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Position Notes: Steelers vs. Raiders

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

On a night the Steelers honored the late great Franco Harris with a jersey retirement just a day after the 50th anniversary of the immaculate reception against the then Oakland Raiders on Dec. 12. On December 23, 1972, the Steelers needed a thrilling late-game comeback against the Las Vegas Raiders to go 7-8 this season with the 13-10 victory.

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

Defensively, the Steelers ended the Raiders’ powerful offense as Cameron Heyward and Alex Highsmith went after Derek Carr, and the Steelers knocked out the Raiders quarterback three times in the win.

Let’s move on to some fun Christmas notes.

QB—B+

In freezing temperatures, Kenny Pickett had largely no problem kicking the football with a serious zipper. Pickett was locked in early and made a few key throws in the first half, largely doing what he was asked to do. The Raiders carried off the Steelers’ hasty attack, however, forcing Pickett to carry the charge.

She responded in a big way. After shaking off a nasty second-half interception that he kicked off his back foot and late in the middle, the rookie took over. On the game-winning drive, Pickett completed 7 of 9 passes, including rookie George Pickens’ strike down the middle for the score. He was again unfazed in the moment, securing his third game-winning record of his young career.

The final numbers aren’t flashy (26 for 39, 244 yards, one touchdown, one interception), but he did what was asked of him in poor conditions and delivered game-winning football. It’s enormous.

RB—B

On a cold night, the running backs for the Steelers delivered some serious punishment.

Najee Harris finished with 16 carries for 53 rushing yards, edging former Alabama teammate Josh Jacobs on the night. Harris ran hard between the tackles, had some impressive stiff arms and consistently had the stack dropping forward overall. It wasn’t as flashy overall, but it was consistent, especially on the winning record. Harris had six passes for 42 yards on the night, including a key 19-yard gain on the final bank to move the chains.

Jaylen Warren was also solid behind Harris, finishing with six carries for 23 yards on the night. Despite only having one catch for seven yards, Warren was exceptional in pass protection, holding up well against some Raiders blitzes.

WR—B+

It can be hard to catch the football in freezing temperatures, but Diontae Johnson and George Pickens didn’t have much trouble doing so on Saturday night.

Aside from his game-winning catch, Pickens was impressive on the day, finishing with five catches for 57 yards and the touchdown. He had a big 25-yard catch down the left sideline that was key for the Steelers overall. Pickens consistently opened up and made plays when targeted. He continues to get better and 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 catches went for first downs as he grabbed the night for the Steelers.

Outside of Pickens and Johnson, Steven Sims was the only Steelers receiver to receive a reception in the win, catching a pass on the game’s first drive that went just seven yards.

TE — C+

Pat Freiermuth had a good day overall as a wide receiver, leading the Steelers with seven receptions for 66 yards. He made a few key catches on the winning disc, including his 10-yard dive catch down the sideline to move the chains and keep the disc alive.

Freiermuth was strong throughout the night in the middle, which is where he really starts to get his kicks for the Steelers. That said, he had a bad fall in the game as well as on a game that should have extended the drive overall. As a blocker, Freiermuth had a really tough night. He couldn’t handle the assignment of looking after Chandler Jones and Maxx Crosby all night long.

Freiermuth wasn’t alone in his struggles as a blocker. Zach Gentry had his hands full against Jones and Crosby and couldn’t hold his own, hampering the Steelers’ rushing offense throughout the night. Jones and Crosby are game breakers and deserve kudos, but having tight ends block them — often one-on-one — was a bad game plan.

Connor Heyward made the game-of-the-night sealer play to close out the game positively for Steelers tight ends, ripping a 21-yard run on one end to set the game up for black and gold. All he does is make plays when given the chance. Football player.

OL — B+

On a night when the Steelers had to face Crosby and Jones, the Steelers offensive line allowed just four hits to the quarterback. The offensive line was pretty solid overall when it came to pass protection, giving Pickett plenty of time throughout the night to make plays on the field.

It was pretty impressive overall to see the work that left tackle Dan Moore Jr. and right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor doing pass protection on the edge, not to mention Kevin Dotson, Mason Cole and James Daniels at inside.

The running game, as the stack constantly fell forward, wasn’t good enough overall. The Steelers rushed for 3.9 yards per carry on the night, but that was largely helped by Heyward’s 21-yard run to close the game.

DL-A

Cameron Heyward absolutely rolled back the time of the 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 had a pass from the line of scrimmage, which had a huge impact on the win on a night the Steelers were desperate for. need.

With Heyward, the Steelers line of defense rebounded from a tough first practice by the Raiders to completely stop Las Vegas’ rushing offense, holding Jacobs to just 44 yards on 15 carries.

With Heyward, Larry Ogunjobi had a good night against the run, finishing with four tackles and a tackle for loss, often winning at the point of attack. Montravius ​​Adams and Tyson Alualu combined four tackles in the overall win as the Steelers made a point of stopping the run this week and scoring high.

LB—A-

Like the defensive line, the linebackers were really good on the night, especially Robert Spillane.

Replacing the injured Myles Jack, who was limited on Saturday night, Spillane responded by recording 12 tackles in the win. He was everywhere on Saturday night and played a pivotal role against the run, firing hard on the descent. It was the same for Devin Bush.

Although Bush only recorded three tackles, he was physically shooting downhill against blockers to help clog the lanes overall.

Outside, TJ Watt started to look a bit like himself. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year finished with three tackles, one tackle for a loss and one pass defended in the win. He had a consistent push as a passing thrower, which hampered the Raiders’ timing.

Alex Highsmith had a late key sack and now has 12 sacks on the season. He performed a superb stunt with Heyward, looping the inside for the bag in dire straits for the black-and-gold.

DB—A-

Holding Davante Adams to just two catches for 15 yards is a massive win for the Steelers secondary. They focused on slowing down and they did a great job of pushing it away.

It gave Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller good nights, but overall the Steelers limited Carr to just 174 passing yards in the win, repelling him three times.

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

Levi Wallace and Minkah Fitzpatrick also interrupted passes in the win, with Fitzpatrick pulling Carr out 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 win the ball for the Steelers a game after Pickett’s interception.

Damontae Kazee and Elijah Riley were pretty solid to replace Terrell Edmunds on the night, combining seven tackles.

Special teams — C+

It was a tough night to kick off in freezing conditions with a whirlwind victory, 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 one from 52 yards. While the Steelers probably shouldn’t have taken him out for the 52-yard attempt, it’s something he needs to convert.

In punt play, Pressley Harvin III was solid overall in poor conditions, finishing with a 46.7-yard attempt on the night, including a 55-yard long. Harvin also dropped one inside the 20-yard line. The situational punt was solid overall.

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

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