Total View: Week 16 – Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers lost an error-filled slugfest to the Pittsburgh Steelers only to have it all rendered meaningless a few hours later.
13:00 1st Quarter – The Packers start the game with a three and out after a rare decent kick return by Micah Hyde.
It is snowing at kickoff, and it would only intensify as the game continues. The conditions are favorable to the return game for both teams. Hyde would start out by far the Packers’ best kick return game of the season with a 33-yard return.
Two runs by Eddie Lacy got 8 yards, setting up an early third and 2. The Packers line up with three receivers, Andrew Quarless in the left slot, and John Kuhn in the backfield. After the snap, Matt Flynn is looking for Quarless, but the Steelers did their homework from the Dallas game and Troy Polamalu jumps the route by Quarless.
The Steelers blitzed five on the play. The Packers have six to block. Unfortunately, Don Barclay goes to block a guy already blocked by T.J. Lang and Evan Dietrich-Smith and lets Lawrence Timmons run right by him to sack Flynn. Punt.
4:02 1st Q – After a couple penalties help stop the Steelers’ first drive, Matt Flynn takes the Packers 87 yards in 13 plays to take a 7-0 lead.
The drive starts with six straight throws by Flynn, including a screen to James Starks that he makes a nice catch on and then accelerates behind blocks by Lang and EDS for 23 yards. The Packers then start mixing in runs and get a 14-yarder around the left end when Josh Sitton clears a path for Lacy.
After a Kuhn run on third and a foot actually worked, Flynn threw a back-shoulder touchdown to Jarrett Boykin. That seems to be Flynn’s go-to pass.
00:01 1st Q – As has happened too many times this season, a Packers’ opponent answers a score with a touchdown of their own, going 73 yards in 7 plays.
The drive got a quick jump when Le’Veon Bell took a simple draw up the middle, found a huge gap between B.J. Raji and Mike Daniels, stepped out of a tackle attempt by M.D. Jennings, of course, and went straight up the middle of the field for 22 yards. On the very next play, Ben Roethlisberger threw a perfect sideline pass to Antonio Brown for 36 yards, down to the Green Bay 13.
After runs by Bell moved the ball to the 1-yard line, the Steelers surprised the Packers by passing it. With Matthews dropping into coverage, leaving only Daniels, Raji and Perry to rush, Roethlisberger had plenty of time and eventually found a wide open Emmanuel Sanders for the tying score.
The Packers take their next drive to the Steelers’ 35, but a facemask penalty on Josh Sitton ends things there. The Steelers follow with a three and out where Hyde and Sean Richardson take Bell down for no gain on third and 2.
On the Packers’ next drive, they pick up a first down, but then are set back again by a holding call on Marshall Newhouse. They can’t recover and end up punting.
The Steelers pick up a first down of their own, but on third and 9 near midfield, Clay Matthews finally beats the left tackle to sack Roethlisberger. As it did when taking down another doughboy, Matt Stafford, the sack costs Matthews another broken thumb and his season is over.
1:53 2nd Q – The Packers have one of their best drives of the game starting at the 4 minute mark in the second quarter.
Flynn hits James Jones on a comeback route to the right. Jones spins past Cortez Allen and takes off up the sideline for 21 yards. On the next play, Lacy ran Allen over in getting 11 yards. After a run up the middle for 11 more, down to the 14, Lacy took a carry towards the right tackle, sensed the defense over-committing, and cut it back for a 14 yard touchdown that ended with a hilarious 540 spin into the end zone.
Wow, it is the first half and the Packers actually have a lead at 14-7.
We have seen this before, as a Packers touchdown is followed with a long kick return, which set the Steelers up at the Packers’ 45. The Steelers use a combination of passes and draws to move the ball 30 yards. They kick a field goal right before halftime to make the score 14-10.
Micah Hyde would receive the half-ending kickoff and elect to slide down. Whuh??
Besides that mystery, the craziness of the second half would cause people to forget that the first half was actually a perfectly sane and well-played half of football.
