Starting three rookies on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense and another new face in veteran right guard Trai Turner on Sunday, Steelers’ offensive coordinator Matt Canada could not be faulted for anticipating some struggles from an execution standpoint. What he didn’t want was the Steelers shooting themselves in the foot with pre-snap infractions and other mistakes that general come from young players in their NFL debuts.
To the credit of guys like Najee Harris, Dan Moore Jr., and Kendrick Green, that didn’t really happen on Sunday as the Steelers snapped out of a first-half funk to find their footing offensively in the second half, picking up a 23-16 win on the road over the Buffalo Bills.
The key to finding their footing offensively, according to Canada, was the Steelers doing a “good job” of staying out of long down-and-distance situations, putting themselves behind the sticks.
On Sunday against the Bills, the Steelers found themselves in long down-and-distances situations three times in the first half due to a false start from left guard Kevin Dotson, a sack and fumble by Ben Roethlisberger thanks to Bills’ defensive end Mario Addison, and a sack of Ben Roethlisberger by Bills’ safety Jordan Poyer.
In the second half, the Steelers faced just four long down and distance situations as they scored 23 second-half points to beat the Bills. Two of those long down and distances situations in the second half were the result of incompletions on first down, which happens. Aside from those two, one was due to a JuJu Smith-Schuster false start one play after his 24-yard catch up the seam, while the other came after Zach Gentry’s tight end screen went for a loss of two yards on first down.
Overall, the Steelers didn’t hurt themselves in the first game under Canada’s guidance, which has the first-year offensive coordinator pleased.
“Yeah, I thought we did a good job with that. I think we worked really hard, three weeks out, as far as preparing for the noise, being on a silent count, but nothing prepares you for the reality of what that place was like,” Canada said to reporters Thursday, according to the transcript. “It was certainly a great environment to play in. I think our guys did a very good job. Again, they executed at a higher level as the game went on. Scoring every drive in the second half was really big. Not punting the ball there on the last drive of the game was really big. Everybody was part of it, but to your question, obviously the four rookies that had never played an NFL game did a great job.”
Playing in front of a home crowd on Sunday at Heinz Field against the Las Vegas Raiders should help the young players on offense settle in even further, and if the Steelers’ offense can continue to avoid long down-and-distance situations this week and every week moving forward, that will give a new-look offense that much better of a shot at succeeding more often than not.