By Jeremy Hritz
What a sorely needed win for the Pittsburgh Steelers to avoid a 1-4 start, as the team defeated the Broncos, 27-19. The Steelers came out hot out of the gate with a beautiful, deep touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Diontae Johnson. While it wasn’t all pretty, it was a win, and it helps the Steelers build some confidence in their unit and schedule ahead. The team now moves to 2-3 with a date with a Russell Wilson-less Seattle Seahawks next Sunday night in Pittsburgh. Here are those players who earned their way on to this week’s Honor Roll, and those who played below the line and are in need improvement.
For the second week in a row, Roethlisberger connected with Johnson on a big touchdown pass in the first quarter to give the Steelers an early lead. Johnson has put to bed the concerns about his drops so far this year and is proving his worth as a #1 receiver with the ability to stretch the field. His catch and run in the fourth quarter was clutch to give the offense some space to breathe.
In what is becoming a weekly occurrence, Harris delivered in a big way, recording his first 100-yard rushing performance of the season, and showing what type of impact he can have on an opposing defense in the 4th quarter. Harris had 89 yards at the half and gave a preview of how he can be a game-changing running back for the Steelers. Harris was experiencing some discomfort in what look like the calf area, so hopefully he is OK, as he is the Steelers offense. If he is out for any extended period of time, this team is in trouble. Harris finished the game with 23 carries for 122 yards and 1 touchdown, in addition to 2 catches for 20 yards.
What a big sack Bush had on a second down for a 12-yard loss after Javonte Williams big run, and what a turn in momentum. Bush turned what should have been a touchdown into a field goal and kept the Steelers in the driver’s seat of the lead. Unfortunately, Bush exited in the 4th quarter with an injury.
After the injury to JuJu Smith-Schuster, Claypool delivered with a huge catch and run for 59 yards that set up a 1-yard Harris leaping touchdown. If Smith-Schuster is to be out for any period of time, the Steelers are going to have to rely on Claypool and Johnson to lead this passing attack. Claypool finished the game with 5 catches for 130 yards a 1 touchdown and flashed his potential and what he can be in this Steelers offense.
Heyward was his usual dominant self on the defensive line, and no play illustrates that better than a 2nd-down run in the early 3rd quarter in which he stood up the offensive lineman, maintain his gap integrity, and made a tackle on Melvin Ingram on a minimal gain of 2 yards, setting up a 3rd and long that the Broncos didn’t convert. Heyward is a stud who has been the most consistent on the defense this season, and his stability should not be taken for granted.
Congrats to Mondeaux on recording a sack today in the 4th quarter, getting to Teddy Bridgewater for an 8-yard loss. The Steelers needed their defense line depth to step up, and it did today, especially from Mondeaux.
Banged a 63-yarder in the 4th quarter and was solid on his few attempts today. While he wasn’t needed much, he showed the explosive potential he has should he be able to thunder punts on a consistent basis.
Boswell hit two field goals for 43 and 48 yards, with his 4th quarter shot somewhat sealing the deal for the Steelers. Boswell has quietly become an OG for the Steelers on special teams.
Highsmith’s next sack will be his first, and despite a tear in the preseason, he has been underwhelming in the regular season. On Javonte Williams’ big run, Highsmith got caught out of position which resulted in the big gain. For as much optimism as there was for Highsmith at the start of this season, he has yet to deliver.
Maybe it’s unfair to put Fitzpatrick on this list, but he was out of position on several occasions today and late to making a play that could have prevented a conversion or a big play. The playmaking he has been known for has been absent, and yes, I know he was robbed last week, but more is expected and needed from Fitzpatrick if this is to be an elite defense.
Single-handedly let the Broncos back into it, giving up the big touchdown pass to Cortland Sutton. This is not the first time Pierre has given up an explosive touchdown pass, and this needs to be rectified or he needs to go to the bench. It’s a nice feel good story as an undrafted rookie free agent, but patterns are patterns, and this is unacceptable. And while he did make a pick at the end of the game, that doesn’t absolve his poor performance.
4th Quarter Defense
I’ll keep this simple… what the hell was that and what is going on with this defense?
There are problems in this secondary, and they are not being helped by the pass rush. Improvements better be coming, or it could be a long year for this defense. Are you serious in letting Bridgewater light you up for that many yards?
Where was TJ Watt? Second week in a row he was a non-factor.
Why isn’t Matt Canada getting these tight ends more involved in the offense?