Positional degrees: Steelers vs. Raiders

TECHNOLOGY
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It was a Christmas Eve miracle – sort of – for the Pittsburgh Steelers Saturday night at Acrisure Stadium.

On a night when the Steelers honored the late, great Franco Harris with the retirement of the jersey just one day after the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception against the then Oakland Raiders on December 23, 1972, the Steelers needed a thrilling endgame. comeback against the now Las Vegas Raiders to move to 7-8 on the season with the 13-10 victory.

Rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett had a remarkable drive to win the game, finding fellow rookie George Pickens 14 yards out on a drive down the middle for the game-winning score. The rookie quarterback was positioned down the stretch, while guys like Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth made late-night clutch plays that coach Mike Tomlin said was a “night of growth” for the young offense.

Defensively, the Steelers closed out the Raiders’ high-powered offense in the icy temperate as Cameron Heyward and Alex Highsmith hounded Derek Carr, and the Steelers shut out the Raiders’ quarterback three times in the win.

Let’s go for some fun Christmas notes.

QB-B+

In cold weather, Kenny Pickett had no problem throwing the ball hard. Pickett was blocked early on and made some key shots in the first half, basically doing what he was asked to do. The Raiders took out the Steelers’ fast offense, though, forcing Pickett to carry the load.

He responded in style. After getting rid of an ugly interception in the second half that hit with the back foot and delayed in the middle, the rookie came grabbed. On the game-winning drive, Pickett completed 7 of 9 passes, including hitting rookie George Pickens in the middle for the score. He was undeterred by the moment once again, securing his third win of his young career.

The final numbers aren’t flashy (26 of 39, 244 yards, one touchdown, one interception), but he did what he was asked in poor condition and delivered winning football. That’s huge.

RB-B

On a cold night, the Steelers running backs handed out some serious punishment.

Najee Harris finished with 16 carries for 53 yards on the ground, passing former Alabama teammate Josh Jacobs for the night. Harris ran a lot between tackles, had some impressive stiff arms, and consistently made the stack drop forward overall. He wasn’t as flashy overall, but he was consistent, especially in trying to win the game. Harris hauled in six passes for 42 yards on the night, including a key 19-yard gain on the final rive to move the Chains.

Jaylen Warren was also solid behind Harris, finishing with six carries for 23 yards on the night. Though he only had one catch for seven yards, Warren was excellent at pass protection, holding up well against some of the Raiders’ blitzes.

WR-B+

It can be difficult to catch football in frigid temperatures, but Diontae Johnson and George Pickens had little trouble doing just that on Saturday night.

In addition to his game-winning reception, Pickens was impressive on the day overall, finishing with five receptions for 57 yards and the touchdown. He had a great 25-yard reception along the left sideline that was pivotal for the Steelers overall. Pickens consistently opened and made plays when he was targeted. He just keeps getting better.

Johnson was also pretty solid in the poor conditions, finishing with five catches for 64 yards on seven targets, including a long 15 on the night. Four of Johnson’s five receptions were on first downs as he went up on the night for the Steelers.

Outside of Pickens and Johnson, Steven Sims was the only Steelers receiver to catch a game-winning catch, catching a pass on the game’s opening drive that lasted just seven yards.

TE — C+

Pat Freiermuth had a strong day as a pass receiver, leading the Steelers with seven receptions for 66 yards. He made some key catches on the game-winning drive, including his 10-yard diving reception along the sideline to move the chains and keep the drive alive.

Freiermuth was strong all night in the middle, which is where he really starts to party for the Steelers. That said, he had a bad crash in the game as well on a play that should have extended the overall drive. As a blocker, Freiermuth had a very difficult night. He couldn’t handle the task of dealing with Chandler Jones and Maxx Crosby overnight.

Freiermuth wasn’t alone in his struggles as a blocker. Zach Gentry had his hands full against Jones and Crosby and couldn’t hold on, holding back the Steelers’ fast drive overnight. Jones and Crosby are game wreckers and deserve credit, but asking tight ends to block them – usually one-on-one – was poor game plan.

