The Pittsburgh Steelers opened their home schedule Sunday at Heinz Field against the San Francisco 49ers on a beautiful late-summer afternoon in front of the largest home crowd in team history. And they delivered. After stalling on the game’s opening drive, the Steelers played virtually flawless football the rest of the way, rolling to an easy 43-18 victory. First half pass plays of 28, 19, 41, 17, 59 and 35 underpinned a monster 30 minutes for Ben Roethlisberger who went to the locker room 14-for-19, with 2 TDs and two 2-point conversions. The Steelers led 29-3. The rest was just a formality.
A Steelers defense which showed little in the preseason or the season-opener was transformed behind by a breakout performance from Ryan Shazier. They continually pressured 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, delivered a bunch of big hits and were stout in the red zone before giving up 15 points in the fourth quarter. An impressive first win to even their record at 1-1.
Mike Tomlin reported no significant injuries after the game, just the normal bumps and bruises. Ryan Shazier left late with a stinger, but appears to be fine.
Last week the Steelers offense put up the stats, but not the points. More stats this week, but an avalanche of points. This was an offensive clinic.
*The Steelers went 5-for-5 in the red zone, 2-for-2 in 2-point conversions and they made it look easy. They abandoned the jumbo goal line package that was ineffective last week in New England, leaving DeAngelo Williams in the game. He responded with three short rushing touchdowns. Ben added two short passing scores. Touchdowns instead of field goals is a good formula.
*I’ve seen every game Ben Roethlisberger has played. I don’t remember him ever being better than this. Maybe, maybe he made one bad throw in 27 attempts. And this wasn’t Peyton, Rivers or Brady where the average attempt often travels less than five yards past the line of scrimmage. Ben was flinging it all over the yard. He finished 21-or-27 for 369 yards and 3 TDs, averaging a whopping 13.7 yds/att. He threw the deep ball as effortlessly and accurately as I’ve ever seen. Great performance.
*It seems every week I write “I don’t know what more to say about Antonio Brown. There isn’t a better wideout in the game.” Today, 9 receptions in 11 targets. 195 yards, one yard off his career high. A touchdown and a 2-pt conversion catch. The records were extended. I don’t know what more to say about Antonio Brown. There isn’t a better wideout in the game. It’s early, but it might be time to start the 2,000 yard watch for AB. He has 328 after two games.
*The offensive line was excellent. They gave Roethlisberger protection all game, he wasn’t sacked and rarely hurried. They also opened up holes in the red zone leading to three rushing TDs. Two good performances to start the year.
*The Steelers offensive line was flagged for three offensive penalties, two accepted in the opening drive. Pre-snap penalties need to be eliminated.
This was an excellent overall performance by the defense until they had a couple breakdowns in the fourth quarter.
*Hello Ryan Shazier. 15 tackles, 11 unassisted, a sack, three tackles for loss, a quarterback hurry, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. No, he did not record an interception. Shazier looked good in the preseason and had a solid game last week. Today he was the best player on the field. He has elite quickness which allows him to shoot gaps and knife into the backfield. He repeatedly introduced himself to Big Ten counterpart Carlos Hyde behind the line of scrimmage. He also showed the speed to rundown Kaepernick, probably the fastest QB in the league. If you wanted to find a flaw with the guy, maybe at times he plays too fast which leads to the occasional missed tackle, but his playmaking-ability could transform the Steelers defense.
*The red zone defense was outstanding as the Niners converted only one of four opportunities. Twice the Steelers stopped the Niners on fourth down inside the five to ensure they didn’t get back in the game. Steve McLendon made an excellent tackle on 3-and-goal from the two to buttress one of the stands.
*The Steelers front seven brought the heat led by Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt who each recorded sacks. After a quiet opening game, the two defensive ends made their presence felt in the new attacking system employed by Keith Butler. The defense recorded five sacks in total and pressured Kaepernick at least a dozen more times.
*The Steelers secondary was better. Baby steps. We saw solid pass breakups by Mike Mitchell, Antwon Blake and yes, Brandon Boykin. There is still work to be done and the Niners passing-game is not one to be feared, but things were better.
*Bud Dupree. He still has a long way to go in fully understanding the defense, but two games, two sacks. This time he beat his man around the edge with a speed rush and corralled Kaepernick.
*Up 36-10 in the fourth quarter, the only real concern is giving up the big play. Boom. Torrey Smith split Mike Mitchell and Will Allen for a 75-yard catch-and-run and the Niners went 80 yards in two plays. That can’t happen.
*The Niners only conversion in the red zone happened when Kaepernick hit Anquan Boldin in the end zone for a 14-yard TD. A Steeler defender fell on the play, but it was fourth down. They can’t let Boldin get loose there.
*Antonio Brown only returned one punt, but he was electric as usual. He took it on the bounce around midfield and returned it 16 yards, almost breaking it. Ben hit Darrius Heyward-Bey for a 35-yard TD on the next play.
*Similar to last week the coverage units looked good in limited opportunities.
*Jordan Berry is off to a great start. Three punts today for a 47.3 yard average, two inside the twenty and a 62-yard boomer when he was punting from his own end zone. Great start.
*Josh Scobee missed his first extra point attempt after the Steelers went for two following their first two touchdowns. He made his next three extra points and I don’t think his job is in jeopardy, but I’m sure his leash is a lot shorter than it was 10 days ago.
*Todd Haley knew the matchups to exploit and took advantage. The Niners cornerbacks are a liability and Haley let Ben go after them. They thew deep repeatedly and hooked up almost every time.
*The Steelers abandoned the jumbo package on their goal line offense. Last week with Will Johnson behind fullback Roosevelt Nix, they gained one yard in three attempts. This time they went with DeAngelo Williams with great success.
*Mike Tomlin showed an aggressiveness that warmed my heart. The Steelers went for two after the first TD and Ben found an open Antonio Brown. On their second TD they lined up for the extra point, but SF jumped offsides. The Steelers opted to take the ball at the one and go for two again. Heath Miller wide open and two more points. The Steelers are 3-for-3 on conversions so far this season. This should be standard operating procedure.
*The Steelers lost both challenges. I thought both were good challenges, so nothing to complain about on my end.
Big Officiating Calls:
*I don’t often have much to say about the officials. It’s a thankless job. Today they flat out stunk. The personal foul on the defenseless receiver against the Steelers was a terrible call. They blew countless others.
*The officials might as well flip coins on plays being reviewed. From where I sit, they don’t get more than 50% of them right after the review.
The Steelers go on the road to take on the 1-1 St. Louis Rams, Sunday September 27th. Kickoff is 1 pm EST.
Reminder: You can hear me on the pregame show on WDVE & 970 ESPN before every Steelers game and on weekdays on 970 ESPN from 4-7 pm. You can follow me on twitter @DavidMTodd.