“Steelers Beat Rams 24-17 in Los Angeles.” This headline makes it look so simple.
- But was anything actually simple about this game?
The Steelers struggled — on both sides of the ball — for multiple quarters. They committed a series of boneheaded, drive scuttling penalties.
- Yet, when it was all over, they came out on top.
The win gives the Steelers their first victory in Los Angles over the Rams since Super Bowl XIV. While no one should call this a Super Bowl team, perhaps that championship gives us a takeaway that applies to this team.
But there’s also a takeaway from their last win over the Rams in 2019 that applies. And that in turn takes us to the key to victory in this game: The ability to flip their once tried-and-true “throw to score, run to win” script.
1. Leaning into the Words of John Facenda
NFL Films made the league into the behemoth it is today. In the age before cable TV, YouTube or social media Steve Sabol and company told stories about the National Football League in ways that transcended both time and culture — even Argentines who only discovered American football in the mid-1990s revere John Facenda as a legend.
- NFL Films’ legacy remains vital to this day.
Our Twitterized (or Xized) communication infrastructure has reduced history to shorthand sprinkled with emojis. Viewed through that lense, the Super Steelers four Super Bowls in six years look inevitable.
- But NFL Films threaded the needle of combining legend-making with context.
How many people remember that the 1979 Steelers began the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XIV trailing? Well, they did.
But they won anyway because, as John Facenda explained, “Great teams don’t have be great all of the time, just when they need to be.” This was his lead into Terry Bradshaw’s 73 yard go ahead bomb to John Stallworth.
- Something similar seems to be true about these 2023 Steelers.
Are they a “great team?” Hardly. But they have some great players who have repeatedly proven that they can step up when the team needs them to.
T.J. Watt’s interception is the obvious example — the Rams had scored just before halftime and, could have iced the game by opening the second half with a touchdown.
- What offers the best example, but he’s hardly the only example.
The Rams running backs Royce Freeman and Darrell Henderson Jr. ran frighteningly well at times. Both ripped off, multiple, double digit runs. Yet, at other times they got stuffed for little or no gain. Minkah Fitzpatrick helped turn that tide by coming up and making several plays at or behind the line of scrimmage.
Puka Nacua entered the third quarter with more yards receiving than the entire Steelers offense, yet Joey Porter Jr. played a huge role in shutting him down when it counted.
2. A Welcome Similarity from 2019 – to a Point
The Steelers last played the Rams in on November 2019 at Heinz Field. There are also several similarities to that game.
People likely remember that game for plays like Minkah Fitzpatrick’s 43 yard fumble return for a touchdown, a rhythm changer similar to Watt’s interception.
My lasting memory of that game is of Mason Rudolph. Statistically speaking, his best game that season was at home against the Ravens where he suffered a concussion. But against the Rams he really stepped up and, for the first time, really took charge of the offense.
- Of course, that pocket poise lasted less than a week thanks to Myles Garrett and the Body Bag Game.
Hopefully, that part of history won’t repeat itself, because against the Rams, Kenny Pickett made progress. Not only did he improve as the game moved on as he did against the Ravens, but he carried himself like someone in command in a way that he hadn’t done before.
And nowhere was that command more apparent than when it counted the most.
3. Flipping the “Throw to score, run to win” Script
When Bill Cowher interviewed Ron Erhardt for the 1992 offensive coordinator position, the ex-Parcells lieutenant described his offensive philosophy as “Throw to score, run to win.” Earnhart meant that while you might throw the ball to put points on the board, you beat the other team by running ball successfully, thereby keeping the other team from scoring.
And for a long time, that’s been the Steelers core offensive philosophy even if one could quibble that the Steelers went astray during the Roethlisberger Era.
And that’s the philosophy that Matt Canada used to right the ship during the 2nd half of 2022 following the bye week.
But ironically, the Steelers employed the opposite approach in coming back to beat the Rams. During the second half, Kenny Pickett 11-12 for 152 yards with zero touchdowns or interceptions.
Yet, as they did after Watt’s interception, as soon as the Steelers reached the Red Zone, they muscled it in. First Jaylen Warren exploded for a 13 yard touchdown.
Next time, was Najee Harris who forced is way for a 3 yard touchdown, two plays after ripping of 10 and 5 yard runs.
4. Who Are the 2023 Pittsburgh Steelers?
OK. Let’s agree that invoking John Facenda and Super Bowl XIV is a bit grandiose. After all, the Steelers started the 4th quarter with barely 100 yards of offense. But the win still reveals a few important things about this team:
- This a defense doesn’t simply help its offense with splash plays, it adjusts as the game progresses
- This is an offense takes advantage of opportunities that defense and special teams provide it
- Kenny Pickett continues to clutch
Clearly the Steelers have to stop giving up so many yards so early in games and the offense needs to start scoring touchdowns before the second half. But the fact that they’re continuing to make in-game improvements suggests that they’re capable of doing it as the season goes on.