When Chris Boswell nailed a clutch, 53-yard FG, lifting the Steelers to victory as overtime expired at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati, his kick preserved the luster on one of the grittiest defensive performances in the annals of Steelers history. From their opening series throughout this slugfest of a game, Pittsburgh’s defense hounded Joe Burrow and the Bengals’ talented offense at every turn while snatching away five turnovers. Making the feat even more impressive, the Black-and-Gold defense short-circuited the Bengals’ normally potent offense despite having several new faces in the lineup.
In a league where nowadays we often see teams appearing unprepared during the early weeks of play, Coach Tomlin and his staff unleashed a hungry, aggressive bunch of defenders on the unsuspecting Bengals in Week 1. As the game wound down, one image in particular epitomized this yeoman’s effort by the Steelers defense. After one especially brutish play, Cam Heyward stayed on his knees and was slowly helped to his feet by the Steelers training staff. As he walked gingerly off of the field, it was obvious from Heyward’s expression that he didn’t want to go out of the game. The defiance written on Cam’s face as he went to the sideline was a dramatic moment which brought to mind the warrior-like mentality of Joe Greene, leader of the vaunted Steel Curtain defense. As Boswell’s winning kick sailed through the uprights, no one could doubt that Heyward, Minkah Fitzpatrick, T.J. Watt and their defensive teammates truly had given this battle everything they had.
But on the other side of the coin, Mitch Trubisky and the revamped Steelers offense largely failed to hold up their end of the bargain throughout the game. In particular, Trubisky was not able to move the offense consistently, nor at key points during the second half when a singular TD might have secured the win. Scoring only six points during the entire second half (including overtime), and forcing the defense to remain on the field far too long, the Steelers offense gave the Bengals repeated opportunities to spoil an inspired, defensive performance.
In view of the injury to Watt, which occurred with only seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, it might be wishful thinking to expect this defense to continue the kind of play we saw in Cincinnati in the weeks ahead. As glaring as the offensive shortcomings were on Opening Day, it’s reasonable to question how long the Steelers defense can hold up physically with so much being asked of them.
The fact that Pittsburgh was able to pull out a win in Week 1 might deflect some criticism of Trubisky and company, but it was obvious to anyone who watched the game that the Steelers need considerably more production from this offense moving forward. So while the last-second win was a thrilling way to kick off the season, it’s hard to point to anything particularly splashy about this Steelers offense. And the longer this trait persists, the higher the chorus will rise for a quarterback change.
As for the Cincinnati Bengals and their fans, the assumption that 2022 would finally be their big year has taken a major hit thanks to a gritty Steelers defense which simply refused to quit.