The Pittsburgh Steelers’ opening day victory over the Cleveland Browns was a game marked by returns. The return of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Haden to Ohio, the return of Martavis Bryant and Le’Veon Bell and most importantly the return of Steelers’ football.
Oh and the return of gameday anxiety. Though the Steelers emerged victorious, the win was not an easy one to grab. Up 21-10 late, the Browns converted a 4th and goal along with a two-point conversion to make it 21-18. But just like in past seasons, the Steelers turned to Brown to aid in the victory. High pointing the football in between two Browns defenders, Brown was able to convert a crucial 2nd and 12 to help close out the victory.
That reception was one of Brown’s 11 on the day, totalling 182 yards receiving.
While Brown helped preserve the victory on the offensive side of the ball, first round draft pick T.J. Watt was his defensive counter part. Making his NFL debut, Watt showed off the athleticism and upside many raved about back in April. With two sacks and an incredible interception off Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, Watt’s impressive debut was instrumental in the Steelers’ victory.
Despite Watt being able to electrify the fanbase on his debut, the Steelers’ offense could not find their spark early. Plagued with lackluster execution and penalties, the ‘Killer Bs’ struggled to take flight early. The most disappointing of the foursome was Bell who finished with just 47 total yards in his first game back since his summer holdout.
With a known name in Brown and a rookie in Watt doing their part in victory, the darkhorse contributor for the day was the Danny Smith led special teams unit. It did not take long for the unit to make their mark, as on the Browns’ first drive, special teams ace Tyler Matakevich made his presence known with a blocked punt. Outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo recovered the punt in the end zone to give the Steelers their first touchdown of the season and an early lead.
Exhaustion soon settled in after the Steelers’ came out hot in the first. With their defense on the field for over 12 minutes in the first quarter, the Browns were able to take advantage of a tired defense. After a long drive, aided by a pass interference penalty on safety Sean Davis, Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer tied the game at seven with a quarterback sneak into the end zone.
With the game now tied, the Steelers’ felt the pressure to score and once again it was Brown who led the way, taking a short pass from Roethlisberger 50 yards into Cleveland territory. And after a few more receptions, Roethlisberger turned to his security blanket tight end Jesse James to take the lead. With 49-seconds left in the second quarter, Roethlisberger connected with James to cap off the drive and go ahead 14-7 heading into the half.
Commotion around the arrival of newly acquired tight end Vance McDonald quickly ended, James emerging as the front runner of the two. James finished with five receptions for 33 yards and two touchdowns, while McDonald was left reception-less.
While a victory is a victory, the Steelers’ will leave their debut game with much bulletin board material to work with. A lack of discipline will be one of the biggest moving points moving forward as the Steelers look to reduce from the 144 penalty yards they committed today. They will have one week to do so as the Steelers now return home and prepare for next Sunday’s matchup against the Minnesota Vikings.