11:50 3rd Q – The Packer defense did its job to start the second half as the Steelers’ first possession results in a punt. Unfortunately, that brought the Packers’ special teams onto the field.
The Steelers during the Mike Tomlin tenure have been notoriously aggressive when near midfield. Perhaps aware of this, the Packers are not surprised by the fake. Rather, they jump all over it. As punter Mat McBriar rolls to his right, Jake Stoneburner rushes upfield to cut him off. John Kuhn follows the short drag route right in front of McBriar.
However, fear will cause hesitation, and hesitation will cause your worst fears to come true. Stoneburner hesitates for a moment instead of immediately pressuring McBriar. Davon House comes up to cover the same short route that Kuhn is covering. That leaves no one deep to cover the infamous backup tight end. Even though Stoneburner is a half second from crushing him, McBriar throws perhaps the greatest pass ever thrown by a punter, because it’s the Packers and stuff happens. It is a 25-yard strike on the sideline. The play gets 30, but 15 yards are added on thanks to referee whim, which is what I believe the referee called on the play because there sure as hell wasn’t anything wrong with the hit Stoneburner laid on McBriar a millisecond after he released it.
That play would move the ball from the Steelers’ 44 to the Packers’ 13. I believe McCarthy would call this “adversity defense.” Well, let’s call it an epic fail as the Steelers score on the very next play. Roethlisberger drops back to pass, feels pressure from Josh Boyd and takes off straight up the middle of the field. Since Jamari Lattimore just vacated that area, Roethlisberger goes untouched for the touchdown to make it 17-14.
6:35 3rd Q – The Packers hold the ball for 14 plays on their first drive of the second half. Flynn, who was very efficient in the first half, is still on target here, twice converting third downs with passes to Boykin. The Packers get to the Steelers’ 35 before Flynn finally misfires on a third down pass for Jordy Nelson. The ensuing punt put the ball at the Steelers’ 2.
6:30 3rd Q – Bell immediately rewards the Packers by fumbling the ball away. The fumble starts an insane sequence highlighted by referees making as many mistakes in as few plays as I have ever seen.
The referees have no idea that the ball has been fumbled, finally deciding it was down by contact after referring it to the committee. The Packers challenge and win a reversal. The refs mark the ball at the three, which is where Bell advanced to and not where Tramon Williams actually recovered the ball, which was closer to the 2.
The Packers run Lacy right on the first play. He is knocked down at the four. The refs mysteriously mark the ball at the 5. Check it out. It is quite mind-boggling. On second down, Flynn rolls left, has Nelson breaking open right in front of him, but throws it away. He also takes a shot more than a full second after the pass with no call. Maybe if he was a punter he would have gotten one.
On third down the Steelers show the defense that makes the difference for them against Flynn in this half. Instead of playing as aggressively as they did in the first half, they only rush four guys and have seven sit back in zone with Polamalu free to jump whatever route he wants. It works because Flynn refuses to hold onto the ball and read the entire field, instead making two reads and then throwing it every time.
On this third down, Flynn is only looking left towards Nelson or Quarless. Polamalu doubles Nelson, and Flynn throws it away in the general direction of Quarless.
This brings out Mason Crosby to try a little 23-yard field goal. For whatever reason, which will be forever lost to antiquity, Crosby doesn’t kick the ball any more than eight feet off the ground. A guy standing at the line of scrimmage and raising his hand blocks it. There is a mad scramble for the ball. Because they are the Steelers, merely blocking a short field goal and stopping what should have been a sure scoring drive is not enough, they try to lateral the ball back for a big play. A big play results, but not the one they were looking for.
The ball bounces back towards their own goal line. Ziggy Hood tries to save the day by batting the ball forward. It goes out of bounds. That is an illegal bat, and an illegal bat penalty during a loose ball comes with an automatic first down. Don’t ask me why. I don’t make the rules. I am just a messenger. So, first down Packers. The refs also erroneously threw a flag for holding on Polamalu, only for the committee to realize that holding does not happen during a loose ball situation.
