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Flavell's Five Thoughts: Steelers Found Starting Line

The Pittsburgh Steelers got bounce-back performances from a handful of players that led to a win over the Raiders.

Three weeks into the season and the Pittsburgh Steelers currently lead the AFC North with a 2-1 record. The Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns also hold a 2-1 record but it is the Steelers who currently own the tiebreaker.

Pittsburgh got thumped in game one at home against the 49ers. They used two defensive touchdowns to beat the Browns at home in Week 2. The next week? They got their best offensive performance of the season and Kenny Pickett's most complete game of his young career.

Things are more jovial in Pittsburgh when the Steelers win. They have a tougher-than-initially-thought test coming up when they head to Houston this Sunday to face C.J. Stroud and the Texans. We'll see if the momentum can continue.

Bounce Back Performances Fueled Victory

There were a handful of players who bounced back from tough starts to the season. Chiefly among them was Kenny Pickett's. Pickett tossed for 235 yards and his first career multiple-touchdown game. He didn't throw any picks, but Marcus Peters dropped the easiest pick-six he would've had in his life, a development that could've changed the game in the Raiders' favor. Pickett's improvements were clear and evident and I'll discuss them a bit more here in a little bit.

Levi Wallace deserves tons of props for his performance Sunday night. His first two games of the season had fans calling for Joey Porter Jr. to start instead of being eased into a role. Wallace looked like a disaster, but he turned the fortunes this weekend.

Wallace and Patrick Peterson, who also had an interception, looked like fools on the fourth down deep ball touchdown to Davante Adams but it's hard to blame them. The call to send one of the NFL's premier receivers on a go-route knowing the Steelers were bringing the house was a great play call. Great players make great plays, and Adams did just that.

Instead of allowing that play to simmer, Wallace went out and intercepted two Jimmy Garoppolo passes. The second one was a last-ditch-effort toss-up, but it doesn't matter. The stats don't state when or how the interception happened. They just pile up and help a player get paid more at contract time. Wallace also recorded four pass defenses.

The run defense was better. Matt Canada's game plan seemed a tad bit better. Even T.J. Watt recorded two sacks this week after a measly one-sack performance last week.

"But It's Just the Raiders!"

Yeah, maybe you're right. But wasn't everyone going into the week saying that the Steelers had two seemingly easier defenses coming up on the schedule and you wanted to see improvement? Well, here you go. The Steelers showed it ten-fold in this game.

Pickett was schemed to move around more and showed that he's at his best with play-action calls and moving around the pocket. Is he a bit too antsy and willing to bail the pocket when he doesn't need to? Yes. That may not be a sustainable model for success. He is going to have to stand in the pocket more often and he did an exceptional job on that completing a pass over the middle to George Pickens while taking a big shot.

The defense picked off Garoppolo three times Sunday night. Maybe Garoppolo isn't a top-end quarterback but to have a three-interception game in the NFL is a big deal and the defense should be proud of that. Rushing for 100+ yards, even if it came on 31 totes is a confidence booster for the Steelers.

Stroud may present a bigger challenge next week than many initially thought. That doesn't mean the Steelers aren't capable. Houston's defense has some good players, but they don't possess many game-breakers and the offense should be able to have their way again if they show up.

With an early bye week this season, the Steelers have two more games before the break. The Texans and then a home matchup with the Ravens, a game which is timed perfectly for a nice week off. Improvement has to be the theme over the next few games.

Freiermuth Involved a Good Sign, But Where is Washington?

It's an old cliche that when a quarterback is struggling and needs a bailout, he goes to his tight end. Pat Freiermuth went into this game with two receptions for five yards. Granted, he did catch a touchdown in the opening game, but come on. The Steelers used a second-round draft choice on Freiermuth. They placed a lot of stock in him. Pickett utilized him a ton last season, and they suddenly shut him out.

Against the Raiders, Freiermuth only had four targets, but he made the most of them. He caught three passes for 41 yards and scored his second touchdown of the season. He's proving to be a reliable red-zone target for Pickett especially when the Steelers have struggled from inside the 20-yard line since Pickett took over at quarterback last season.

That is all well and good. Hopefully, they scheme up some more for him over the rest of the season. The fact that Darnell Washington still has yet to see a single target is baffling to me.

I love the idea of taking him in the third round. Give Pickett all the offensive weapons to succeed. That is fine. But if you use a third-round pick to draft a guy just to block instead of provide offense at the position? That's a stretch.

Washington is a mountain of a man. He is a better blocker than Freiermuth and he can move guys with ease. However, with that stature, he should be able to be used as a weapon on offense. Give him simple underneath routes and let him get the ball in his hands and run. Throw him a jump ball in the end zone on a goal-to-go situation. There is too much potential for the Steelers to not use him as an offensive weapon.

Penalty on Fitzpatrick Hit a Joke

The late-game hit by Fitzpatrick on Garoppolo that eventually led to a touchdown was a total joke. Following the game, Fitzpatrick told the media that the referees' justification for the call was that the quarterback lowered his head, and Fitzpatrick hit his head so it was a penalty.

There's nothing like being told the hit wasn't your fault and still getting flagged for it anyway.

After being labeled a "dirty" player all week for making a football play on Nick Chubb that led to the unfortunate injury, Fitzpatrick made the "illegal" hit on Jimmy G all the while after going to the hospital himself for what could've been a much worse injury. It's been quite a two-week stretch for him.

The league has made it so hard to make a hit on a quarterback without fear that you'll be penalized. I understand protecting them because they drive the cash-cow league but my goodness they're still on the football field playing football.

A receiver can get rocked with no penalty on the defensive player. A running back can meet Robert Spillane in the gap at the goal line for a freight train collision, and everything is kosher. But if a player so much as puts all of his body weight into a hit on a quarterback in the pocket, automatic 15 yards. It's getting a bit out of hand, but it isn't going to change anytime soon.

Regardless of Your Opinion on Mike Tomlin, He'll Never Be Brandon Staley

Mike Tomlin is as polarizing a figure as there is in Pittsburgh. Fans love him or hate him, there's no in-between. Many point to his never having a losing season in Pittsburgh while others cite his lack of success in the playoffs despite having a franchise quarterback for nearly two decades.

Regardless of your feelings, there is still a good portion of NFL coaches below Tomlin on the scale, and that shouldn't be taken for granted.

Watching the Chargers game in Week 3, I couldn't help but feel bad for Justin Herbert at the moment. The Chargers had a fourth-and-short at their own 24-yard lineup by four points late in the game. Instead of punting it and making the Vikings go the distance of the field, they went for it and got stopped short.

The Vikings ended up throwing an interception with seconds left on the clock and the Chargers once despite the stupidity of Staley. Aggressiveness is one thing, but there has been entirely too much stupidity in his short tenure in San Diego. The Chargers lost a 27-point lead to the Jaguars in the playoffs last year. They don't seem to close games well. It's a shame.

This isn't a Chargers site so I'll keep the thoughts short on their end, but it was used to show that there aren't many options better than Tomlin regardless of many people's thoughts. Staley isn't the only example either.

For all of Tomlin's clock management deficiencies and lack of awareness when challenging plays, he makes up for it in other areas. I'm not opening Tomlin as a top-three coach in the league, but the Steelers have a guy who is better than most other coaches across the NFL.

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