Nothing worth while ever comes easy, or it sure seems that way when it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Being a rabid Steelers fan means there is never to be a dull moment during any game. Whether it be truly exhilarating, or extremely frustrating, every Steelers game is guaranteed to keep you guessing and on the edge of your seat. Keep the blood pressure medication and antacids close at hand.
Sunday afternoon's too close for comfort victory over the Denver Broncos at the friendly confines of Heinz Field meets all the aforementioned qualities of any Steelers game. My lovely wife looked at me immediately at the conclusion of the game and proclaimed, "That sure was a nail biter, wasn't it!" It definitely was.
Keeping true to form for the season thus far, the Steelers struggled with prosperity. Penalties, turnovers, missed assignments, dropped passes, and injuries have all shaped this early portion of the 2021 season for the Steelers. Those struggles were still present against the Broncos, but the Steelers played well enough as a collective group to overcome their still present difficulties.
They are starting to show slow but steady improvement across all three phases of the game. That's to be expected as all the rookies and other newcomers gain invaluable experience functioning together, but even more so considering all the injuries they have been forced to endure.
The Next Man Up mantra is all well and good, but there is a reason the next man up is the next man up and not the first man up. The discrepancy between the starters and their replacements has been staggering at times this season. Injuries shape the NFL landscape every season, and this year will be no exception. Survival of the fittest at it's finest.
Steelers Stock Trending Up: Offensive line
Everyone familiar with my writing knows I am a offensive line aficionado. I have always had the utmost respect for the big guys up front. The steam engine that drives the train. The foundation of any offense. The hopelessly underappreciated and overlooked.
For the novice football fan, the offensive line looks like a quagmire of enormous behemoths lumbering aimlessly in a sea of chaos, but it is poetry in motion to those who truly appreciate the exquisite execution intertwined within the brutality. Five individuals with separate assignments working toward a common objective. The Steelers offensive line performance against the Broncos was all that and then some.
Ben Roethlisberger's efficiency was a direct result of Najee Harris' success rushing the football, and all that success was made possible by the best offensive line performance of the young season for the Steelers. The Steelers new look offensive line took a huge step towards respectability against a strong Broncos defense, especially their imposing pass rush, lead by Von Miller.
The left side tandem of Dan Moore Jr. and Kevin Dotson are starting to develop a real rapport, and it showed on Sunday. Moore's run blocking is superior to what the Steelers have been used to at LT over the past few seasons, and if Dotson was dealing with an injury as had been reported all week leading up to the game, you could never tell. He was his normal powerful self throughout the afternoon.
Kendrick Green has shown drastic improvement over the past two games against powerful adversaries. His anchor was impressive, and his explosive mobility sets him apart from other centers around the league.
Trai Turner is gaining confidence and comfort in the Steelers schemes, and you see the occasional glimpse of the abilities that made him a perennial Pro Bowler in the past. He is providing a veteran presence to an extremely young group of linemen as presently constructed.
That brings me to my biggest surprise of the game, Chukwuma Okorafor. Okorafor played one of the best games of his career, in a must win situation, against one of the best in the business. He showed the elite level athleticism and balance that I have been pointing out for years now.
He was faced with an immense challenge, and he definitely rose to the occasion. It remains to be seen if he can repeated such an effort, but it gives me hope for the future. If his effort could ever mirror his abilities, then he could be a solution to a huge problem for the Steelers.
I preached patience from Steelers Nation for the revamped offensive line since prior to the preseason, which sadly fell on deaf ears for the most part. As predicted, we are starting to see the fruits of their labor.
Steelers Stock Trending Down: Pass Rush
The Broncos pass rush wasn't the only one that failed to meet expectations on Sunday. The Steelers pass rush hasn't lived up to it's billing since T.J. Watt suffered his groin injury. There have been other factors involved, but injuries and schematics have been the biggest factors without a doubt.
The Steelers were able to generate consistent pressure with a four man rush in their surprising opening game victory over the Buffalo Bills. This was a crucial contributing factor in the upset, as it allowed the Steelers to blanket Stefon Diggs without exposing their young newcomers in coverage. That was the high-water mark of the season for the pass rush.
Then T.J. Watt goes down against the Raiders; after a blistering start to the season, and the pass rush starts trending in the same direction. Truthfully, Watt's injury has been far from the only pain in the groin, or other areas actually.
Tyson Alualu was lost for the season in the Raiders game, which impacted the pass rush in two ways. First off, he is no longer present to utilize his brute strength to collapse the pocket. Secondly, his run stopping prowess isn't around to create those third and long situations. He has been sorely missed.
The impact of Stephon Tuitt's absence cannot be overlooked. Two thirds of the best 3-4 defensive line in the NFL from last season have not, and will not, step on the field together this season. That greatly impacts the effectiveness of the front seven, not just the pass rush.
Throw in additional groin and other assorted injuries to Alex Highsmith, Devin Bush, Robert Spillane, Carlos Davis, etc., and you have a Steelers defense operating nowhere near full capacity. Not all injuries are season ending, but that doesn't mean they aren't debilitating.
As the Steelers coaches gain more confidence in the new look secondary, I fully expect more exotic pass rush packages to be implemented. That should help alleviate their issues generating consistent pressure, but that is predicated on the good fortune of reasonably good health.