlisberger had one nice 16-yard pass to Diontae Johnson on the drive, but that was really the only productive play. The Titans forced a three-and-out, and on the punt return, returner Chester Rogers ran the ball back 55 yards; this set up the Titans with a short field.
The Titans needed only 25 yards to reach the end zone and did just that in a six-play drive. The touchdown drive was capped off by a Ryan Tannehill rushing score from the one-yard line. The score from the mobile quarterback put the Titans up 7-0. The Steelers punted on each of their next two drives, while the Titans kicked a field goal from 26 yards out in between the two Pittsburgh possessions. Now up 10-0, Tennessee had a third down on their own side of the field, but Pittsburgh cornerback Arthur Maulet stripped the ball from Anthony Firkser, and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick recovered the fumble at the 36 and set up the Steelers with a good field position.
However, the Steelers were unable to do major damage with their good field position and instead notched a 36-yard field goal. The Titans then kicked a 31-yard field goal to make the score 13-3 with 0:18 left in the first half. The Steelers were able to get 40 yards in 17 seconds and sent out their kicker Chris Boswell for a 56-yard try. The usually-reliable Boswell, who had not missed a 50+ yard field goal all season, fell short on this attempt. This kept the score 13-3 heading into halftime.
Pittsburgh Used Second-Half Turnovers to Push Ahead
The first three drives (two for Tennessee and one for Pittsburgh) of the second half all ended in punts. After the second Titans punt, the Steelers put together a nice four-minute, 63-yard touchdown drive. The touchdown was a rushing score, by Ben Roethlisberger, on a one-yard quarterback sneak. The usually non-mobile quarterback was able to dive forward for the score, and his touchdown brought the game to 13-10.
The Steelers were able to force the second of their four turnovers of the game on a third-down try by the Titans. Tannehill dropped back to pass and found rookie receiver Racey McMath for a three-yard gain, but cornerback Cam Sutton knocked the ball out of his hands. Veteran cornerback Joe Haden, who had not played in any of the last four games, recovered the fumble.
But once again, the Steelers could not completely capitalize on the fumble, but they did add three more points via a 28-yard field goal. On the next Titans possession, on a third-down from the Pittsburgh 42, defensive end Taco Charlton tipped Tannehill’s pass, and it was intercepted by linebacker Joe Schobert. Schobert ran the pick back for 23 yards and set the Steelers up with good field position. But once again, the Steelers could only get a field goal out of it; a 46-yard field goal from Boswell put the Steelers up 16-13.
On the next Tennessee drive, Ryan Tannehill mishandled the first-down snap, and T.J. Watt was able to recover the loose ball. That was the fourth turnover the Steelers forced on the day and it led to a 48-yard field goal (their fourth of the day) to make the score 19-13. The Titans gained 65 yards on their final possession before they were stopped on fourth down.
A Controversial Final Play
On a fourth-and-seven for the Titans, Tannehill completed a pass to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine for roughly six yards (tackled at about the 10.5-yard line but needed to get to the 9.5). Joe Haden stopped him nearly a full yard short, but a generous spot by the referees caused the chains to be brought out for an official measurement. The ball (at its new spot) had clearly reached the part of the first-down marker, but the referees said Westbrook-Ikhine was short. Then, a booth review was initiated, and the ball was re-spotted nearly a full yard back from its original spot. At that point, there was no need to measure it any further; the Steelers had forced the stop on fourth down and held on to win 19-13.
The Offense Performed Well Below Expectations
The Steelers offense produced just 183 yards of total offense (148 passing, 35 rushing). Roethlisberger (148 passing yards, zero touchdowns) likely had his worst statistical game of the season, but he didn’t miss on too many throws so it was not truly a really poor performance. The offensive line could not create any holes for rookie running back Najee Harris, as he rushed for a measly 18 yards on 12 carries. The offensive line has been bad all year, but they have been a lot better at some points. But an average of 1.5 yards per carry for Harris was abysmal even with a bad line.
The Steelers leading receivers in Week 15 were Diontae Johnson (five receptions, 38 yards) and Pat Freiermuth (four receptions, 37 yards). All of Freiermuth’s stats came in the first half, as he was knocked out of the game with a concussion in the waning moments of the first half. James Washington also had 36 yards on three receptions.
The Steelers offense was very quiet, but they were able to get just enough done to score four field goals and a touchdown. Chris Boswell had a 4/5 kicking day and moved to 28/31 on the season. He has been really good for the Steelers, and he has won some games for the Steelers and kept them in some tight games with his great accuracy.
The Rush Defense Once Again Faltered
The Titans were able to put up 201 rushing yards on 42 attempts. The Steelers defensive line once again had a difficult time getting things going. They consistently lost the battles in the trenches and had many missed tackles. Titans running back D’Onta Foreman had 108 yards, and Dontrell Hilliard had 49 yards (including a couple of big third-down runs).
However, the Steelers did notch four sacks in Week 15 despite a poor performance up front. T.J. Watt had 1.5 sacks on the day and now sits at 17 on the season. With his sacks in Week 15, he broke the franchise record for the most sacks in a single season, which was previously held by James Harrison. Chris Wormley and Derrek Tuszka each had a sack as well.
The Secondary Made Some Great Plays
Cornerbacks Arthur Maulet, Cam Sutton, and Joe Haden all made some fantastic plays for the Steelers during the Week 15 matchup. Maulet and Sutton each forced a fumble that netted the Steelers field goals. Plus, Haden had a fumble recovery and a big fourth-down tackle that sealed the game.
Overall, the secondary played very well throughout the game. They held Ryan Tannehill and the Tennessee receivers just 153 yards, and they did a nice job with tackling. They were able to get stops and force turnovers when they absolutely needed to. Depending on big plays and turnovers for a win is an unconventional method, but it continues to work for the otherwise struggling Steelers defense.
Where This Leaves Pittsburgh Entering the Game Against the Kansas City Chiefs
The Steelers are now 7-6-1 and in third place in the AFC North following the Cleveland Browns Week 15 loss. They are currently sitting at ninth in the AFC, which is just two spots out from a wild card berth. The Steelers are also just a half-game out of the AFC North division lead after Week 15. All four teams are within one game, so the standings could shake up each and every week.
Pittsburgh, in Week 16, will head to Arrowhead Stadium to take on the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs sport a 10-4 record and currently hold the number one seed in the AFC. It will certainly be a tough matchup for the Steelers, but if they can somehow eke out a victory they would be in a good spot. The Chiefs have one of the best offenses in the NFL, which is led by Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce. These three guys are all arguably top three at their respective positions, and they will be a tough match for Pittsburgh’s defense.
Plus, the Kansas City defense is getting hot at the right time. Things are not looking good for the Steelers, but they have pulled off some tough wins this year. The Steelers should never be counted out, mainly because their fourth-quarter offense (led by Roethlisberger) is first in passing yards, touchdowns, and passer rating.