The rightfully flummoxed Steelers argue that they possessed the ball at one point, which should nullify the loose ball ruling. After the refs conference again, they agree that there was no possession of said ball during said debauchery. The Steelers attempt to challenge. Too damn bad. Possession of the ball during a loose ball scenario is not reviewable, which makes sense — think of the ball loose at the bottom of the pile sort of thing.
The replay appears to show that Ryan Clark picked up the ball and took a couple steps before attempting the ill-fated lateral. The announcers suggests this indeed is possession. I am not so sure. Common sense would tell you that one must have possession of the ball in order to lateral it, but when you consider the modern NFL requirements for possession, which I believe entail control of the ball, two feet on the ground, a football move and perhaps the reciting of a sonnet, then I’m not sure there was ever real possession there.
In the ultimate irony, the refs then place the ball just outside the 2-yard line, which is where Tramon Williams actually recovered the fumble in the first place! As such, why don’t we just start over from there and pretend the entire blocked field goal fiasco was some brownie-laced-with-LSD-fueled hallucination.
Eddie Lacy runs off right tackle and gets into the end zone to make it 21-17.
1:55 3rd Q – The Steelers once again answer with a touchdown to take the lead back at 24-21.
After a decent kick return started the Steelers at the 32, Bell went straight up the middle for 25 yards. Both B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett were single-blocked, which allowed the center to cover up Brad Jones. Bell ran right by all of them, leapt Morgan Burnett and crossed midfield before Williams and Hyde got him down.
Bell was stuffed two plays later to force a third and 7. Wrong. B.J. Raji gets called for retaliating to a shot to the face. Its 15 yards and a Steelers’ first down. A couple plays later, Martin Spaeth becomes the second Steelers tight end not named Heath Miller to make a big play, catching a touchdown pass right in front of Sean Richardson, who pulled a Darren Sharper in backing into the end zone and giving up the goal line.
1:40 3rd Q – The Packers look prepared to respond when Hyde returns the following kickoff to the 40-yard line.
On the first play of the possession, Matt Flynn pulls a Tony Romo. The call is a lead play behind Josh Sitton. Flynn sees the Steelers bring a safety up and decides to throw a quick pass to Boykin instead. Flynn needs to take a quick three step drop to pull this off. He doesn’t and Quarless, who is the lead man on this play, bumps into him just as he is releasing the ball. The ball floats up in the air like a birthday balloon with Pick Six written all over it. Cortez Allen collects the gift and goes untouched for the score.
That is 14 quick points by the Steelers, and it is now 31-21, which means Flynn has them right where he wants them.
12:05 4th Q – On the Packers’ next possession, the refs would hit them with holding on the kick return, followed by holding on first play. The Packers wouldn’t recover and have to punt.
Fortunately, on the Steelers’ first play, Roethlisberger would be picked by A.J. Hawk. The return plus a 15-yard penalty on Spaeth would give the Packers the ball at the Steelers’ 23.
The Packers would have to settle for a short field goal when facing the same defense on third and goal — a four man rush, seven back, with Polamalu jumping the slot receiver, Flynn throws a wing-and-a-prayer for Boykin in the back corner. Matthew Stafford may have gotten rich off of throwing wing-and-a-prayer passes, but this isn’t even close.
The field goal at least makes it a one score game at 31-24.
7:14 4th Q – The Steelers go three and out. After two runs by Bell left them with third and 4, Roethlisberger tries for Brown on a cross from the slot. Hyde is in coverage and keeps Brown from getting to the ball by holding the back of his jersey. However, because Hyde pulled the bottom of the jersey, that is tough for the refs to see. They don’t, and the Steelers have to punt.
The Packers respond by going 58 yards in just six plays to tie the game at 31.
