There were a few bright spots for the Green Bay Packers in their 27-17 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, but the Packers also benefitted from a combination of poor play by the Steelers and straight-up luck in Week 4.
There are plenty of cliches like “It’s hard to win in the NFL” and “We’ll take a win any way we can get it.” But there were several factors that could have made the game tighter. And in the case of a blown call that greatly benefitted Green Bay, it might have swung the momentum of the game.
BIG BEN WAS BAD
The most glaring takeaway from Sunday’s game was how poorly Ben Roethlisberger played. Let’s start with the 45-yard touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson on the opening drive of the game. The ball was a tad underthrown, but Johnson brilliantly bailed out his quarterback with a subtle push-off on Jaire Alexander, which caused Alexander to mistime his leap and just miss getting a deflection. Heck, when the ball was in the air, I thought for sure Alexander was gonna get the pick. The credit goes to Johnson for the touchdown, and it was a mistake that Alexander would do his best to atone for for the remainder of the afternoon.
Roethlisberger finished the game 26/40, passing for 232 yards with the touchdown to Johnson and an interception late in the game that sealed the win for the Packers. Big Ben had an opportunity to make a difference between the touchdown and the interception but failed to capitalize. There were the balls that spiked into the turf short of the receiver. He occasionally hit the safety valve early in the progression well short of the sticks on third down, or just flat-out missed guys. Roethlisberger certainly didn’t have his best afternoon. Absent were those downfield chunk plays that would put pressure on the Packers’ defense.
He missed several throws like the one below:
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin addressed the need for those big-yardage plays after the game, saying that they can help cover up the other deficiencies that the team might be having.
“We’ve got to have those plays, particularly when we’re not playing as well as we’d like,” Tomlin said in his post-game press conference. “Chunks eliminate a lot of execution, we say in the coaching business. And by that I mean, if you’re not playing clean, splash plays or chunks of real estate age you. And so we’re not playing clean enough, and we’re not getting enough chunks to offset it, and that’s why we’re having the conversation we’re having.”
The FIELD GOAL BLOCK THAT WASN’T
Giving up the touchdown on the first drive of the game, the hope for the Packers was that they would be able to sandwich halftime with points just before the end of the second quarter and then again to start the third quarter to help cement their lead. While that technically did happen, it wasn’t without a bit of luck along the way.
Green Bay took possession of the ball after a Pittsburgh field goal with 5:41 remaining in the second quarter, and it was clear the Packers wanted to eat up as much of that clock as possible and score before halftime. They would have preferred a touchdown but settled for a field goal attempt after the drive stalled out at the Steelers’ 13-yard line.
On the ensuing 31-yard chip shot, Pittsburgh defensive backs Joe Haden and Minkah Fitzpatrick got so such a good jump that it appeared that it had to be offsides. It’s hard to argue with the video evidence that suggests that Green Bay got away with one.
If the blocked kick and ensuing touchdown stand, the Steelers go into the locker room with the lead, up 17-14 after a momentum-changing play. Instead, Crosby tacks on the 26-yarder after the bogus offsides penalty is enforced, and the Packers lead 17-10. Given some of the offensive issues addressed above, it was precisely the type of play that Pittsburgh needed. It would have changed not only the tenor of the conversations happening inside each locker room at halftime but also the trajectory of the second half.
Instead, the Packers get another field goal coming out of the half. Then after a quick stop and a shank of a punt by the Steelers, they respond with a four-play scoring drive to open a commanding 27-10 lead.
PACKERS WEREN’T PERFECT
There were many players who had good-if-not-great games for Green Bay on Sunday: Randall Cobb, A.J. Dillon, Kingsley Keke, and Corey Bojorquez come to mind. But there also was a good amount of mediocrity, too, that was just enough to get by. Aaron Rodgers had a below-average game by his standards, which is still pretty good. He completed just 56% of his passes for 248 yards. Rodgers found his good buddy Cobb on two touchdown passes and ran one in himself. It definitely wasn’t a bad day at the office, but Rodgers did have a few opportunities to remove any shadow of a doubt. On three-straight passes from the Pittsburgh 35, Rodgers missed Robert Tonyan twice and Davante Adams once for a turnover on downs that I’m sure he’d like to have back.
Aaron Jones also had an underwhelming day, again by his own lofty standards. Jones had 48 yards rushing on 15 attempts, with Dillon outproducing him on the ground (81 yards) over the same number of carries. He contributed 51 yards on three catches but also had a fumble late in the third quarter, which marked his last play of the game. Not the worst day by Jones, and the fumble ended up not being costly, but Dillon continues to prove his reliability and versatility each week. Jones is still easily the RB1, but Dillon could gradually cut his way into the workload.
The Packers have been able to win without several players the past few weeks — Elgton Jenkins, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Kevin King (I know, I know) — in addition to the known absence of David Bakhtiari, but seeing Alexander go down was a gut punch. Green Bay doesn’t exactly have a murderers’ row of opponents coming up (the Cincinnati Bengals, Chicago Bears, and the Washington Football Team), but Alexander’s usefulness cannot be overstated. Eric Stokes is progressing nicely, but there’s a tangible effect to having one of the best corners in the game across the field. If Alexander needs to miss time, Green Bay can likely weather the storm for a bit, but he’s not a guy they can be without forever.