PITTSBURGH, PA – The Pittsburgh Steelers fell maddeningly short in a 17-14 loss to the New England Patriots. The defense was good enough to win but the offense failed to hit on enough big plays to get the ball downfield with any consistency. As a result, the offense takes the bulk of the criticism in this week’s winners and losers. Mitch Trubisky’s struggles were the most glaring as some of his primary playmakers around him had good days.
Johnson looked like the all-league wideout that was promised when he signed a hefty extension this summer. While the passing game was largely ineffective, Johnson was its catalyst. When the Steelers hit on big plays, he was at the center. Johnson led the Steelers in both targets and catches despite being the main focus of New England’s defense.
Harris ran with aggression and purpose after a lackluster game against the Bengals in Week 1. Despite a nagging injury to his foot that required heavy tape to remedy and some sub-par blocking from the offensive line, Harris bulldozed his way to nearly 99 all-purpose yards, more than a third of the team’s total offense for the afternoon.
The biggest addition of the offseason, at least on the defensive side of the ball, was once again a steady presence in the middle of the defense. He totaled a team-high 13 tackles for a defense that held the Patriots’ bruising run game to just four yards per carry. He has been as good as advertised and a blessing for the Steelers as they deal with a rash of injuries on defense.
Anyone expecting major improvements from Week 1 to 2 for the Steelers offense was sorely disappointed. The Steelers were just as ineffective against the Patriots as they were against the Bengals – 14 points and 243 total yards. Their play on third down in the first half showed the improvements Trubisky said they were looking for but it took a step back in the second half and ultimately decided the game.
There was a lot of blame to go around last week – Trubisky wasn’t great but neither was the offensive line, running backs or play callers. Still, Trubisky was not nearly aggressive enough. Mike Tomlin said during his postgame press conference that the game came down to possession downs – plays where a defense could get off the field with a stop. Too often, Trubisky was inaccurate or threw short of the sticks when the Steelers needed a big play.
Trubisky came into this season with such low expectations and has still disappointed. I don’t think Kenny Pickett is a serious candidate to start anytime soon but the calls will only grow louder if Trubisky cannot improve.
Through two games during the 2022 season, George Pickens has been a complete ghost. Two receptions for 26 yards through eight quarters of football is not what many expected from the 2021 first-round pick.
Without giving much insight into what kept Pickens limited on the Trubisky said they need to find more ways to get Pickens into the flow of the game.
“We got to get George involved,” Trubisky said. “He’s really talented.”
Whether Pickens isn’t getting open or Trubisky isn’t finding him, the production has not matched the talent or the hype. It’s unfair to put so much on the shoulders of a rookie but the Steelers need him if they want to be as successful as they hope.
Witherspoon was a part of a dominating secondary performance against the Bengals but today against the Patriots – a markedly less talented and productive offense than Cinncinati’s – he played worse. Late in the game, in particular, he was getting routinely beaten by New England’s receivers.
There was one especially highlight-worthy play in the second half where Nelson Aghalor went over the top to steal the ball from in front of Whitherspoon’s face. It struck a nerve with Mike Tomlin, who though it was a play Witherspoon is capable of making. “Got to play the ball above eye-level,” Tomlin said. “He’s a big guy.”