After two runs by Starks got the Packers past midfield, Flynn found Nelson on a cross from the slot. Nelson takes it up the sideline and gets 31 yards. Two more Starks’ runs gave the Packers first and goal from the 1. The Packers go with the quick handoff to Kuhn. The Steeler defensive line was slanting to their right. Don Barclay showed why he has a job and drove his man right out of the hole. Kuhn scores untouched.
The Steelers’ next possession faced third and 6 from their 43. The Steelers appear to catch the Packers defense when they screen it to Heath Miller during a mad dog blitz. However, Mike Neal was dropping into coverage, and he shed his blocker and tackled Miller over a yard short of the first down. Remaining aggressive near midfield, Tomlin goes for it. Having probably saved the play just for this situation, the Steelers run the keeper pass to the fullback on a drag route that always works against the Packers. First down.
The Steelers would be forced to punt, however, when Roethlisberger threw too short for Bell on third and 5. The punt would pin the Packers at their 8.
1:51 4th Q – On first down, Flynn would try to run forward out of a pocket he didn’t need to leave and gets sacked for a 3-yard loss. On second down, James Jones gets five yards on a screen play. On third and 8, Flynn scrambles to his left and tries to pick up the first down on his own. He gets hit by Polamalu and fumbles the ball. The Steelers recover at the Packers’ 17.
The Steelers are quite content to go three and out because a field goal gives them the lead. On third and 8, they settle for a safe pass underneath to Bell for 5 yards. Williams tackles him short of the first down, and the Steelers bring in their field goal unit.
However, with the Steelers preparing to go up 3 with 1:35 to play, Nick Perry jumps offsides and gives the Steelers a new first down at the Packers’ 5. The Packers would pointedly tell the media that this is the sixth time that an opponent has jumped offsides during a Steelers field goal. Nick Perry suggested that the snapper moved the ball early. Nothing is visible on the film. However, the immediate celebration on the Steelers sideline suggests that they are doing something to try to get teams to jump.
Regardless, it worked, and it shouldn’t have. Jumping offsides on fourth and 3 during a field goal try is something that losing teams do.
It should have been the end of the game. The Steelers could have ran the clock down and kicked a short field goal to win it. But apparently, that isn’t how they roll. Unfortunately for the Packers, it took them a down to realize the Steelers were actually trying to score. After spending their last timeout after the first carry, the Packers wisely allow the Steelers to score. This leaves them with 1:20 to get the equalizer.
The strategy nearly backfires in spectacular fashion when Micah Hyde takes the kickoff near the left numbers, finds a gap leading across the field, beats the cover unit to the right sideline and goes up the sideline for 70 yards. The Packers now have a full 1:14 to go 30 yards.
After a quick out to Nelson gets 7 yards, the Steelers lose track of Quarless for the only time in the game. Quarless catches the out and turns upfield before Timmons can close. The play goes for 19 yards, down to the Steelers’ 5, where it is first and goal.
There are 50 seconds left to play at this point; therefore, no reason to hurry. However, the Packers want to keep the Steelers’ nickel defense on the field, and so, they get right to the line of scrimmage and then hand the ball to Starks, who gets to the 1-yard line.
There are 40 seconds left at this point, and it is second and goal from the 1. Again, time is no issue, but the Packers want to keep that same Steelers defense on the field and so line up quickly again. Once lined up, Flynn takes about 10 seconds to signal for the snap. The ball is snapped at the 23 second mark. It is another draw to Starks, which is going to be stuffed, except that the play never happens because T.J. Lang false started.
A false start in the final minutes during a running clock comes with a 1o second run off. Technically, the run off should happen from time the ball is snapped since the play was blown dead at that moment. Unfortunately for the Packers, even though the game is at Lambeau Field, the timekeeper ran another unfriendly 3 seconds off the clock before stopping it. Because of that, the run off starts at the 20 second mark, leaving the Packers with 10 seconds to score from the 6.
Ten seconds still should mean two plays, which is clearly what the Packers are thinking at this point. This is where Matt Flynn’s coolness in the clutch actually comes back to hurt him, and we’ve seen this before — think 2010 against New England. Someone tell Flynn that we NEED him to press at this point. He doesn’t.
