The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field Sunday when they played the New England Patriots in Week 2 of regular season action. The Steelers were losers 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: 6 catches, 57 yards, 9.5 average, 0 TD, 17-yard long, 10 targets, 2-pt conversion
On a day where there weren’t a lot of winners on the offensive side of the ball, Diontae Johnson was a bright spot. After earning his contract extension, Johnson has proven he is every bit of the route runner and overall threat many questioned when he got his new deal. Johnson’s frustrations, especially in the 4th quarter, were very telling, and he has proven he is a bright spot on the offense through two games.
Stat Line: 4 catches, 22 yards, 5.5 average, 1 TD, 8-yard long, 7 targets
Entering year two, many were wondering if Freiermuth would be able to take that next step and be the threat many thought he would/could be. It’s only been two games, but there have been flashes of Freiermuth not just being a great pass catching option, but also a very improved blocker. Freiermuth too was showing frustration with the offense, but Freiermuth certainly has been a bright spot, and was again on Sunday in Week 2.
Stat Line: 15 carries, 49 yards, 3.3 average, 0 TD, 8-yard long / 5 catches, 40 yards, 8.0 yard average, 0 TD, 14-yard long, 6 targets
I can’t say I blame Najee Harris for being rusty. After all, he hurt his foot in the first padded practice of training camp, and played sparingly in the preseason finale. He looked rusty before leaving with injury in Week 1, and it was nice to see him start to look like the player fans grew to love in 2021. He still isn’t a finished product, but neither is the offense. Harris knocked off some rust Sunday, and it was good to see.
Stat Line: 6 tackles, 2 solo, 1 pass defense, 1 INT
Like fellow defenders T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward, Minkah Fitzpatrick could be on the winners list practically every week. Fitzpatrick again made his presence felt with a key interception of Mac Jones in the first half of the game. He now has interceptions in the first two games of the season, and has proven to be the do-it-all type of playmaker the team sent a first round pick in 2019 to Miami for. He continues to develop as one of the best safeties in the game.
Stat Line: 21/33, 168 yards, 5.1 average, 1 TD, 1 INT, 3 sacks for 16-yards, 73.8 rating
I understand this offense isn’t a finished product, and there are issues across the board. However, watching Trubisky run the offense is downright painful at times. Whether it’s him not throwing the ball away, staring down receivers or the constant throws off his back foot, it just isn’t good enough. I’m not expecting perfection, but I’m expecting more than what I’ve seen through two games. If Trubisky wants to silence the “Kenny” chants, he can only do it one way — play better.
Stat Line: 1 rush, 18 yards, 1 fumble
When you are primarily a return man, whether kickoff or punt, you have one primary job — don’t fumble the football. Olszewski’s fumble was at a critical point in the game, during a bad sequence, and set up the Patriots’ second touchdown by giving them the ball inside the red-zone. Yes, he had a nice jet sweep run, but it doesn’t come close to negating the negative play.
Stat Line: 3 tackles, 3 solo, 1 pass defense
Referring to the aforementioned sequence, the Patriots’ drive before the punt to Olszewski, facing a 3rd and 7, Jones threw a pass which hit Sutton in between the 2-and-0 on his jersey. And he dropped it. It was as simple a play as it can get, and at the time fans thought, “Well, at least they have to punt.” Then the fumble happened. If Sutton hauls in the interception, the entire game changes, and in the Steelers’ favor. You have to make plays when they present themselves.
Stat Line: 2 tackles, 2 solo, 0 pass defenses
The reason Witherspoon finds himself on the loser list is due to the misplayed pass which instead of being a pass breakup, turned into a touchdown for the Patriots. The Agholor touchdown didn’t feel like just a first half touchdown. It felt worse. Part of it was it was in the waning minutes of the first half, and the Patriots offense received the ball to start the second half, but the other part was just how bad the offense was playing. Even a touchdown deficit felt overwhelming at times. Those gaffes with this offense feel insurmountable.
Stat Line: 0 sacks
Coming off a 7 sack game, one where T.J. Watt only had one of those 7 sacks vs. the Cincinnati Bengals, you thought the defense would have no problem getting after the less-than-mobile Mac Jones. They were only able to muster 3 QB Hits, and no sacks. The defense was only missing Watt, and everyone else was unable to get to Jones. And this made a big difference in the outcome of the game.
Lack of timely plays
Stat Line: Not winning in the “splash” department
Mike Tomlin often talks about “splash” being necessary to win games. This can come on defense with turnovers and sacks. Offensively it’s big plays down field and scoring touchdowns, not field goals. The Steelers didn’t do well enough in this category, on both sides of the ball. Fitzpatrick’s interception was the lone splash play on defense, and the offense rarely was able to move the ball more than 5-10 yards at a time. This has to change if the Steelers want to be considered a contender, and not a pretender.
“Key Area” Offense
Stat Line: 8-for-15 3rd Down / 1-2 Red-Zone
The Steelers absolutely were above .500 on 3rd down offense, so many who read this article every week were probably wondering why they weren’t on the winners list. The problem was the 4th quarter when they weren’t able to convert on key third downs, equating in an extremely slanted time of possession stat in the second half. Throw in the Steelers red-zone stats being the same, 1-for-2, in the second straight week, and it just isn’t good enough.
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!