Sunday's clash against the Bills was an all-around ugly first half for just about everyone on the offensive side of the football for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers' offense started to show signs of life in the second half, scoring on all four of their second half drives. There's plenty of deserved credit to go around for their turnaround; their Hall of Fame quarterback got into a rhythm, the offensive line settled in and Najee Harris offered a big play to set up a touchdown.
The receivers were the group that impressed me the most on Sunday. The stat sheet wasn't gaudy, and fantasy owners may not be impressed, but it was exactly the performance the Steelers offense needed when they needed it the most.
Let's take a look at each receiver's performance.
It makes the most sense to begin with the Steelers reliable chain mover. He finished the day with four catches for 52 yards through the air, with three of those going for first downs. Smith-Schuster displayed his signature toughness, steamrolling Bill corner, Tre White and then proceeding to dive for a first down.
Key Play: With the Steelers up seven points late in the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger dialed up a back-shoulder deep ball down the right seam to Smith-Schuster. This was well covered by Taron Johnson, but an excellent throw and catch won the rep. This play got them into Buffalo territory, where they would eventually get into field goal range to put the ballgame away. Juju was his typical self on Sunday: reliable and tough.
Claypool wasn't able to register a catch in the first half but responded with some big-time plays after the halftime break. He finished the day with three catches, 45 yards through the air and added a 25-yard gain on a reverse that he almost scored on. Rest assured that Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada will look to get the ball more to Claypool on those jet sweeps in the future where they can take advantage of his size and speed in space. Claypool was one of the members that struggled the most the last time that these two teams faced off and it was nice to see him respond in a big way.
Key Play: To open up the second half, Claypool's 22-yard snag over the top of Tre White was the longest play of the game up to that point. The Steelers would settle for a field goal plays later, but this was a big momentum shift for an offense that had accomplished virtually nothing up to that point. Surprisingly, Claypool struggled a good bit on these 50/50 balls last year. If he attacks the ball at its highest point and uses his size to his advantage over small corners, he could take his game to a different level in 2021.
Johnson's tape is going to be so much better than his stat line indicated. After an injury scare in the first half, the Steelers X receiver finished with five catches, 36 yards and the lone Pittsburgh touchdown on the day. Roethlisberger missed Johnson on a pivot route early in the game that would have extended the drive, and the two seemed out of sync a bit on some of the RPO reads. A play that won't show up on the stat sheet, Johnson brought Bills corner Levi Wallace, to his hands and knees on a double move in the fourth quarter. His route running was highlighted last week in my X-factor piece and he continues to provide proof of that expertise each week.
Key Play: Johnson finally got the Pittsburgh offense into the end zone after reeling in a fade route near the back pylon for a touchdown. The concentration on this play was incredible as the corner was draped all over him. How he managed to catch this one and toe-tap his second foot in bounds left Bills fans speechless. After being benched in this matchup a year ago, it's poetic that Johnson leaves Highmark Stadium as the hero in week one.
The Steelers await the Raiders on Sunday at Heinz Field as they look to build off their week one upset in Orchard Park.
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