The thrill of victory, followed by the agony of defeat. The Steelers Week 1 surprising victory over the Buffalo Bills had to feel like a dream sequence for the 8 rookies who actually dressed for the game. However, the "lived happily ever after" ending sure was short lived.
Sunday's disappointing follow up loss to the Las Vegas Raiders in the home opener at Heinz Field more closely resembled a Nightmare on Elm Street remake, starring Derek Carr as Freddy Krueger. He slashed and gashed the Steelers defense throughout the game, especially after the injury bug reared it's ugly head and knocked Tyson Alualu and T.J. Watt out of the game.
Now the Steelers sit in a four way tie for first in the AFC North, or is it last? It actually all depends on how you choose to look at it I guess. Most educated prognosticators had the Steelers sitting at exactly their current record, only taking a different path to get there.
The Steelers have numerous issues that need dealt with at the moment; ranging from much needed offensive improvement, to figuring out ways to overcome the aforementioned injuries.
The 2021 Steelers rookie class figures prominently in any hopes the team has for making meaningful improvements moving forward. Let's take a look at their performances against the Las Vegas Raiders last Sunday afternoon.
RB Najee Harris
Different opponent, similar results for the Steelers talented young runner. Harris hasn't blinked in the face of overwhelming odds through two weeks of the season. Running behind a revamped line and against stacked boxes consistently, Harris has made a habit out of turning two yard losses into two yard gains. It might not sound too impressive, but he has broken numerous tackles and displayed incredible determination for his modest statistics. His nasty stiff arm on Sunday had to be soul crushing for the unfortunate defender.
On the rare occasions that he has had room to roam, Harris has displayed the talent, size, and speed that made him a first round draft pick. He scored his first NFL TD via reception Sunday against the Raiders by breaking yet another tackle attempt and winning a foot race to the goal line, where he twisted his body as he dove across the pylon. It was a beautiful display of desire and athleticism. No doubt the first of many in a Steelers uniform.
TE Pat Freiermuth
Based on what I saw on Sunday against the Raiders, Freiermuth has already earned the TE1 position. He has excellent hands, and is a far superior blocker to Eric Ebron. Sadly few seemed to notice his Herculean effort to drag defenders to the first down marker, prior to Mike Tomlin deciding to punt on 4th and 1. That decision caused many to overlook the fact it took 4 Raiders defenders to stop him a yard short. You have to love this kids moxie.
Similar to Harris, Muth's usage and production must increase substantially moving forward if the Steelers offense is going to show sustainable improvement. I am dying to see a defender try to tackle him one on one in the open field. He definitely has some Kittle and Gronk like run after the catch ability.
C Kendrick Green
I actually felt sorry for Green during the initial drive against the Raiders on Sunday. He was being abused by #90 for the Raiders. A experienced DT named Johnathan Hankins. I had to look his name up honestly, but Green definitely had his hands full. Hankins is listed at 6'3" and 340 lbs., but I feel certain that was before breakfast.
Green was giving away at least 40 lbs. in the matchup, and it showed. He was being driven back into the QB's lap on every play. But something happened on the sidelines during the change of possession. Green looked like a different player for the remainder of the game. His intensity level went up and his competitive nature came out. He was pure nasty after that.
Green remains raw and inexperienced at the position, leading to typical rookie struggles, but you can see him growing and improving each week. He had one slightly off target snap that Ben bobbled, but thankfully was able to recover. So far, so good in that regard.
LT Dan Moore Jr.
Moore has been the Steelers biggest surprise in my opinion. Most observers, myself included, thought he would be a "break glass in case of emergency" backup tackle at best. He has been much more than that; the Steelers best tackle actually.
The Raiders have a solid defensive line and pass rush. Unlike Green, Moore appeared ready from the start. He definitely needs to clean up his technique and footwork, but he overcomes any deficiencies through extra effort and a fighter's spirit. I shutter to think what the Steelers OLine would look like without him. Another fourth round steal of a offensive lineman for the Black and Gold.
ILB Buddy Johnson
Johnson once again got a hat on Sunday, this time due to Devin Bush's absence. Predictably, he didn't see any snaps on defense; but was utilized on special teams, though he failed to crack the stat sheet.
Johnson is a prime candidate for the inactive list if Bush is a full go against the Bengals this week. That shouldn't change anybody's opinion of Johnson's future potential. That's been the plan all along.
DL Isaiahh Loudermilk
Loudermilk went from a healthy scratch against the Bills to being active against the Raiders due to Carlos Davis' injury. He was then forced into duty on defense when Tyson Alualu went down with a broken ankle. Considering it was the first NFL action of his career, he acquitted himself well.
Loudermilk was credited with an assisted tackle, but spent the majority of his time tying up blockers. He struggled to disengage from blockers, which was mentioned prominently in his pre-draft evaluations. That should improve with better technique and experience. All in all, not a bad opening act.
CB Tre Norwood
Once again Norwood saw action on at least 80% of the defensive snaps. He has obviously earned the trust of the coaches, and similar usage seems likely moving forward. He was solid once again, but not as impactful as the week prior.
With Joe Haden out with a groin injury, every corner on the depth chart was moved up a spot. Some were apparently not quite ready for the promotion, but Norwood was thanks to his football IQ and versatility. He wasn't able to play as aggressively as the week prior, due to the numerous starters out injured, but he played his assignments both smart and safe. Hopefully guys like Bush and Haden will return this week.
P Pressley Harvin lll
I will keep this review short and sweet because I already commented on the young man's bounce back performance in the Steelers Stock Report article this week. Needless to say, consider this old Steelers fan impressed.
He was not only booming the ball with exceptional hang time against the Raiders, but showed superior accuracy and control. You have to admire that statement performance.