The Packers claim that the ref who placed the ball wouldn’t let them snap it even as the clock ran — ala the Badgers versus Arizona State in one of the biggest ripoffs in college football history. The film does not agree. On the film, the ref who placed the ball is clearly backing away and allowing the ball to be snapped from the 7 second mark on. If Flynn gets the ball snapped by the 6 second mark, he’ll get two plays, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t get the ball snapped until there are 3 seconds left. In fact, it appears that the head referee, who blew the whistle to start the clock, had to run up to remind Flynn that the clock was running right before it was finally snapped.
It is the same old defense by the Steelers. They rush four and have Polamalu underneath to jump the slant. He is lined up to the inside of Nelson, who is in the slot, and certainly the pre-snap read would suggest he is going to double Nelson. But he doesn’t. He somewhat aimlessly runs out into the flat to get underneath the route by Boykin. Nelson is left wide open on the slant.
This is reminiscent of the Super Bowl. On the Packers’ final offensive play in that game, not counting the kneel down, Polamalu fooled Aaron Rodgers by attacking the line of scrimmage rather than covering the slot. Rodgers wasn’t going to risk it and tried the lower percentage pass to Nelson on the corner. Meanwhile, Greg Jennings, who had lined up in the slot, was wide open on the slant.
So, I guess Flynn shouldn’t feel bad. He isn’t the only one who has been fooled by the pre-snap read in this situation. However, he should regret the pass itself. Boykin is better covered than Nelson, but he still has a chance at a score if the ball is somewhere within reach. It isn’t. It’s overthrown. Game over.
The Packers looked like a young team with a lot of fight but not a lot of brains in the second half. Penalties were a killer all game, but reached an epidemic level in the second half. The idiotic fouls by Nick Perry and T.J. Lang did as much to prevent a Packers victory as any other factor in the game.
Though the conditions made things difficult, the Packers’ special teams unit had about as disastrous a game as possible. They repeatedly gave up big returns, had a short field goal blocked, gave up a fake punt that netted 45 yards, and turned a field goal attempt into a first down for the Steelers that should have been the coupe de grace.
The Packers defense continues to struggle against the run, but when you subtract out the 17 points pretty much handed to the Steelers by the offense and special teams, the defense actually gave up 21 points to the Steelers in favorable conditions for the offense. That is nothing to brag about, but not horrible either.
Dom Capers continues to believe that M.D. Jennings can play safety, rather than starting Sean Richardson, which is unfortunate, but the move to leave Sam Shields and Tramon Williams on the outside and Micah Hyde in the slot has given the Packers a little more viability on third down. Not only did Hyde twice stop passes on third down, but he also helped stuff the run twice on third and short.
Though he has some athletic limitations, Hyde is a baller, and the Packers could use a couple more guys just like him.
On offense, Matt Flynn struggled after a solid first half. The Steelers seemed to realize that instead of rushing Flynn, they needed to just flood the short zones and force Flynn to hold the ball. Flynn could have burned this strategy by being patient in the pocket and waiting the defense out, but he didn’t. The pick six, the fumble, and the failure to get two plays off at the end of the game all rest primarily on Flynn.
With that being said, I actually feel like Matt Flynn hasn’t gotten enough credit for how he has played in Green Bay. Yes, he is a backup, not a starter, and he has looked very much like a backup at times. However, the Packers were not competitive without Flynn. With him, they have been in every game except Detroit. The key is that Flynn can pick up third downs of medium distance, period. This gives the running game a chance to get going and helps keep the defense off the field.
Even if the Packers had beaten the Steelers, they would be in the same position that they are in now. They win the division if they beat the Bears. If they lose, they are out, and the Bears win the division.
If the Packers make the playoffs, they can thank Matt Flynn.
Shawn Neuser attended UWGB and lives and works in Green Bay. He enjoys long walks on the beach and being intimate with game film.