Following each game in the 2022 Steelers season I will be giving you my ten takes. These aren’t going to be hot takes and meant to shock the world. This will be instant reactions to the game written while still in that period just following the game when the emotions are high and the ideas are fresh. Included will be thoughts, observations, queries and reasons that caused me to yell at the television.
Game 1 – Cincinnati Bengals
1. I’m In a Glass House of Emotion – If we are going to do this sixteen more times I am going to need to hire medical professionals to be on standby. Where do I begin? Am as equally impressed by the defense to make big plays as I am equally disgusted by the ineptitude of the offense. If Chase Claypool is your leading rusher, things are not going well. As much as love me some Zach Gentry, if he is your leading receiver for a majority of the game, again, things are not well. Wanting a victory on opening week while simultaneously wanting, expecting, to be put out of your misery on multiple occasions is draining. I need a nap.
2. No Steps Forward, Two Steps Back – I understand the offensive line is not that good right now. That type of situation does not provide the best working environment for quarterbacks. But the next time you see Mitch Trubisky step into a throw it will be the first time. He consistently was throwing while moving backward in the pocket. Compound this with consistently throwing outside (I think the first slant throw was in overtime) it becomes a recipe for pick sixes. Yes, the offensive line needs to improve but so does the QB.
3. Art Contributions – The run defense had to improve last year and it takes everyone doing their job to fix the problem. Arthur Maulet who played a lot in the slot did a nice job of executing his role. He was willing to fill gaps on the inside as well as being a force player on the outside to redirect the running back. It’s not something that shows up in the box score but it’s important. After missing a sack early in the game he came back with the sack fumble that set up the final drive. Nice to seem he rewarded in the end making a big play.
4. Spoons Aren’t Flexible – I’ll just come out and say it. Ahkello Witherspoon is a liability in Man coverage. First of all, he doesn’t display the quick twitch change of direction or acceleration to handle receivers on routes breaking away from him. To the inside and outside he was continually out of position. Secondly, on the game tying touchdown there was no anticipation of the out breaking route while playing with inside technique. Teams are going to see the tape from this game and exploit him.
5. Long Snappers Are People Too – Remember when Alex Kozora and the crew gave you all kinds of coverage on Steelers Depot about the long snapper battle? Well now you know why. Because they are important. The Cincinnati kicker Evan McPherson was overly impressive as a rookie last season. For him to have one kick blocked and another shanked to the left wasn’t totally on him. Having the backup snapper in there screwed up the timing of the kicks. We like to not be too concerned with the lesser known guys on the roster but every man on the 53 is important.
6. How High Can He Go? – He has grown as a player each year and man was it nice to see him stand out today. Alex Highsmith had a monster game credited with nine tackles, two tackles for a loss and three sacks. He was a good run defender prior to this season and we have seen the glimpses of him as a pass rusher. He used a spin to get his first sack and a dip around the edge to get the second showing his progress. The injury to T.J. Watt did not look good so Highsmith will be asked to pick up the slack. I predicted before the season that he was a candidate to breakout and he is off to a fantastic start.
7. Call Vs Execution – We know this offense is limited and needs to take advantage of every opportunity. The red zone has become he who shall not be named in recent years and the woes continued in game one. The first seven plays in the red zone resulted in four carries for three yards and one completion in three attempts for four yards. Not good. But then again if they do have success in the red zone we see the play repeatedly. I’m looking at you, jet sweep to Claypool. Is it the play calls? Sometimes. Is it the execution? Sometimes. I still say steal plays from other teams that work and use those.
8. 99 Problems But Larry O Ain’t One – I kept my eye on Larry Ogunjobi quite a bit in this game and I was happy with what I saw. I thought he did a nice job in the run game especially when they tried to block him with one guy. He moved well laterally showing the quickness to cut off blocks helping to hold the running backs of the Bengals to just eighty-six yards. Having a healthy rotation of players up front will help the run defense a great bit. Good start for the new Steeler.
9. Austin Keeping it Weird – The city of Austin, Texas has a motto of, “Keep Austin Weird” and the new defensive coordinator was similar in his debut in his new role. He mixed up coverages as well as blitz packages. It was enough to confuse a potent Bengal offense to force five turnovers and get seven sacks. On the Bengals third quarter touchdown he went with a Cover Zero look (all Man coverage, no safety help) and it took a perfect throw by Joe Burrow to convert the play. I like the aggressiveness. They will need to make plays while the offense hopefully finds its groove.
10. Losing During a Win – The longer the game when on the worse things got for the team in regards to personnel. T.J. Watt has a reported pec injury that has the potential to be a substantial injury. Najee Harris has a lower leg issue after getting rolled up on. Mason Cole missed some time but returned. Cam Heyward, Levi Wallace and DeMarvin Leal all missed some time as well. This short term victory could have long term effects and that could be troubling.
I think they just ran another jet sweep.