Regular season football has returned to our lives. What a pleasant weekend we were treated to. The Pittsburgh Steelers pulled off a comeback victory to beat the Buffalo Bills 23-16 Sunday afternoon.
Despite their offense looking anemic in the first half, they started to find some sort of rhythm later in the game and pushed ahead of the Bills and didn't look back.
There's much to discuss. Without further ado, let's begin.
Defense Stepped Up Big Time, But That Was Expected
The game started off on the sourest note possible. Isaiah McKenzie took the opening kickoff deep into Pittsburgh territory. Promptly, the defense stepped up and forced the Bills to go three-and-out. They were in field goal range and converted to take a 3-0 lead, but you couldn't ask for a better start defensively.
They only allowed a late second quarter touchdown in the first half that put the Steelers in a 10-0 hole. All facets of that unit were working.
If you check out the box score, Buffalo's numbers weren't as true as they might suggest.
Quarterback Josh Allen threw for 270 yards, but he did so on 30-of-51 passing. He averaged nine yards per completion. They didn't stretch the field all that much. The Steelers allowed 117 yards on 25 Buffalo carries. However, 25 of those yards came on one chunk play mid-way through the fourth quarter. Allen also had 44 of those yards on the ground.
Obviously, the blocked punt by Miles Killebrew that was scooped up by Ulysses Gilbert and taken nine yards into the end zone can't be ignored.
Big-time players stepped up and made big-time plays.
Tre Norwood Deserves Special Recognition
Again, the defensive unit as a whole deserves to be recognized. Tre Norwood deserves some special recognition for his NFL debut.
Norwood, Pittsburgh's seventh-round selection this offseason, looked like a seasoned veteran Sunday. He factored in on a few tackles early, made a great play in the end zone in the fourth quarter to break up a would-be touchdown, and seemed to be in the right spot at all times. He got beat deep once early in the game but the receiver was overthrown. Otherwise, his NFL debut went swimmingly.
T.J. Watt, fresh off his new extension, recorded two sacks and forced a fumble on one of them. What else is new there, though? Cam Heyward recovered the Watt strip-sack. James Pierre and Cam Sutton both had late-down pass breakups. Name anyone on the defense, and they did something noteworthy.
Norwood's play stood out as one of the personal bright spots. With the slot corner spot not completely nailed down by anyone, Norwood's steady over-the-top presence allows for the Steelers to move Minkah Fitzpatrick down to play man coverage on a receiver. The Steelers used that tactic to shadow Stefon Diggs on multiple occasions Sunday afternoon.
Diggs did have nine receptions but only gained 69 yards on those grabs. Despite his volume, Pittsburgh's secondary did an awesome job limiting his overall impact on the game.
Matt Canada' Offensive Style Was on Display
If you noticed a lot more pre-snap motion in the Steelers' game plan today, that wasn't an accident.
On nearly every play, the Steelers sent either a wide receiver or their tailback in motion. It didn't seem to have too much of an effect early on, but as the game wore on, more confusion seemed to set in overtime.
Obviously, the Steelers' offensive line is nearly 100% new. The cohesion will take time. Last season, Ben Roethlisberger getting rid of the ball quickly was by design. Because of the uncertainty with the offensive line, that same quick release of the ball might be out of necessity.
Najee Harris didn't have many running lanes in his NFL debut. In fact, he only gained eight yards in the first half on the ground. He ended up with 45 yards on 16 carries for a pedestrian 2.8 yards per carry. Over the course of the season, you'd have to think Harris' talent can overcome the offensive line's deficiencies just enough to make an impact in the run game.
The style of Canada's offense is already different from the previous Randy Fichtner and Todd Haley-led offenses.
Diontae Johnson Leaves Mark After Up-And-Down Season
Everyone remembers Johnson's pass-catching issues from 2020. He seemed to drop many big-time passes that cost the Steelers on a few occasions.
He showed up big time when it mattered Sunday.
Johnson caught five passes for 36 yards. He didn't have a huge impact yardage wise, but he made an acrobatic catch in the corner of the end zone early in the fourth quarter to push the Steelers ahead for the first time in the contest.
His team-leading 10 targets shows the trust Roethlisberger still has in Johnson despite his drop issues last year. They could always rear their ugly head but he locked in today and took advantage of those opportunities when Roethlisberger awarded them.
It feels like there are even more mouths to feed in this offense this season with Harris in the fold as well as rookie tight end Pat Friermuth. If Johnson emerges as the clear number one target for his quarterback despite all those weapons, that should bode well for Johnson's confidence as the season rolls on.
Roethlisberger Finishes 36th Fourth Quarter Comeback
He's arguably the best quarterback in Steelers' history. Only Terry Bradshaw can really hold a candle to Roethlisberger's resume. However, Roethlisberger added another notch to his Hall-of-Fame resume on Sunday.
With his 36th career fourth quarter comeback, Big Ben moved into a tie with Drew Brees for third all-time. Only Peyton Manning (43) and Tom Brady (39) are ahead of Roethlisberger.
At the age of 39, Roethlisberger still has that clutch gene in his repertoire. Obviously, he could've played much better in the first half and avoided having to make the fourth quarter comeback in the first place.
Regardless, Roethlisberger got the job done in the fourth quarter leading the Steelers to yet another late win.
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