So much for early concerns about the Pittsburgh Steelers, who made good on one of head coach Mike Tomlin’s favorite coaching mantras. Despite of a myriad of losses of key contributors on offense, Tomlin assured anyone and everyone who would listen that the Steelers’ high-octane offense would continue to get the job done.
After the Steelers convincing 38-16 win over Washington in their season opener on Monday Night Football last night, it looks like Tomlin had reason to be confident.
In our first regular season edition of “Three up, three down,” there was plenty to love from the Steelers’ dominating performance in the nation’s capitol.
Trio of Roethlisberger, Brown, Williams shines in season debut
Ben Roethlisberger is, simply, one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL because of his evolution under offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Sure, he’s always put up numbers and won games, but lately, he’s just playing at a different level. His comfort level in the offense is incredible, and despite no Markus Wheaton, Heath Miller or Martavis Bryant, he always finds the open receivers and makes big plays.
Monday night was extra special for Roethlisberger, as he threw his 274th touchdown pass to overtake legendary Joe Montana for 13th all-time in TD passes thrown in NFL history.
Speaking of open receivers, Antonio Brown continues to make a case as the best player in the NFL with his eight-catch, 126 yard, two touchdown performance where he spent much of the night undressing Washington cornerback Bashuad Breeland. The much-anticipated one-on-one matchup with All-Pro Josh Norman never really materialized, probably for the best for Norman.
Brown, too, made some history by notching his 500th catch from Roethlisberger on a dazzling 26-yard TD catch to give the Steelers a commanding 24-6 lead.
DeAngelo Williams proved that at 33 years young, there’s still plenty left in his tank after he rushed for 126 yards and two TDs — he also had six catches for 28 yards. In a fantastic performance from the ageless wonder, Williams has to be right there with Roethlisberger and Brown as the MVP of the first win of the season.
Give credit where credit is due
The Steelers’ offensive line and tight ends Jesse James and David Johnson deserve a ton of credit for continually opening up gaping holes for the ultra-patient Williams all night. Washington’s defensive front was manhandled throughout, and Pittsburgh’s All-Pro guard David DeCastro had a tremendous game, as did center Maurkice Pouncey.
Sticking with the offense, kudos to Eli Rogers for his promising debut at slot receiver. His six catches for 59 yards — all of which came in the first half — included a touch of luck when he scored his first NFL touchdown on a crazy deflection in the end zone.
Defense wins championships
The defense came through in a big way and, most noticeably, didn’t allow the big play to be an issue. Pittsburgh was able to limit Washington’s streaky quarterback Kirk Cousins from making plays to his impressive corps of receivers. Although wide receiver DeSean Jackson broke the 100-yard plateau and tight end Jordan Reed had seven catches on the night, the impact of their plays was far from game-changing.
Ryan Shazier was impressive before leaving (again) with an apparent knee injury. He forced a fumble that was recovered by Washington, only to come back and intercept Cousins on the very next play. It’s been said plenty, but Shazier is an All-Pro in the making — if healthy.
It’s worth noting L.J. Fort replaced Shazier, not the newly extended Vince Williams. It may be much ado about nothing, but it’s interesting and is something to follow.
Rookie defensive back Sean Davis, who was born and grew up in Washington, D.C., looked the part of a veteran and made an immediate impact in the secondary. He was credited with four tackles, and he had some excellent coverage downfield.
Jarvis Jones continues to not live up to Steelers’ expectations
You know it’s a great game when you have trouble coming up with a list of things that were bad. But, although linebacker Jarvis Jones was credited with six tackles, he continues to fail to live up to his first-round expectations in his fourth season. His inability to make plays is a real problem for a defense that is looking for playmakers at linebacker. With Shazier potentially out, it’s imperative to get more from Jones.
Defense has trouble getting to Kirk Cousins
The Steelers defense didn’t record a sack all night and infrequently got pressure on Cousins. It’s an old theme, but without consistent pressure, it’ll be hard for the Pittsburgh pass defense (which will get a ton of work this season) to be effective, especially against the elite quarterbacks the team will ultimately have to beat in order to win in the playoffs.
Shazier’s injury, if serious, is a significant blow
Got to go back to the Shazier injury for a second. Few inside linebackers have the skill set of Shazier, demonstrated by his outstanding pass coverage on Reed to break up a TD catch in the endzone along with his forced fumble and interception. Shazier is a difference-maker on a defense that is desperate for them. If his injury is serious and/or he can’t stay healthy this season, it’s a huge loss for the team.
Correction: A previous version of the article stated Antonio Brown made history in Monday’s game when he notched his 500th NFL catch. In fact, it was his 500th catch from Ben Roethlisberger.
Image credit: John McDonnell/The Washington Post