Winners and losers from the Pittsburgh Steelers Week One 23-16 win over the Buffalo Bills Sunday afternoon.
EDGE Rushers – The combination of TJ Watt, Alex Highsmith, and Melvin Ingram was in the backfield all day today, pass and run. Watt had a key strip-sack fumble of Allen to keep potential points off the board. Ingram was a bully in the run and pass game while Highsmith’s get-off is much improved from last season. The Bills’ o-line resorted to holding those guys. Some were called, some were not. But this is the strength of the team. And they sure played like it.
Pittsburgh’s defense today was tremendous, keeping the score down until the offense/special teams woke up in the second half. Numerous key stops, sudden change, short field, this defense will be one of the NFL’s best.
Cam Heyward – Not trying to be hyperbolic here. But this is one of the best games Heyward’s ever played. Which is saying a lot. Heyward remains the strongest man on the field and his bull rushes consistently won. He deflected two passes and repeatedly generated pressure. It’s hard to look like a man amongst boys in the NFL. But Heyward does it.
Cam Sutton – Sutton didn’t have a great preseason. But give him a week to prepare with a defined opponent and his football IQ shines through. He was a strong open field tackler, took a great angle for a key third down breakup in the first half, and blew up a wacky 4th and 1 playcall by the Bills, a massive stop by the Steelers’ defense. Best CB for the Steelers today. Maybe the best DB period.
Diontae Johnson – It was a mostly quiet game for Johnson. But he came up large with what’s going to be one of the catches of the season, a tip-drill, toe-drag touchdown in the back left corner to put Pittsburgh ahead 13-10 in the fourth quarter. While he’s battled drops, he can make some tough catches. And that certainly was one of them.
Special Teams (Second Half) – The Steelers’ special teams settled down after a bumpy first half. No play bigger than Miles Killebrew’s punt block, recovered by Ulysees Gilbert III for a scoop-and-score touchdown. Part of a massive momentum shift in the Steelers’ favor. A great scheme by Danny Smith to free Killebrew up and tremendous execution by the players to make the play.
And kudos to new snapper Christian Kuntz, new holder Pressley Harvin, and Chris Boswell for being solid in the field goal operation. Boswell’s 45-yard field goal sealed the deal.
Mike Tomlin – Best Week One win he’s ever had. Kudos to him. Going to Buffalo and beating them after falling behind 10-0. Pretty special.
Tre Norwood – Tough spot for a 7th round rookie who saw more extensive playing time than most of us expected. Norwood got the start as the team’s slot corner. He struggled to attack the ball downhill, allowing TE Dawson Knox to convert a third down, and then got toasted downfield by WR Emmanuel Sanders later in the first half. Norwood was late to open his hips and only bailed out by Josh Allen’s overthrow.
It’s hard to tell if the team deliberately reduced his playing time but Norwood saw fewer snaps throughout the game. Again, can’t be too critical of a rookie in his first game against a talented Bills’ offense. But he wasn’t the answer Pittsburgh’s been searching for.
Special Teams (First Half) – 75 yard kick return is in fact not how you want to start a game. Isaiah McKenzie had a clear pathway down the right side and nearly housed it. LB Ulysees Gilbert III saved the touchdown. On Pressley Harvin’s first punt, a Bills’ defender came in free up the middle and nearly blocked it. Harvin himself had his issues with one not-so-great punt, a 39 yarder, and a 31 yard shank that put the Bills’ in plus territory.
Chukwuma Okorafor – I’ll admit it’s harder to judge the offensive line the first time through than any other position. And my thoughts could change after rewatching things. But Okorafor certainly seemed to have his hands full in this one. And his run blocking at right tackle was uninspiring. The whole o-line took their lumps and DT Ed Oliver blew up play after play (which isn’t Chuks’ doing) but #76 seemed to struggle most.
Ben Roethlisberger – Roethlisberger didn’t make any kill-you mistakes this game but he was far from good. He struggled with accuracy in the flats, missing a key third down conversion to Najee Harris, and his throws were wobbly and late. Roethlisberger did make a couple key plays on the final drive, I don’t want to overlook at, but he’ll need to be better in future games.