The Green Bay Packers look to keep the momentum from their win over the Rams last week going as they head to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers. The Steelers are 5-3, coming off of a close matchup against the Tennessee Titans on Thursday Night Football.
The Steelers are an interesting opponent to play against. They have been outgained in eight straight games, but their +8 turnover differential keeps them in games. Jordan Love had his first turnover-free game since week two last week, a trend that must continue if the Packers hope to win this game.
The Packers head into this week very thin on the defensive side of the ball. Both Jaire Alexander and Quay Walker are expected to miss this week. Jaire’s absence is especially concerning given how thin the secondary is already. Walker’s absence means backup LB Isaiah McDuffie, who played well in Walker’s place last week, will once again need to step up.
The Steelers are a tough opponent, and under Mike Tomlin, are always a force to be reckoned with. The Steelers are without former Packer DT Montravious Adams and safety Minkah Fitzapatrick for this matchup.
The Packers will also have to contain TJ Watt if they have any hope of winning this game. The 2021 DPOY is once again making his case for best defensive player in the league, with 9.5 sacks through his first eight games of the season. Zach Tom will have his work cut out for him.
The Packers have a tough matchup in store for them. Can Love lead the team to back-to-back wins for the first time in his career?
The game quickly turned into a surprise shootout early on. After the Steelers scored on their opening drive off of a short Najee Harris rushing touchdown, the Packers offense responded beautifully.
Love drove the offense down the field, completing five of his six pass attempts, and finding Romeo Doubs in the endzone for the tying touchdown.
The defense continued to allow the Steelers offense to carve them up early on. Save for a near interception by Keisean Nixon, the defense had no answers as the Steelers once again drove down the field and scored on a 16-yard run by Jaylen Warren.
After the Packers went three-and-out on their next drive, the Steelers offense once again faced little resistance. A Preston Smith sack saved the Packers from allowing another touchdown. The yards lost from the sack were too much to overcome, forcing the Steelers to settle for a Chris Boswell field goal, extending their lead to 17-7.
Love and the offense once again found a way to respond. A seven-play drive featuring a 40-yard AJ Dillon run and a 35-yard touchdown strike to Jayden Reed cut into the Steelers lead. Anders Carlson’s extra point attempt was blocked however, making it a 13-17 game.
A clear lateral recovered by Green Bay was somehow ruled an incomplete pass on the ensuing drive. Matt LaFleur challenged the play, only for the officials to uphold the ruling. A Jonathan Owens PBU two plays later forced the Steelers to punt. Both teams traded punts for the remainder of the half as the Packers defense began to lock in.
Keisean Nixon started the second half off with a bang, taking the kickoff 49 yards into Pittsburgh territory. Love drove the offense into the redzone, but the offense stalled, settling for a field goal to cut the lead to 16-17.
The defense continued to clamp down on the Steelers offense, forcing a three-and-out on the ensuing drive. Love continued to cook, finding Doubs for a 20-yard completion early on in the next drive, then Luke Musgrave for a 36-yard completion two plays later. Once again, they would sputter in the redzone, settling for another field goal to take the lead 19-17.
The Steelers responded with a quick deep shot to George Pickens into Green Bay territory, but the Packers defense recovered. The defense held the Steelers to a field goal of their own four plays later to retake the lead 20-19.
Both teams traded punts for the next three drives before Pittsburgh broke the stalemate. On an eight-play, 49-yard drive, the Steelers drove deep into Green Bay territory, and extended their lead on a 35-yard field goal. The 23-19 gap meant Green Bay needed a touchdown to retake the lead.
With just over five minutes left in the game, Love once again drove the Packers offense down into the Steelers redzone. Like he was for most of the game, Love was on fire, finding Musgrave for a 28-yard completion, and Dontayvion Wicks for a 32-yard catch and run three plays later. However on second-and-nine, Love looked to Watson in the endzone. Steelers all-pro cornerback Patrick Peterson made a great play on the ball, batting it away and into the arms of safety Keanu Neal.
With still over three minutes to play, the game wasn’t over. The Packers defense held, forcing the Steelers to punt six plays later, leaving just under a minute for Love to work with.
Love’s first pass of the drive was a 46-yard wobbler to Reed, setting them up at the Pittsburgh 35 with 51 seconds to go. A pass to Jones for no gain, an eight-yard scramble, and an incompletion to AJ Dillon set up 4th-and-two at the Steelers’ 27-yard line with 17 seconds left.
With the game on the line, Love found AJ Dillon for the first down, and quickly ran to the line and spiked the ball with three-seconds left. Once again, with the game on the line and needing a touchdown, Love looked for Christain Watson. For the second time, Love’s pass intended for Watson was picked off, this time by Damontae Kazee, slamming the door shut on the Packers.
The Steelers held off the Packers to hold onto their 23-19 win.
Players of the Game
- Jayden Reed: Jayden Reed has quietly made a name for himself in this Packers offense. The second-round rookie out of Michigan State was WR1 in this game, catching all five of his targets for 84 yards and a touchdown. Reed made the crucial catch on the final drive to give the Packers a chance to win the game in the waning minutes. With the poor performance out of Christain Watson this season, Reed has cemented himself as WR2 in the offense, and an argument could be made that he is WR1.
The Packers offense finally showed up in the first half, with both of their touchdowns coming in the game’s first 30 minutes. The defense struggled at first, allowing touchdowns on the Steelers’ first two drives, but recovered nicely, only allowing nine points the rest of the game.
Despite the loss, there were plenty of positive takeaways. Love played one of the better games of his young career. His confidence is improving, and his deep ball was on point. Love had a season high 289 yards and two touchdowns, along with another 11-yards on the ground for Love’s first 300-yard performance of his career. We will get to the two interceptions later, but for 57 minutes Jordan Love played relatively mistake-free.
Some other positive takeaways: the rookie playmakers have a bright future. Three leading receivers for the Packers this week were all rookies: Reed, Musgrave, and Wicks. Love has a passer rating of 118.1, 105.5, and 103.8 when targeting these rookies respectively. Love spread the ball around to them evenly as well, each of them having four targets, with Reed having five. The young receiving corps has built up quite the repertoire with Love, I look forward to seeing them continue to grow together.
The offensive line played well in this matchup. They only allowed a single sack to TJ Watt and company, though they did allow 13 pressures on the day. Left tackle Rasheed Walker allowed the most pressures with five, as we continue to wonder why Yosh Njiman is not in the starting lineup.
Watson is officially in the midst of a sophomore slump. Watson has 14 catches for 236 yards and a single touchdown on the season, and Love’s passer rating when targeting him is a meager 37.8. Of Love’s 10 interceptions this season, five of them have come when targeting Watson.
Watson has struggled to win contested catches all year, and while his struggles are definitely cause for concern, it’s too early to call him a bust. Watson could have a career arc similar to that of longtime Packer Davante Adams: promising rookie campaign, lackluster sophomore season, breakout junior season.
It is still too early to make a final judgment on Watson, but the Packers should definitely limit his targets until we see improvement.
The Packers drop to 3-6 on the season, and head back home to face the Los Angeles Chargers. The 4-5 Chargers boast a high-powered offense, but a defense that leaves a lot to be desired.