By Jeremy Hritz
How quickly things can change in the NFL. The Steelers, coming off of a big win against the Buffalo Bills, dropped their home opener against the Las Vegas Raiders, 26-17, falling to 1-1 in the AFC. Injuries defensively mounted throughout the game, while offensive yardage did not, and a dismal mood hovers over the city of Pittsburgh today. While there weren’t many bright spots, there were a few, and I highlight them, along with the many areas for improvement, in today’s Honor Roll.
Johnson caught 9 balls for 105 yards and looked shifty and fast. His ability to take a short pass and turn it into a solid gain is exceptional, and he is slowly becoming Ben Roethlisberger’s go-to receiver. Johnson was injured at the end of the game on a meaningless reception with the game already decided, so hopefully he is OK and will not miss an extended period of time.
Some may argue that Harris does not belong on this list, but he flashed today those traits that can make him an effective running back at the professional level, with the grown-man stiff arm, and the 25-yard touchdown reception from Roethlisberger in the 4th quarter. The Steelers simply are not giving Harris enough carries, as he only had 10, and why in the world is Bennie Snell getting touches? Harris was brought in to be the bellcow, let him be just that.
Man, Spillane was dropping the boom against the Raiders, and even in coverage, he was OK, after raising many concerns in the preseason. It seemed like every other series, Spillane was drilling a Raider and drawing “Oooohhhhhhh!”s from the Heinz Field crowd. He was also unfairly flagged for a shot on Derek Carr when the QB was an unprotected runner. Good, physical game by Spillane, finishing with 12 total tackles and 1 tackle for loss.
Harvin had a nice day, punting 4 times for 197 yards and a 49.3 yard average. Three of his punts were inside the 20, and he hit a long of 59. A nice rebound game for the rookie following his uneven contest from last week.
Mr. Money, The Boz. Boswell hit a 56-yard field goal in the 4th quarter that gave the Steelers a chance to win the game, and it was near perfect. The launch was the longest field goal ever kicked at Heinz Field, and Boswell becomes even more reliable with age.
The Steelers have to make a trade/move in free agency this week on the offensive line, otherwise, the offense is in for a long season. The push is minimal, if anything, in the running game, and pass protection is sketchy and potentially going to get Roethlisberger seriously hurt, as he took several shots against the Raiders. This team was charged with improving in the running game, but after 2 contests, it looks equally as bad, if not worse, than 2020. Something has to give here if the Steelers want to contend, and it needs to happen fast.
Matt Canada’s Gameplan
The offensive play calling lacked rhythm, appeared piecemeal, and could not generate enough yardage to sustain drives. There was no commitment to the running game, and the pre-snap motions and all the bells and whistles we heard about this offseason appear to be nothing more than window dressing. While the Steelers are taking more deep shots down the field in the passing game, it does not appear that plays are building off of each other conceptually, and that the plays that are called are disconnected from a larger scheme or game plan. To be honest, if I didn’t know better, I would have thought Randy Fichtner was calling the plays, which makes me wonder if there is another variable at play that continues to stifle the offense…
Sure, Carr has been hot the first two weeks, but the Steelers pass coverage surrendered 28 completions for 382 yards, 2 touchdowns, one that went for 61 yards. There were multiple instances in third and longs where Carr hit a big pass to make the conversion for the offense. The Steelers need Joe Haden healthy and back in a hurry, but even then, why such a discrepancy between their performance against the Bills and then the Raiders? Confusing.
Please stop dropping critical passes that can extend drives. That’s it. That’s the analysis. Ebron is what he is, and the drops are just a part of his game. Can the Steelers live with it?
It’s only one loss, but the Steelers have to rebound and get ready for the Bengals this coming Sunday, a game they cannot afford to lose. The defense was on the field too much yesterday, and that can be prevented if the offense can begin to sustain drives, and I’d like to see a greater commitment to the running game, as it appears to me they do not want to let go of last year’s offensive identity. Harris was drafted for a reason, let him do what he was brought here to do. Lastly, don’t be surprised to see a move on the offensive line this week, as this group needs a jolt.