In one of the most insane, consistently heart-stopping games in team history, the Pittsburgh Steelers escaped Cincinnati with a 23-20 win off the foot of Chris Boswell at the buzzer in overtime.
An Opportune Defense
The Steelers defense was all over the place, especially in the first half. They intercepted Joe Burrow four times, and also had a strip sack and recovery on the Bengals quarterback.
Minkah Fitzpatrick had a fantastic day, in specific, with a pick-six in the first quarter and a blocked extra point that sent the game into overtime. Pittsburgh also had seven sacks on the game, three of which came from Alex Highsmith.
The defense was far and away the biggest reason the Steelers pulled off the upset of their division rival, and they will need the defense to continue to play big if they want to have any success this season.
The Steelers’ passing game didn’t steal the show, but the fact that all of their playmakers had their respective moments was a nice surprise.
Diontae Johnson had seven receptions, including a ridiculous one-handed catch in overtime. Pat Freiermuth had five catches, his biggest coming in overtime to set up the game-winning field goal. The second-year tight end also caught the deep pass coming off a flea flicker to set up a red zone field goal.
Najee Harris didn’t have a big day on the ground, but the Alabama product was the recipient of Mitch Trubisky’s first touchdown pass as a Steeler. Chase Claypool also had a nice day, leading Pittsburgh in rushing and having four receptions, seemingly becoming Pittsburgh’s wide-back before our eyes.
There is still a ways to go, but the potential is certainly there.
Pittsburgh’s offense was given opportunity after opportunity to pull away but rarely capitalized. They had four three-and-outs on the day, and only put up 10 points following four turnovers. Although the Steelers didn’t turn the ball over, constant three-and-outs and short drives become equivalent to turnovers. Not every drive will result in points, but long, sustained drives help the defense- the Steelers need to help out their defense.
Pittsburgh had eight penalties against the Bengals, but it was more so when the penalties occurred that really hurt them. A third down sack by Cam Heyward was negated by a Cam Sutton holding call, and an unnecessary roughness call on Fitzpatrick moved the Bengals closer to the goal line for the eventual tying touchdown.
Offensive Line Play
Stop me if you’ve heard this song before- the Steelers’ offensive line played poorly. This was Pittsburgh’s achilles heel last season, and it looks like we can expect more of the same in 2022.
The run game was abysmal. Chase Claypool led the Steelers in rushing with 36 yards. Najee Harris netted just 23 yards on 10 carries, and Pittsburgh averaged just 3.4 yards a carry as a team. Additionally, Mitch Trubisky rarely had time to throw and let plays develop, often having to move out of the pocket to make any sort of play.
The Steelers stars aren’t putting up gaudy numbers, but that is clearly more of an offensive line issue than anything.
It was a bittersweet win at the end of the day. Harris left the game with an ankle injury and was spotted in a walking boot after the game. Mason Cole left the game, as well with an injury. Levi Wallace injured his ankle and didn’t return. The worst of all, though, is that T.J. Watt possibly tore his left pectoral muscle, which at minimum would keep him out for the majority of the season. The Steelers won in an absolute classic, but at what cost?
The Steelers should feel good going into the home opener against New England, but there is a lot that needs to be cleaned up if they want to add another tally to the win column next week.
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