Another home game at the friendly confines of Heinz Field for the Steelers impressive rookie class, another devastatingly disappointing loss. This definitely wasn't the beginning that anybody expected or wanted.
Thousands of empty seats all around, and boos raining down from many in attendance to voice their displeasure. The standard is the standard. That's not only true for the players, but should be for the fans as well. Not the finest moment for some.
The Steelers fought hard throughout the game, but accomplished very little. Injuries had too much talent standing on the sidelines, with others attempting to play through nagging ailments, or return to form after rehabilitation.
The Steelers already find themselves at a crossroad at this early stage of the season, and numerous players may soon find themselves standing on the sidelines involuntarily if their efforts don't start turning into production.
Let's take a look at how the 2021 Steelers rookies performed last Sunday afternoon against the division rival Cincinnati Bengals.
RB Najee Harris
If Harris ever wondered what it felt like to be on the other sidelines, to be one of the unlucky opponents going up against the juggernaut Alabama Crimson Tide; his alma mater, now he knows. Welcome to life in the NFL.
Giving everything you have to give play after play, only to end up running headfirst into a brick wall repetitively. Occasionally achieving positive results through an almost superhuman effort, only to have your progress taken away due to penalty. That has become Najee Harris' new normal.
You have to give the young man credit. Never one to shy away from contact, he relentlessly fights forward for every yard. He is getting hit behind the line of scrimmage on over 70% of his carries, usually by multiple defenders. He seems destined for injury if not given more assistance, in the form of improved blocking and fewer snaps.
After being basically an afterthought in the passing game during the first two games of the season, Harris broke out in a big way with a Steelers rookie and RB record 14 receptions. Keep your head up, young man. There are better days to come.
TE Pat Freiermuth
Dropped passes must be contagious, because Freiermuth actually dropped a pass against the Bengals. It was memorable for a couple of reasons. It came at a very inopportune time, and because the talented young TE catches practically everything that comes his way. I don't recall him having a drop during training camp or the preseason.
Outside of the one memorable drop, Freiermuth had another solid all-around performance. His blocking is above the line, definitely a pleasant surprise. He scored his first NFL TD off a shovel pass from Roethlisberger in the second quarter. Hopefully the first of many.
C Kendrick Green
Green showed marked improvement against the Bengals large and talented interior defensive line. He wasn't driven backward nearly as often as the game prior, and his tandem blocks were more effective also. He was flagged for a hold, but the infraction was borderline at worst.
Green suffered a knee injury late in the game, forcing him to the sidelines. Thankfully the injury was identified as only a bone bruise, and he should be good to go this week. Reportedly Green has been making the majority of the line calls and protections. That's pretty impressive for a rookie lineman new to the position. He continues to show steady improvement.
LT Dan Moore Jr.
Another solid outing for the presumed fourth round project. At times Moore looks overwhelmed against professional pass rushers, but he manages to be competitive through sheer will and effort. He needs a offseason to improve his technique and functional strength, but the necessary work ethic is apparent.
Moore was a participant in a Steelers offensive line performance where all five starters were penalized, a rare occurrence. Equally unexpected, Kevin Dotson produced the first notably subpar performance of his otherwise impressive career. Misery loves company, and the offensive line group played miserably together. Not the type of unity that the Steelers are striving for.
ILB Buddy Johnson
Johnson dressed for the game after the Steelers surprising decided to keep an extra inside linebacker, rather than the outside where they were down both starters. Once again he failed to crack the stat sheet or make an impression.
DL Isaiahh Loudermilk
Loudermilk was credited with a single tackle, but didn't standout otherwise in his limited usage. After going back and watching the film, his best ability at this stage of his development is using his superior size and length to tie up blockers. He struggles to disengage as advertised, and his pass rush repertoire is non existent at this point. The injuries to Tyson Alualu, Stephon Tuitt, and Carlos Davis has forced Loudermilk into action earlier than anyone expected or preferred. He is currently receiving a baptism by fire.
DB Tre Norwood
Norwood's usage decreased for the third week in a row. Not because of his performance, but due to individual matchups. He received snaps against the Bengals in the slot and at safety. He made one picture perfect open field tackle on third down to stop Bengals RB Joe Mixon short of the sticks. It was the type of physicality that Norwood had yet to display at the NFL level, and bodes well for his future success. He hasn't been able to duplicate his opening game success over the past two games, but that has more to do with the amount of talented teammates he has standing on the sidelines than it does his own performances.
P Pressley Harvin lll
Harvin has been the beneficiary of far more opportunities than the Steelers would prefer due to the Steelers anemic offense thus far this season. Outside of the single shanked offering against the Buffalo Bills, Harvin has achieved excellent hangtime and accuracy, although with merely average distance. He definitely has the power to achieve greater distance, but appears to be focusing his intentions on the first two measurables mentioned above. I feel certain that is per instruction from Danny Smith.