The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field Sunday when they played the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1 of regular season action. The Steelers were winners in the contest, but that doesn’t mean every player had a good or bad performance.
Players who play well can be considered ‘Winners’, while those who left a lot to be desired can be called ‘Losers’. It may sound harsh, but it is the crux of this exercise.
Let’s check in to see who fell on which side of the ledger after the latest game...
Stat Line: 14 tackles, 10 solo, 1 pass defense, 1 INT, 1 TD
While I hate that Minkah Fitzpatrick led the Steelers in tackles, it was because he was all over the field. The Steelers used Fitzpatrick in a variety of ways vs. Cincinnati, and he was a playmaker from the pick-six in the first quarter all the way until the final whistle blew and the Steelers won 23-20. He’s only one of eleven players on the defense, but for all those who wondered, “What happened to Minkah?” last year. Well, if you watched the game you got your answer. Nothing happened to him, he’s still Minkah, just more angry. And I like Mad Minkah most.
Stat Line: 6 tackles, 6 solo tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 2 pass defenses, 1 QB Hit, 1 INT
It sucks the Steelers could have lost Watt for an extended period of time after he had a stat line like the one above. Watt looked like he was picking up where he left off in 2021 with 22.5 sacks, and now the focus is on the pectoral injury which could sideline him for weeks, or even a season. As we wait and see, let’s still look at what a game-wrecker Watt was vs. the Bengals and Joe Burrow.
Stat Line: 2 tackles, 2 solo, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 3 QB Hits, 1 fumble recovery
Heyward is one of those guys who could be on the winners list every week, but it isn’t just because he is a leader and a captain. It’s because he deserves it every week. Heyward’s stats aren’t eye-popping, but his play in the run game and also collapsing the pocket were noticeable to even the novice fan. A tremendous game, and I have a feeling more will be needed from him in Watt’s expected absence.
Stat Line: 7 catches, 55 yards, 7.9 average, 0 TD, 25 long, 12 targets
I could have easily put Pat Freiermuth in the Winners column instead of Johnson, he did lead the team in receiving yards, but it was Johnson’s sideline catch which put him on the list. The catch in overtime is not getting nearly enough credit from both the local or national media. So, I thought I’d include it, and him, here in this article to shine some light on it...an amazing play.
We simply are not talking about this enough right now. It’s one of the best catches I’ve ever seen from Diontae Johnson. pic.twitter.com/Gytmn2vo6s— Mike Nicastro (@MikedUpSports1) September 11, 2022
Cam Sutton/Ahkello Witherspoon
Combined Stat Line: 11 tackles, 3 pass defenses, 2 INTs
I put these two together based on the fact they seem to be the starting outside duo for the Steelers, at least to start the season. I thought they played well, and outside of Sutton being a bit “grabby” at times, they looked good as the primary outside cornerbacks. Ja’Marr Chase is a tough task for any defensive back, and they kept the Bengals in check for the majority of the game. People will nit-pick, but I just wanted to see what the Steelers’ secondary would look like in 2022, and I was pleased with what I saw in Week 1.
Stat Line: 9 tackles, 6 solo tackles, 3 sacks, 2 TFL, 4 QB Hits
We have all be waiting to see Alex Highsmith have a breakout game, and I have to admit I didn’t see it coming in Week 1. Not after Highsmith missed the entire preseason with a rib injury. Nonetheless, it didn’t matter when it happened, just that it happened. Kudos to Highsmith for finally breaking through, but now the tough task awaits — making this type of performance the norm, and not an aberration.
Stat Line: 3-for-4 FGs / 53-yard GWFG in OT
When you have a 55-yard field goal to win the game in overtime, and miss it, that can be tough to come back from. Some players would lack confidence the next time they line up over a kick. Not Chris Boswell, the lone remaining member of the “Killer B” era. Boswell nailed the 53-yarder to give the Steelers a win, and if you didn’t have confidence in him yet, you should now...because he has confidence in himself.
Stat Line: 5 total takeaways (1 fumble recovery, 2 forced fumbles, 4 interceptions)
When the Steelers said they wanted to be dominant this season, many skeptics laughed it off as nothing more than coach speak or wishful thinking. I’ll say this, if they continue to take the ball away at this ridiculous clip, that is certainly in the dominant category. The Steelers were all around the ball, and this might be the way they win games in 2022, at least until the offense can keep their heads above water on their own.
Stat Line: 22 carries for 75 yards, 3.4 average, 15 yard long
New year, new offensive line, same inadequacies in the running game. No matter what, it seems as if the Steelers are unable to establish the run with any consistency. On top of that, the Steelers never truly attempted to stick with the run. When your leading rusher is a wide receiver on gadget plays, that’s not good.
Stat Line: Big injuries to big players
When there are injuries to big-name players like T.J. Watt and Najee Harris, it is a gut punch after a big Week 1 win. If either player is lost for any amount of time it will be considered a tall task replacing them. Injuries suck, for any team, but losing key players in Week 1 is always a tough pill to swallow.
3rd Down Offense
Stat Line: 4-for-15
If you’ve read this article, or listened to the podcast below surrounding this article, you now my goal for the 3rd down offense is to be .500 or better. Not even close in Week 1.
Stat Line: 8-for-59 yards
Some of the penalties called on the Steelers were a little ticky-tacky for my liking, but the penalties cannot be this much of a factor in a game. Whether it was Cam Sutton’s defensive holding or Dan Moore Jr.’s holding call, get rid of those plays and this team will be tough to beat.
Time of Possession Disparity
Stat Line: CIN: 43:43 / PIT: 26:17
I realize the first half, mainly the first quarter, was predominantly the Bengals offense on the field. When you take the ball away the way the Steelers defense did, that happens, but the time of possession was also swinging the Bengals’ way due to the complete ineptitude of the Steelers’ offense. Another telling statistic? The total yards...check it out:
Yards: CIN - 432 / PIT - 267
If you want a more detailed look at the above list, check out my “Let’s Ride” podcast where I outline each Winner and Loser, and MORE!