In what was perhaps the most exciting, nerve wracking and nail biting five seconds in recent Pittsburgh Steelers memory, running back Le’Veon Bell took a direct snap in a wildcat look to inch his way into the endzone. Touchdown Steelers. Game over.
The play call itself has been under much scrutiny immediately after and so far today. Steelers fans seemingly love the outcome, but question the call itself. In reality, however, there wasn’t any other outcome for the Steelers.
DEFENSE RAN OUT OF GAS
For those questioning the play call, or the idea of going for it when a field goal would have forced overtime and continued the game, remember one simple fact: the Chargers ran 44 offensive plays in the second half alone. In spite of this, the defense stood tall and forced countless drives to stall. Defensive ends Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt played almost every single defensive snap against the Chargers. Despite the workload, Heyward and Tuitt generated consistent interior pressure throughout the game and forced hurried throws or allowed the outside linebackers to finish up the play and get the sack, in Jarvis Jones’ case. Disrupting the pocket and forcing Rivers to step up in the pocket while the edge rush collapsed in seemed to be the gameplan throughout the night.
It became clear, however, that in the waning minutes of the game, the defense was completely out of gas. Rivers was able to complete easy passes due to the pass rush dying down. Heyward and Tuitt could no longer get interior pressure and Dupree and Jones were no longer generating an edge rush consistently. The defense struggled to cover Gates throughout the game and the final two drives exemplified this.
The overtime period would not have been any different. The secondary had its share of struggles throughout, but the front seven was completely out of gas. The fatigue of being forced to continually bail the offense out eventually took its toll in the fourth quarter. The Chargers were able to score on both of their final two possessions, and the overtime period would likely have been no different. Whether or not the Chargers would have scored a touchdown is debatable, but the likelihood of them putting any points on the board is high. This would have forced a seemingly-inept offense to drive down the field and, in the best case scenario, force the Steelers to rely on newly-acquired kicker Chris Boswell to tie the game, assuming the Chargers put three points on the board.
Instead of having their hand forced, the Steelers put the ball into the hands of the best running back in football.
A THROWBACK TO THE WILDCAT
The wildcat formation’s efficiency against the Chargers on Monday night is debatable. The formation was used four times, all to varying degrees of success. The four carries resulted in two six yard gains, followed by a loss of four yards and eventually the one-yard touchdown run. This results in a four carry, nine yard day for the throwback formation. While not overwhelmingly positive or negative, the look should and will be used again in Ben Roethlisberger’s absence.
The most interesting use of the formation was, of course, at the half-yard line.
With Vick driving the ball down the field seemingly with ease, his last completion to tight end Heath Miller was one of the most impressive of the game. Vick, under pressure, found Miller at the goal line and threw a perfectly placed dart that resulted in Miller taking a penalized high hit which stopped the clock and allowed Bell to produce absolute magic.
After breaking the huddle post-penalty with the Wildcat formation, the Chargers quickly and wisely burned one of their remaining timeouts in order to get a better second look or negate the formation once play resumed. At this point, I figured the Wildcat would be spurned in favor of a safer, more time-friendly play. A quick slant in the end zone to Brown, perhaps, or a quick throw to Miller in a mismatch in the endzone. When the huddle broke once again, there was Bell in the backfield, once again lined up in the Wildcat.
Color me shocked.
At this point, I figured the play has little to no possibility of success. The Chargers had used a timeout to prepare for the play and the defensive look pre-snap did not look intriguing. Then, a subtle shift of the defensive line as the ball was snapped made the play… interesting. The defensive line shifted inward, and the boundary of the offensive line was suddenly much more open than the previous second. It’s moments like this that allow Bell to show off his exceptional patience and vision. Initially hit shy of the goal line, Bell continued to trek forward and carry a defender into the endzone. His knee hits, but not before the ball crosses the goal line.
Touchdown. Game over. Steelers win.
There are legitimate gripes to be had with the play call. It’s an audacious one, to say the least, but the ideology behind the play call can not be argued. In the previous game, the Steelers’ coaching staff had two opportunities to give Bell the ball on a crucial down and failed to do so. This resulted in a loss at home against a divisional rival that had no business winning that game. The coaching staff was not going to make the same mistake twice, and decided to give the best player on the field the opportunity to win them the game. Bell did not let his team, nor his coaches down.
If the Steelers have any hopes of beating the Cardinals next week, it is once again going to be on the shoulders of the young All-Pro. If this week is any indication, Bell is more than up to the task.