Flavell's Five Thoughts: Steelers' Underappreciated Shine in Week 2
If the opportunity presented itself, the Steelers would like a do-over on their second-half performance. While they were able to hang on and win despite Denver backup quarterback Jeff Driskell's best efforts, Sunday's win was not the smoothest.
Defensively, the Steelers' first half was nearly immaculate. After Bud Dupree's bone-rattling sack of Drew Lock, Driskell took over and struggled upon entering the game. However, it was Driskell in the second half that gave Denver every chance to pull off the upset victory on the road. Fortunately enough, the Steelers defense bent but didn't break.
Now, Pittsburgh is 2-0 heading into a week three matchup with the Houston Texans (0-2) at Heinz Field.
Mike Hilton was the Steelers' best player Sunday
Mike Hilton isn't a household name around the NFL. Even on his own team, Hilton doesn't quite get name dropped among the Steelers' top players. However, Hilton proved he belongs on Sunday.
Hilton filled up the stat sheet with eight tackles, two of them for a loss, to go along with a sack and a fumble recovery. He was penalized for a questionable pass interference call in the fourth quarter. That was really his only blemish on the day.
Hilton was an undrafted free agent that the Steelers signed in 2016. He spent the rest of that season on the practice squad. In 2017, Hilton beat out William Gay and former college teammate Senquez Golson. Because of his small stature, Hilton's obvious talent was overlooked. Now, he's the starting slot corner on a remarkably good defense.
Hilton's performance Sunday was disruptive. He has quickly become one of the best pass-rushing cornerbacks in the league and seems primed to get paid well when he finally hits free agency this offseason, whether it is in Pittsburgh or elsewhere.
Steelers' pass-rush is overwhelming through two games
Five. That is the number of first-half sacks the Steelers mustered. They finished with 7, including 2.5 from T.J. Watt.
Ever since the Steelers finally allowed Bud Dupree to do what he is best at and chase down the quarterback, the team has become the best pass-rushing team in football.
Dupree was widely regarded as a bust in Pittsburgh through his first four seasons. However, I believe the Steelers were using him wrong. Dropping him back in coverage and expecting him to tackle ball-carriers down the field is not what he should have been relegated to doing. Taking him off the leash and letting him chase down quarterbacks is the right move. With him and Watt combining to be a top outside linebacker duo in the league, it has helped change the Steelers dynamic on defense.
Driskell and Lock ran for their lives most of the day. Dupree's sack on Lock ended his day and gave the ball back to the Steelers' offense.
Between the aforementioned impact of Hilton coming off the corner blitz, the outside linebacker duo, and the linemen up front, Pittsburgh's relentless pursuit of the quarterbacks has been key to their 2-0 start in the young season.
Speaking of the front seven, a key member of that deserves a bit more recognition.
Tyson Alualu is grossly underrated
Alualu is one of the unsung heroes on defense for the Steelers.
The former first-round pick is the only non-returning starter from 2019's defense. Replacing Javon Hargrave, Alualu has done everything he's been asked and more since signing in 2017. He's been a very adequate substitute throughout his Steelers career, and when he is asked to start, he does a fine job.
Last week, Alualu helped stuff Giants running back Saquon Barkley. In week two, the Broncos did rush for 104 yards. However, Alualu was able to get to the quarterback and record his first sack of the season. He also made five tackles on Sunday, including one for a loss.
The Steelers were losing a quality player in Hargrave when he decided to test free agency. However, they knew enough about Alualu to believe he could replace Hargrave. Assuming this is the norm for him, Alualu has found a home with Pittsburgh following a journeyman-type beginning to his career.
Roethlisberger's injury concerns should be all but gone
The old gunslinger followed up his Monday Night Football performance with another dandy against the Broncos.
Roethlisberger finished 29-of-41 with 311 yards passing. He hooked up with Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool for touchdowns and threw an ill-advised interception. So, truly, a typical boom-or-bust type of day from Big Ben.
Surely, Roethlisberger is getting older, so his ability to extend plays naturally has declined. However, despite the surgery, it seems his velocity has been about what it always has. When Roethlisberger drops back to throw, there is no hesitation or lack of zip on his passes. For a 38-year old post elbow surgery, that is very encouraging.
The touch Roethlisberger displayed on the long touchdown to Claypool was vintage Big Ben and a refreshing sight for anyone who still had doubts. Now, everyone can breathe a sigh of relief. Roethlisberger's elbow is 100% healthy, and he is ready to go on a revenge tour.
A healthy Roethlisberger with limitless weapons is dangerous for teams around the league.
Is Chase Claypool ready to break out?
I truly don't think there is a team that has consistently drafted good wide receivers for as long as the Steelers have. They always seem to find top tier talent in the mid-rounds at the position. From Antonio Brown to Martavis Bryant to Diontae Johnson and now Claypool, it is remarkable what General Manager Kevin Colbert has done drafting that position.
Heading into the season, Claypool was the clear fourth choice in the wide receiver pecking order. I am already advocating to give Claypool more snaps and make James Washington prove he deserves to be the number three.
Washington's talent is there, but the production has always been rather underwhelming. He's got 56 yards on five catches so far. While he isn't expected to be the top guy, Washington hasn't quite lived up to the hype to this point in his career.
Claypool caught his first career NFL touchdown on Sunday on a long bomb from Roethlisberger. Last week, he made a remarkable catch along the sidelines to set the tone for the Steelers' offense. Claypool also took the handoff on a reverse and earned a first down that clinched the game for the Steelers last Monday.
Claypool has provided a lot of splash early in his career and proven to be a playmaker. His stature will surely be an advantage for him against smaller cornerbacks over the course of his career.
Falling into round two, Claypool is a welcomed addition to the offense. If he makes a few more splash plays in the coming weeks, I wouldn't be surprised to see him on the opposite side of JuJu Smith-Schuster on Sundays. That combination of height and speed is something the Steelers have lacked since they were robbed of Martavis Bryant's prime due to his lack of responsibility.