The Pittsburgh Steelers were not dealt the most favorable hand to begin the 2019 regular season. I haven’t examined everybody’s schedule, but the double whammy of the New England Patriots on the road and then the Seattle Seahawks at home is a tough way to kick the year of by any measure.
As it so often the case, much of that has to do with the quality of play at the quarterback position, and the Steelers are now going from facing Tom Brady to Russell Wilson. While they offer varied skill sets, both are top quarterbacks in the NFL, and Wilson’s protection from his offensive line should be on a positive upswing, though he was sacked four times and hit an additional four times against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said that facing Wilson is “challenging, but it’s challenging in a different way” from facing Brady. “Tom utilizes his talents and experience to make good and quick decisions, he feels the rush extremely well so often times even when you’re beating people the ball is out. The speed in which the ball comes out is a challenge relative to him”.
Wilson presents a different sort of challenge, but one that produces. He only attempted 20 passes against the Bengals, but he completed 14 of them for 196 yards with two touchdowns. The Bengals controlled the ball extensively, for nearly 36 minutes, which helps explain the relatively sparse numbers.
Of Wilson, Tomlin said that he is also able to do what Brady does, but “he also brings a unique challenge of mobility and his ability to extend the play and also just get on the perimeter of your defense and get chunks of yards”.
He didn’t run the ball much at all against the Bengals, but he has 3659 rushing yards with 16 rushing touchdowns in his career, and has rushed for over 500 yards in four separate seasons. His 376 rushing yards in 2018 were the second-fewest of his career, but he had the second-most of his career a year prior to that.
“The containment of him is significant”, Tomlin said, “but also we better not be so contain conscious that we provide interior escape lanes. He’s got a well-rounded game, well-rounded talents”.
Containment has been an issue for the Steelers for years now, though it has gradually improved. They had better be disciplined in their rush-lane integrity on Sunday during their home opener, and try to keep the ball out of Wilson’s hands for as long as possible, as the Bengals did, nearly pulling out the victory.