The Pittsburgh Steelers are back on the football field for the first time since the middle of January, so even though major stars like Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger, and Le’Veon Bell will not
be out on the field, there is still a lot of excitement over simply getting the season started.
Among the others who will not play are T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, and Vance McDonald, all three key players for this season.
Maurkice Pouncey is also among those not playing, B.J. Finney starting at center. Matt Feiler at left guard for Ramon Foster and Chukes Okorafor at right tackle for Marcus Gilbert. Quadree Henderson returned the opening kickoff about 17 yards to the 16. On first down, James Conner rushed for eight yards through the middle, but Fletcher Cox beat David DeCastro on second down to sack Landry Jones on second down. Now third and 11, Conner caught a screen pass short of the first.
Morgan Burnett recorded the first defensive tackle of the year, stopping Jay Ajayi after a draw up the middle for four after a punt. Nate Sudfeld skied the second-down pass out of bounds feeling pressure. Now third and six, a bad throw was picked off by Coty Sensabaugh, running a trap coverage.
Taking over from the 39, Jones was sacked again with a lot of pressure. Conner struggled to pick up the blitz, but two other defenders were there. Now second and 19, a bubble screen to Jaylen Samuels gained only about a yard. On third and very long, a short pass to Jesse James only picked up two yards.
Jordan Berry got off a good punt with Marcus Tucker fielding it at the one-yard line. The returner bluffed as though he were receiving the ball, but the young receiver displayed awareness and kept his toes off the goal line.
From the one, Jon Bostic and Burnett both missed tackles on Ajayi as the running back picked up 23. Sudfeld found Dalls Goedert on the following play off play action as the tight end rolled opposite down the field.
From midfield, Corey Clement picked up five yards between the tackles and then six for a new set of downs with the nose tackle on the field. Goedert dropped the pass on the following play. Bostic on the run blitz was able to get first contact on Clement for a loss of four. On third and 14 from the 43, Ajayi couldn’t get out of the backfield, Farrington Huguenin the primary tackler.
Henderson fielded the punt for a fair catch just outside the 10. Behind Feiler, Conner picked up another eight yards on the ground on the first play of the Steelers’ third possession. On second and two, he squeezed through the middle for the first down, breaking a tackle for about five or six.
From the 27, the Steelers stayed on the ground with Conner getting the ball on a draw for a short gain. Thanks to an offside penalty, the Steelers got a free play, Jones hitting JuJu Smith-Schuster down the field for a 71-yard touchdown, Rasul Douglas in coverage. The cornerback misjudged the depth of the ball.
On the Steelers’ first kickoff under the new rules, they got a touchback after the returner muffed the ball deep in the end zone. A penalty forced a re-do and the Eagles got out past the 30. Brian Allen on the field, among others, Clement beat Anthony Chickillo around the left side for a gain of seven. Off false motion, Clement cut back through the middle for another good gain.
Across midfield, the running back was limited to three or four up the middle. Sudfeld held on to the ball and that aired a screen to Clement, who was leveled by Huguenin for a loss. On third and 10, Javon Hargrave blew up the screen for a loss. Punting from the wrong side of the 50 now, the punt was directed out of bounds at about the 15.
Joshua Dobbs checked in at quarterback. A short run for two ended the first quarter. From the 17, Dobbs rolled out to his left and scrambled for about a yard with nobody to throw to. He threw as he was hit with a low pass that was caught short of the first by Justin Hunter. Berry’s punt took a bad bounce about 15 yards forward inside Steelers territory.
Goedert was cut down by Nat Berhe after a good gain from the 47 for about 20 yards. Cameron Sutton did a good job of chasing Sudfeld as he scrambled to his left for a few yards. From the 25, Sudfeld for some reason kept the ball for a short gain, looking to throw and perhaps not sensing where he was on the field, missing a throwing opportunity. On third and five, Sensabaugh missed a tackle to allow a first down against Clement.
Inside the 20, Tyler Matakevich overran a blitz on second down, with Sudfeld stepping up and hitting Goedert for the touchdown near Terrell Edmunds. Following a penalty for covering up the.long snapper, the Eagles took the lead on a two-point conversion attempt from the run on the ground.
Damoun Patterson got action on the following drive, including a reception short of the first that drew an illegal helmet hit for a first down. Fitzgerald Toussaint made a nice move in the open field for a 17-yard run, then James Washington got his first catch. Dobbs, took off on a keeper for about 15 yards after that.
On first and goal from the six, Toussaint was stuffed for no gain, but a defensive holding call made it first and goal from the three. Toussaint keeping it picked up about two and a half up the middle. On second down, the run option saw Dobbs toss to Stevan Ridley, who struggled to handle it and was dropped for a loss on an ill-fated play. The Eagles challenged the spot. Dobbs looked for Washington in the left corner of the end zone, incomplete, but a roughing the passer penalty made it first and goal again from the two. This time, Toussaint punched it in for the score, including blocking by Marcus Tucker. Toussaint added another two points on the conversion on a run left.
The Steelers got their second interception of the night, this by Sutton. The pass seemed off-line, the quarterback and receiver not on the same page. Dobbs, however, was picked off by Douglas on the next snap, dropping back on play action looking for Patterson.
From the 18, Smallwood rushed for about 12 off the left side, Chickillo caught inside. Dashaun Phillips was beaten on a go route for 63 yards to tie the game at 15 apiece. Or that would have been the case, but Joshua Frazier was flagged for lining up over the center, the team’s second such penalty. The Eagles again went for two points, but this time were held out of the end zone, preserving the Steelers’ now-thin lead.
After a touchback, Tucker caught a pass for nine yards, Ridley couldn’t hold on to a low pass for an incompletion. On third and one, Ridley showed persistence to escape the tackle and picked up the first. Dobbs escaped pressure on the following play but forced a pass to the sideline that was nearly intercepted. Ridley took the checkdown pass for a first as the clock ticked to under a minute in the first half.
An ugly low throw on a bad decision from Dobbs hit the turf for an incompletion that could have been a pick six. Tucker over the middle for a short gain. On third and six, Dobbs escaped pressure and threw to Ridley for the first, who cut back inside the field rather than going out of bounds, forcing the Steelers to use their last timeout with 24 seconds left at the 29.
One play later, it was a rifle from Dobbs to Patterson for the score, beating Douglas, the rookie receiver making a nice adjustment. Now 22-14.