The Steelers had one central question headed into the first game of the 2020 season. Would Ben Roethlisberger recover from his 2019 season-ending injury?
Terry Bradshaw had the same type of injury in the final season of his career, which ultimately led to his retirement. Well, after watching the first quarter Roethlisberger left some Steelers fans scratching their heads in dismay. He lacked timing with his receivers, either overthrowing or under throwing them. In short, he had a lot of rust; at least he had no elbow issues. Quite obviously, he could have benefitted from a pre-season game or two.
Then by the second quarter, someone must have found the WD40 as he began looking like the Big Ben of old. By the time the final whistle blew, he had gone 21/32 for 229 yards and three touchdowns and no interceptions. He still showed his mobility as a rusher, albeit for only nine-yard. Not bad for a man who has not played a snap in almost a year.
He obviously tried making a statement to the rest of the AFC, regardless of the success of Patrick Mahomes and with Tom Brady now playing for Tamp Bay, he is still the big boy on the block. At least one thing is certain the road to Superbowl LV will not have to go through New England as it has in years past. If Ben’s Monday performance is any indication, that road could quite possibly go through Pittsburgh.
Ben Roethlisberger’s performance aside, there are a few other things to excite Steeler fans. While he played a minor role, Rookie Chase Claypool had an impressive showing.
Ok, he only had two catches; however, his first NFL catch certainly made him look like a crafty veteran. A nearly impossible sideline catch in which barely managed to keep both feet inbound. The type of play Hines Ward or Antonio Brown used to make look like child’s play. As he develops, look for him to evolve into a primary offensive weapon.
Relatively silent in Monday night’s game, newcomer Eric Ebron did make one big catch for 18 yards. So when stronger defensive units play tighter against the pass, it seems likely Roethlisberger may try to target Ebron more.
The Steel Curtain
Even defensively, the Steelers looked sharp. It appeared they had not missed a beat from 2019 thru 2020. They shut down the Giant’s rushing game forcing the Giants to pass. The Giants had 29 rushing yards for the game. Saquon Barkley only had six yards rushing all game.
The only real defensive concern stems from the fact they allowed a 19 play drive in the third quarter. Give that many plays in one drive to Lamar Jackson or Patrick Mahomes; they will make you pay dearly. Fortunately, they played the Giants. At least Pittsburgh managed to keep the Giants from scoring on the drive. An impressive rush by Bud Dupree forced an interception in the end zone by Cam Heyward.
Steelers Running Game
The game leaves two primary concerns that the Steelers may need to address. First, despite Benny Snell rushing for 113 yards, James Conner got injured yet again. Calling into question how much time he has left as a Steeler, especially if he misses more than one game.
Secondly, is Benny Snell capable of being the number one rusher? He had no choice in 2019, thanks to the injuries that plagued the Steelers all season. He looked good on Monday night, but keep in mind he played the Giants. They had a dismal 2019 season and do not look as if they have improved much in 2020.
One concern, though, looms larger than issues with the running game. Injuries to the Steelers offensive line are now a cause for concern. With Decastro already out, the Steelers then lost his replacement, Stefan Wisniewski, to a pectoral injury and then may have lost Zac Banner for the season with a torn ACL. They can ill afford to have any more offensive line injuries next week, and that does not help the running game any.
One thing is for sure, and Big Ben is back in a big way. The Steelers fired on all cylinders Monday night and had an impressive win. While time will tell how well they will ultimately do, if they hand Denver a hearty defeat in week two, they could be in the driver’s seat for home-field advantage in the playoffs this season.