Upon Further Review

SCI.net publisher Jim Wexell had several questions about the Steelers' last game that were answered in a review of the TV tape.

I had some questions I wanted answered in a review of the TV tape of the Pittsburgh Steelers' dramatic 34-27 win over the Denver Broncos, and the least of which is whether I jinxed punter Jordan Berry last week.

* It was my idea to feature the two kickers for Steelers Digest. It wasn't exactly waving the white flag in the ideas race, but it was the last issue before the playoff season and I was running on fumes. But anyway both were gracious, and then both struggled Sunday and I feel responsible.

* Of course, Chris Boswell's 24-yarder did carom in off the upright as he broke the team's first-year kicker record for field goals in a season (26) and then joined the 100-point club. Berry's punts, while grotesque to some, did roll inside the 20 four times. That gives him 26 punts inside the 20 this year with only one touchback. Danny Smith loves that stat a lot more than we do.

* Play-by-play man Jim Nantz read the Boswell stuff on the air and I said to myself, "Hey, did he read my stuff?" When Nantz read off another one of my statistical nuggets a bit later, I said to myself, "Nah, he just got that from the same source I did." But when he relayed the story of my interview with Antonio Brown, in which Brown raised an eyebrow over Chris Harris not having allowed a touchdown in two years, I felt pride in a way I hadn't since Al Michaels made "Fast" Willie Parker a national nickname during a long run on Monday night football.

* But I wanted to know how poorly Alejandro Villanueva played, because it seemed as if he was getting a lot of criticism on talk radio and message boards. But I was pleasantly surprised at how well, in review, he did on DeMarcus Ware. It was Shane Ray who gave Villanueva trouble a couple of times. Ware did beat him to pressure Ben Roethlisberger on third-and-12 in the fourth quarter, but not for a sack.

* Ray, who received only spot duty, was more explosive and impressive than was Steelers rookie OLB Bud Dupree, who was blocked all day by well-known Broncos turnstile Michael Schofield. Dupree was a part of that first-half run of third-down conversions by the Broncos. He was in on six of the eight conversions and two touchdowns and was offside the one time the officials incorrectly cited Ryan Shazier.

* Early in the fourth quarter, a hold by Dupree nullified the seven-yard loss on Denver's lateral pass. His highlight was a pressure on the Shazier interception, but that pressure -- from which he came from his seemingly typical spot deep in the backfield -- was the result of Stephon Tuitt's early pressure from which Brock Osweiler escaped.

* The lack of pressure from the first-round picks the Steelers are lining up outside -- Dupree and Jarvis Jones -- is being masked by the consistent interior pressure from Tuitt and Cam Heyward. Even nose tackle Steve McLendon shows more explosiveness.

* I really wish the Steelers would use all three of those tackles in their four-man rushes.

James Harrison left the locker room before the media was allowed in, and I wondered whether he was agitated by a lack of late playing time. The tape showed that he was still rotating with Jones late into the game, and of course joining the three tackles in the application of pressure. Harrison did a better job rushing the passer than either of the first-rounders.

* I peaked in on David DeCastro a few times. He buried the nose tackle on the first touchdown, the DeAngelo Williams run. In fact, DeCastro did such a good job on Derek Wolfe that the frustrated Wolfe wanted to fight him, or anyone, by the end of the game.

* But no one did his job the way Marcus Gilbert did his on Von Miller.

* Yeah, Von who?

* Gilbert has to -- HAS TO -- make the Pro Bowl this year.

* Shazier has worn the green dot on his helmet since the beginning of the season, which surprised me when I asked him and Lawrence Timmons about it a few weeks ago. I assumed Timmons was still relaying the playcalls from the sideline as the buck inside backer, but it's been Shazier and his injury replacements at the mack. Neither player thought it was an issue, or even seemed to care, but it's obvious Shazier is taking on a lot of the brainier type of responsibilities. So with that we blame him for the first Denver touchdown.

* Shazier was stationed at his right side mack position just outside the tackle when Will Gay jogged over to cover slot receiver Demaryius Thomas. But Shazier waved Gay away and shooed him back to the other side. And the uncovered Thomas caught the easy touchdown pass.

* On the second touchdown -- another communication breakdown for which Shazier commendably took responsibility -- both cornerbacks blitzed and free safety Mike Mitchell covered the other wide-open wide receiver. No one was left to cover Emmanuel Sanders, who had the easiest 61-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown in NFL history.

* A double cornerback blitz? Well, maybe it really wasn't Shazier's fault. The TV camera caught Shazier in an animated discussion with Gay in front of coordinator Keith Butler on the sideline. Gay walked away as if it was his fault.

* One cornerback blitzing? OK, let's cross the fingers and hold the breath. Two cornerbacks a-blitzing? Someone's not understanding a part of the process here.

* Later, also after Sanders' touchdown, Heyward had Antwon Blake and Ross Cockrell in tow and was calling for Gay. "Gay! Gay!" Heyward mouthed as the big man was ready to conduct an important sideline meet. Good to see the veterans take control of situations, and the communication issues did go away in the second half as the overall aggression of the Steelers' defensive unit increased. It wasn't all about more Cockrell and less Blake.

* Yes, Brandon Boykin played the slot position in both halves. And yes, Robert Golden entered for minimal dime usage in both halves. But, wow, is THAT being overstated in post-game analysis.

* I had a few penalty questions that really bugged me up in the pressbox, where you miss so much nuance. For instance, I didn't know that Shamarko Thomas had actually stepped out of bounds as he downed the punt that was picked up for an apparent Denver touchdown. The move seemed to be a brain cramp but it's actually a brilliant maneuver. The guy in the booth will see that even if the official doesn't blow it dead.

* But anyway, Penalty Question I arose with 2:18 left in the first quarter on an eight-yard pass on first-and-10 to Markus Wheaton. Now, I thought the change had been made that the yardage for defensive hands-to-the-face was tacked on after the play. OK, they didn't do that. But my question is why did the Steelers take the 5-yard penalty to bring up first-and-10 instead of declining the penalty and taking secoond-and-2 three yards further up the field?

* Penalty Question II: On second-and-13, the Broncos gained seven but were flagged for illegal motion. The Steelers declined in order to take third-and-6 instead of second-and-18. Huh? Well, the Broncos converted the first down but it was brought back by a holding penalty, and on third-and-16 Vernon Davis dropped what would've been a first down. So this turned out to be a non-issue.

* Penalty Question III: Wolfe jumped into the neutral zone on third-and-7 near midfield with 6:14 left. Roethlisberger threw to Brown for a first down. But the so-called "free play" was blown dead. The Steelers subsequently didn't convert the third-and-2. Why didn't the Steelers get the free play? Well, I did see this answer on tape. It was blown dead because Wolfe's jump caused Martavis Bryant to flinch before the snap.

* To use a few quotes from broadcasters to complete this little tape review, I'll start with Bill Cowher, who said at halftime, "Denver's going to have to score 35 to 38 points to win this game." Denver was leading 27-10 at the time and of course lost 34-27.

* The next day, Deion Sanders was asked by NFL Network for a comment during a segment called What Did We Learn Sunday? "I learned Antonio Brown is a man amongst boys," Sanders said. "Targeted 18 times. Caught 16 balls. I don't think you heard what I just said. They throw the ball at you 18 times and you come back with 16 of them. Man, who does that? And two touchdowns and 189 yards receiving against one of the best defenses and defensive backs in the game. That's a grown man. That's a grown man out there amongst boys."

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