It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. What a difference a week can make in the NFL!
If I am being totally honest, I hate Steelers losses far more than I love Steelers victories. It's not just the disappointment and frustration after every loss. That has always been there for as long as I have loved the Steelers, an inevitable price to be paid for any vested fan.
I have always been able to process the wins or losses; after a reasonable amount of time, enough to maintain perspective. I may not be particularly ecstatic after a loss, but I at least can remain rational. Every since joining the BTSC staff, keeping a positive mindset has become a difficult proposition. Mainly due to all the overreactions.
Regardless of whether it's a win or a loss, rampant overreaction is always present. Take Week 1 for example. The Steelers stroll into Buffalo and walk out with a surprising victory over the perceived AFC contender. Suddenly the Steelers found themselves being mentioned as a top 10 team in the league by the national media, many of the same individuals that had been reading the Steelers their last rites all off season. Many of those same experts suddenly changed their minds about the Bills, wondering aloud if the Bills might not be as good as everyone thought they were. Total overreaction after the result of a single game.
Now the undermanned Steelers lose their home opener to Derek Carr and the Las Vegas Raiders by six points, and suddenly the Steelers are deemed has been pretenders once again. The Raiders played a good game, and they earned a hard fought victory. So what have we learned through two weeks of the season? Basically that it is far too early to predict anything with any amount of certainty, and that injuries will once again play a huge role in deciding which franchises enjoy a successful season.
Steelers Stock Trending Up: Chris Boswell and Pressley Harvin lll
Even in a utterly disappointing final result, there are always positive performances in need of recognition. The list isn't as extensive as preferred, but acknowledgement is required.
T.J. Watt appeared on the precipice of another legendary performance at Heinz Field prior to tweaking his groin and being forced to leave the game. He had already logged 4 tackles and a sack in less than a half of football. The impact of his absence can't be overstated.
Cameron Heyward was once again dominant and disruptive throughout the game. Already missing his longtime running mate Stephon Tuitt, Heyward watched helplessly as fellow tag team partner Tyson Alualu was lost for the season with a broken ankle early in the first quarter. Heyward tried his best to be a one man wrecking crew, but he definitely could have used the assistance of his fallen comrades. He shows no signs of slowing down.
On offense, there were outstanding individual efforts surrounded by maddening inconsistency throughout.
Ben Roethlisberger, in typical Big Ben fashion, stepped up to the mic post game and placed the blame squarely on his own shoulders. Although he deserves his share of the blame, football is a team game, and there is plenty of fault to go around. He said he has to play better, and he is correct. A lot of guys on offense have to play better, the sooner the better.
Ben made some impressive throws, and showed his trademark strength and toughness navigating the pocket. However, his never say die persona once again resulted in a costly interception.
He took one vicious late hit in the pocket that would have left a lesser man standing on the sidelines in street clothes, if not carted off the field. Definitely would have, and should have, drawn a penalty flag for any other star QB in the league.
The rookie starters all gained valuable in game experience, taking some positive strides forward, along with a few steps back on occasion. That is to be expected. I will cover their performances in debt in this week's Rookie Review article.
The wide receivers all made some big plays, but there is definitely room for improvement. Diontae Johnson had his first 100 yard game of the season, but still seems to be struggling to get on the same page as his QB at times.
Claypool made a nice extended catch on one deep ball, but was unable to come down with a couple others that were slightly off target. His chemistry with Ben remains a work in progress.
JuJu Smith Schuster showed off his toughness and powerful running abilities, especially in the first half. He seemed to be a forgotten man in the second half. That is unacceptable, as he is too important to this offense.
The biggest stock up on the day for the Steelers was definitely the tandem of Chris Boswell and Pressley Harvin lll. Boswell made the longest field goal in Heinz Field history, a 56 yarder that barely cleared the crossbar. Taking all things into consideration, that was even more impressive than his 59 yarder against the Dallas Cowboys last season.
Pressley Harvin lll showed exactly why he was brought in to improve the punting game, booming punts with exceptional accuracy and hangtime. The perfect response to Week 1.
Steelers Stock Trending Down: Good fortune
Have you ever experienced the sneaky suspicion that today might not be your day? The Steelers probably experienced that revelation on Sunday against the Raiders. All the good fortune they enjoyed against the Bills was no where to be found against the Raiders.
Let me try to explain. Similar situations throughout both contest, with strikingly different results. Wide open receiver deep down field after getting behind the Steelers coverage for what would be a game changing TD reception. Bills QB Josh Allen misses the throw, Raiders QB Derek Carr does not.
Penalties were few and far between in a relatively clean played game against the Bills, yellow handkerchiefs all around against the Raiders, most of which negatively impacted the Steelers. More on that below.
T.J. Watt strip sacks in both games. Against the Bills, Cameron Heyward is in the right place at the right time, ready to pounce on the ball. Against the Raiders, no such luck.
The biggest difference is most definitely the injury situations. The Steelers exited the Bills game relatively healthy. That wasn't the case against the Raiders. Injuries are inevitable, but being down 5 of your top 7 defenders early in the game would cause any defense to struggle. The replacements gave an admirable effort, but the talent differential was unmistakable. The resulting fatigue over being undermanned impacted the second half results. That is not meant to be an excuse, only an observation.
Steelers Stock Trending Beyond Frustrating: Officiating
Different officiating crews, totally different results. The crew during the Bills game wanted the game to be decided between the lines by the players. They seemed to only call the most erroneous violations, apparently looking the other way when holding calls could have been called on the Bills offensive linemen on seemingly every play.
The crew for the Raiders game appeared determined to make their presence known, greatly impacting the outcome. Even worse, their calls went disproportionately against the good guys in the Black and Gold. The lead official definitely got his TV face time.
Two blatant examples. Raiders QB Derek Carr scrambles out of the pocket and takes off downfield, only to be tackled in the open field by Alex Highsmith down low and Robert Spillane up high. Perfectly legal tackle by all parties involved. The referee threw a flag for a 15 yard roughing the passer penalty, although he should have been considered a runner at this point. They even called it on the wrong number. Terrible call.
Ben Roethlisberger stands tall in the pocket, scanning the field for a receiver to come open. The pocket eventually breaks down, with Raiders DE Maxx Crosby breaking free and coming full bore. At the last split second, Ben throws the ball incomplete prior to taking a shot from Crosby full force directly to the sternum, driving him to the ground. No flag to be found.
There were numerous other incorrect calls, no calls, and questionable calls for an officiating crew that had a truly bad day. Or maybe it was a good day, depending on who you were rooting for.