Pittsburgh Steelers Rush Offense, Suffocating Defense Lead to Week 15 Win

Pittsburgh Steelers Week 15

The Pittsburgh Steelers took on the Carolina Panthers in a Week 15 matchup in Charlotte. The Steelers prevailed thanks to a sound rushing offense and defense throughout the game. The team dominated most of the game and a few costly penalties and mistakes made it closer than it should have been. Receiver Diontae Johnson, who has struggled at times this year, turned in his best performance of 2022 with ten receptions. The defense, led by veterans TJ Watt and Cam Heyward, was able to sack Sam Darnold four times en route to holding their passing game in check. The unit has had several consecutive good performances and is starting to tidy up. With the win, the Steelers nudge their record to 6-8 and look to make some noise in their last three games.

Pittsburgh Steelers Rush Offense, Defense Suffocating in Week 15 Win

Game Summary

The Steelers controlled most of the game en route to their 24-16 win. They had the ball for nearly 36 minutes as opposed to Carolina’s 24 minutes, a sharp increase in recent times. They also converted 22 first downs as opposed to the Panthers’ nine and allowed zero first downs rushing. It was probably one of the most “complete” games all year but there were still things that made the game close.

Fast Start for Pittsburgh

The Panthers struggled to run the ball game right out of the gate and couldn’t get anything on the ground. The opening drive led to a Panthers punt, but the Steelers started fast and strong with a 12-play, 67-yard drive. Committing to the run early and incorporating short passes led to the Steelers moving down in a slow, drawn-out drive that took nearly seven minutes. On a first and goal from the seven, Najee Harris took it in for his sixth touchdown of the year to open the scoring at 7-0. 

The Panthers first seven run plays went for a total of five yards, so they had to turn to the passing game early and often. They had four completions of 10+ yards on their second drive and then DJ Moore found the end zone from five yards out to knot the score at 7.

The Steelers would answer right back, with another long drive that took ten plays to go 75 yards. Once again riding the run and a 38-yard spectacular catch by George Pickens, the Steelers found themselves deep in Carolina territory quickly. On a second-and-goal from the two, Jaylen Warren charged in for his first career touchdown and gave the Steelers a 14-7 before halftime. Each team possessed the ball three more times before halftime but nothing came out of any of them.

Key Third Quarter Shows Pittsburgh’s Control

Backed up at their own nine following the kickoff, Mitch Trubisky led the offense on a 21-play, 91-yard drive that took up 80% of the third quarter (12 minutes long). Trubisky hooked up with Diontae Johnson five times for 55 yards on the drive. Trubisky took it in himself on a QB sneak from the one and made it a two-score game. The Panthers started their next drive with a 45-yard pass to Chuba Hubbard, but two sacks (one by Heyward, one by Watt) knocked them out of field goal range. On a fourth-and-27 Marcus Allen was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and gave Carolina a fresh set of downs for nothing. The drive stalled and they were forced to take a 29-yard field goal.

Defensive Play in Fourth Quarter Leads to Win

The Steelers did nothing with their first drive of the fourth quarter and had to punt. Both teams led long field goal drives and kept it close. The Panthers kicked one from 32 yards out and brought the score to 21-13, but the Steelers answered with a long drive that ended in a 50-yard field goal from Chris Boswell. There was only a minute left in the game when Carolina got the ball back down 11 but somehow squeaked out a field goal to make it an eight-point game with just 19 seconds left. A failed onside kick attempt sealed the deal for the Steelers’ sixth win as they cruised over Carolina in Week 15 to improve to 6-8.

Offense Looks Good but Key Members Missing/Not Incorporated

With Kenny Pickett still dealing with a concussion, the starting quarterback would be a tossup between Trubisky and Mason Rudolph. Trubisky earned the starting nod and did what he could. His stat line was not impressive by any means but it was enough considering the trajectory of the game. He finished 17/22 for 179 yards passing as well as nine rushing yards and a touchdown. It wasn’t a poor performance or great for that matter, but it was what the Steelers needed to get back on track.

The run game worked all day for the Steelers, as they notched 156 yards and all three of their scores on the ground. Leading the team was featured back Najee Harris, who carried the ball 24 times (season-high) for 86 yards and an early touchdown. Jaylen Warren also turned in a nice game, converting 12 touches into 50 scrimmage yards and a touchdown. Steven Sims got his two weekly jet sweep runs and turned one into a gain of 22. Overall, Pittsburgh ran the ball 45 times but had a below-average 3.5 yards per carry. The offense wasn’t necessarily great but they held long, sustained drives that simply took too much time off the clock and wore down the Panthers. 

Turning in a season-high 98 yards was fourth-year receiver, Diontae Johnson. He did so on ten receptions (also a season-high) and now sits 13th in the NFL in receptions with 77. He caught all ten of the targets that went his way from Trubisky and did a nice job converting first downs. Rookie receiver George Pickens only had two catches for 53 yards but had five total targets. The surprising thing is that star tight end Pat Freiermuth was not targeted at all in the game. He usually plays a big role in the offense but Matt Canada and Trubisky couldn’t get him involved in Week 15.

Suffocating Defense and Pressure Leads to Complete Game

The defense was fantastic for all of the game and only had two letdowns. The usually-strong Carolina running game was held in check, as they ran 16 times for a measly 21 yards (just 1.3 yards per carry). They held D’Onta Foreman to nine yards on ten carries and allowed Chuba Hubbard ten yards on four carries. Most of the credit is due to the defensive front who had six tackles for loss and four sacks. Larry Ogunjobi had two tackles for loss early in the game and helped establish the defense’s presence early.

Sam Darnold threw for 225 yards on 23 attempts but was also sacked four times for a loss of 37 total yards. Cam Heyward and TJ Watt each had 1.5 sacks and Alex Highsmith notched his team-leading 11th sack of the year. The defense let up two 40+ yard plays that both led to scoring drives for Carolina and ultimately kept them close in the game. Without those two plays and Marcus Allen’s penalty, Carolina may not have cracked ten points. It was an impressive performance for the defense and besides the few mistakes, they played one of their best games all year.

Steelers Fans Looking for Christmas Miracle

In Week 16, the Steelers host the Las Vegas Raiders on Christmas Eve at 8:15 for the NFL’s primetime game. It will truly be an electric night filled with Christmas spirit and the energy stemming from the Immaculate Reception. The game marks the 50th anniversary of the tremendous play by Franco Harris and Terry Bradshaw and the team will have a celebration for one of the best plays ever. But the game also brings serious playoff and future implications for both teams.

They both currently sit at 6-8 but are still alive in the AFC playoff chase. They both will need to win out and get some help along the way. For the Steelers, they need to win each of their three remaining games and get help from six games concerning AFC East teams. It is the longest of long shots, but hey, they snuck in last year after getting help from multiple teams. It could truly be a Christmas miracle for Steelers fans, or they could get a lump of coal as the bitter reality sinks in.