The 2021 Steelers rookie class experienced a couple more firsts against the Chargers in LA on Sunday Night Football. First, they got to experience vintage Big Ben Roethlisberger, up close and personal. To witness first hand what a future HOF QB looks like, and the special attributes that have made him one of the most successful QBs in league history.
Secondly, they were able to play in what amounted to another home game on the road. To fully recognize the awesome magnitude of Steelers Nation, a fanbase so vast that they can easily take over an opposing stadium. Outside of the Dallas Cowboys, there isn't another NFL fanbase capable of such domination. Sadly, the undermanned good guys in the Black and Gold were unable to send the majority of the paying customers at SoFi Stadium home happy, even after a valiant comeback attempt. Regardless, that had to be a unforgettable moment for all of this season's newcomers.
RB Najee Harris
Harris is starting to feel the effects of carry the Steelers offense on his back. It shows in his body language, in each visible display of frustration, and in his erratic decision making. He has been forced to simply put his head down and plow forward for every yard he could muster far too often this season, limited by his young and still developing offensive line. He has shown impressive patience, and a willingness to trust the process, but you can't blame the kid for getting frustrated.
He desperately wants to break a long run, and contribute chunk plays. He has abandoned the straight power game for multiple jump-cuts and spin moves on occasion recently, with mixed results. There was one play against the Chargers where he caught a short pass out of the backfield and turned up field. You could see his mind racing, trying to decide between making a move or hurdling the defender, who was quickly approaching. He ended up doing neither, and was tackled short of the sticks. He couldn't hide his frustration afterwards.
Earlier in the season he would have put his head down and powered through the defender for the first down. He has to recognize the limitations of his blockers at this point in their development, and get back to taking what he can get at each opportunity.
TE Pat Freiermuth
Freiermuth had a productive bounce back game against the Chargers, rebounding nicely from his devastating overtime fumble against the Detroit Lions the game prior. His connection with Ben Roethlisberger evidently didn't miss a beat, even with Roethlisberger missing the Lions game with COVID, and they picked right back up where they left off. That would be with Freiermuth standing in the end zone, after catching yet another TD pass from his franchise QB.
I don't think it's a coincidence that Ben's recent success and ball security has coincided with Freiermuth's emergence as a viable possession receiver. He has proven effective out of the slot when needed, and his contested catch ability makes him lethal in the middle of the field and the red zone.
C Kendrick Green
Green has become quite the polarizing figure for Steelers Nation. Due to his continued struggles on occasion each week, many of the Steelers faithful are starting to wonder aloud if he should be the starter moving forward this season. Although it is only my opinion, I consider that to be a complete overreaction.
Green has been driven back off the snap almost immediately at least once or twice a game. That has become a far too common occurrence, but is more a technique issue than a strength issue actually. These struggles are more prevalent in the early stages of the game, which points to a settling in period that is needed each game due to his inexperience at the position.
He was also missing his tag team partner Kevin Dotson against the Chargers, a player whom he has come to rely on heavily as the season has progressed, and with whom he was just starting to develop a strong rapport with. The impact of Dotson's absence shouldn't be overlooked.
Green continues to display superior athleticism and heart, and can regularly be seen finishing blocks 10 to 20 yards downfield. Those attributes suggest that Green has a bright future, although patience is required.
LT Dan Moore Jr.
Moore is in a similar stage of his development at the moment as Kendrick Green. He continues to mix in the occasional struggle to his otherwise adequate performances each week. I thought he held up better than expected against the Chargers talented pass rusher Joey Bosa. The Chargers eventually moved Bosa inside late in the game to rush the passer to exploit a mismatch with Steelers backup T/G Joe Haeg, and that's when Bosa made his impact.
For the most part, Moore continues to fight and claw enough to remain adequate, but you catch the occasional glimpse of his true potential often enough to be encouraged by his long term future. You have to admire the young man's effort and determination.
ILB Buddy Johnson
Another healthy scratch for the talented young man, but could a change be on the horizon. If the Steelers inside linebackers continue to struggle with consistency, especially against the running game, it isn't out of the realm of possibility that Buddy Johnson could get an opportunity to show what he can do. He is the only true Buck LB on the roster, and the most physical against the run.
DE Isaiahh Loudermilk
Loudermilk was inactive due to a groin injury suffered during the week at practice. His presence was sorely missed against the Chargers, particularly against the running game. He has become the Steelers second best run defender along the defensive line, after Cam Heyward of course. Hopefully he will be healthy enough to suit up and contribute this Sunday against Joe Mixon and the Bengals.
DB Tre Norwood
Norwood was put in the unenviable position of having to replace the All Pro level talents of FS Minkah Fitzpatrick, who was forced to miss the game due to COVID issues. As one would expect for any backup rookie seventh round selection making his first career start under that scenario, the results were not pretty. Norwood struggled to adequately replace his far more talented teammate. Although he was credited with 7 tackles in the game, he seemed to always be a step slow on the night, and regularly took bad angles to the football.
No single play was more telling than the Chargers go ahead TD late in the fourth quarter, where Norwood was slow to react and took a bad route to the ball carrier. Norwood has excellent instincts, but obviously needs more experience to overcome his rather pedestrian measurables. Hopefully Fitzpatrick will be back in the lineup against the Bengals this Sunday, and Norwood can return to his more familiar and comfortable role as quality depth.
P Pressley Harvin lll
In what turned out to be a rather strange game, where both teams stopped themselves more often than the opposing defenses, Harvin was only called on to punt once on the night. What makes that even more impressive is the fact that the Steelers never turned the ball over once, except for the failed fourth down attempt.
Harvin's role was reduced to that of a placeholder on the night, an area where he continues to do an excellent job. Nobody appreciates the holder until they bobble or botch the snap. Then everybody notices.
For what it's worth, Harvin's lone punt was a good one, a 46 yarder to be exact. His services will undoubtedly be needed far more moving forward, with the pressure amped up bigtime. Hopefully the youngster is up for the task.