Connor Heyward made the clinching play of the night to end the game on a positive note for the Steelers tight ends, pulling off a 21-yard run on an end to clear the way for the black and gold. All he does is make plays when he has the opportunity. Football player.

OL — B+

On a night when the Steelers had to deal with Crosby and Jones, the Steelers offensive line allowed just four total quarterback hits. The offensive line was pretty strong overall at pass protection, giving Pickett plenty of time overnight to make plays down the field.

Overall, it was pretty impressive to see the work left tackle Dan Moore Jr. did. and right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor did pass protection on the rim, not to mention Kevin Dotson, Mason Cole and James Daniels on the inside.

The run game, while the stack consistently dropped forward, wasn’t good enough overall. The Steelers rushed for 3.9 yards per carry on the night, but this was largely aided by Heyward’s 21-yard carry to end the game.

DL – A

Cameron Heyward absolutely went back in time that night, recording two sacks and simply dominating from start to finish. The All-Pro team captain finished with seven tackles in the win and also hit a pass from the line of scrimmage, making a big impact in winning on a night the Steelers desperately needed.

Along with Heyward, the Steelers defense rallied from a tough first drive by the Raiders to completely disrupt Las Vegas’ rushing offense, holding Jacobs to just 44 yards on 15 carries.

Along with Heyward, Larry Ogunjobi had a strong night against the run, finishing with four tackles and one tackle for loss, frequently winning at point forward. Montravius ​​Adams and Tyson Alualu combined for four tackles in the overall win as the Steelers were keen to stop the run this week and succeeded at a high level.

LB-A-

As well as the defensive line, the linebackers were very good on the night, especially Robert Spillane.

Replacing the injured Myles Jack, who was limited Saturday night, Spillane responded by recording 12 tackles in the win. He was everywhere on Saturday night and was instrumental against the race, shooting downhill hard. So did Devin Bush.

Although Bush only recorded three tackles, he was physically shooting at blockers to help clog lanes in general.

From the outside, TJ Watt started to look a little like himself. The current Defensive Player of the Year finished with three tackles, one tackle for a loss and one pass defended for a win. He had consistent momentum as a passing runner, which derailed some time for the Raiders.

Alex Highsmith had a key sack late in the season and now has 12 sacks on the season. He made a great move with Heyward, getting into the bag in a critical situation for the black and gold.

DB — A-

Holding Davante Adams to just two catches for 15 yards is a huge win for the Steelers secondary. They put an emphasis on slowing him down and did a great job getting him out.

This allowed Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller to have solid nights, but overall the Steelers held Carr to just 174 yards in the win, shutting him out three times.

Cameron Sutton broke up two passes and made the game-sealing interception in an absolutely absurd play, diving for the overall interception down the middle. He was arguably the best secondary player of the night.

Levi Wallace and Minkah Fitzpatrick also broke up passes in the win, with Fitzpatrick taking out Carr in the process for his fifth interception of the season. Arthur Maulet also made a great play on his interception, catching a deflected pass to return the ball to the Steelers one play after Pickett’s interception.

Damontae Kazee and Elijah Riley were pretty solid filling in for Terrell Edmunds on the night, combining for seven tackles.

Special Teams – C+

It was a tough night kicking in icy conditions with a bumpy win, but having Chris Boswell should have been a huge boost for the Steelers.

Instead, Boswell missed two of his first three field goal attempts, including a 52-yarder. While the Steelers probably shouldn’t have driven him for the 52-yard attempt, that’s something he needs to convert.

In the punting game, Pressley Harvin III was solid overall in poor condition, finishing with a 46.7-yard drive on the night, including a 55-yard length. Harvin also hit one from inside the 20-yard line. Situational punting was solid overall.

Coverage was also decent, although the Steelers allowed a 13-yard punt return by Hunter Renfrow.

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