Flying High in D.C.: Steelers vs. the Washington Team on Monday Night Football
by Ivan Cole
Losers and bad news
We start with the easy part. I’m sure others will search high and low to find things to stress about, but the truth is that this is a pretty short list.
*Injuries. Only one blemish here, but we don’t know how significant it is yet. Ryan Shazier suffered some sort of setback. Stayed tuned.
*Tackling. We have been making the point that since the implementation of the new CBA, the early games of the season have often been characterized by a breakdown in fundamentals. For the Redskins, it appeared to be conditioning. For Pittsburgh some of the early Redskin drives were kept alive because of shoddy tackling by the Steelers.
*Missed opportunities and other mistakes. The Skins had the Steelers on the ropes early, in part because Pittsburgh was helping with an interception (Eli Rodgers), a couple of near lost fumbles (Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown) and a dropped interception (Ross Cockrell). In the second half, the Steelers couldn’t capitalize on a forced fumble by Shazier, and a block in the back by Mike Mitchell negated a long interception return by Shazier.
Winners and good news
*Le’Veon who? Just kidding. But DeAngelo Williams was named the game MVP by Steelers Digest. 146 yards on the ground and two touchdowns were the highlights of a running game that Washington could not stop.
*Antonio Brown. Also had two touchdowns on nine receptions and 126 receiving yards. Brown did not disappoint a national viewing audience in delivering the kind of performance that will confirm the growing perception that he is arguably the best wide receiver in the league.
*Ryan Shazier. As was mentioned earlier, forced a fumble, had an interception, had a brilliant pass defensed that prevented a touchdown and was all over the field. You have to hope that his injury wasn’t significant.
*Ben Roethlisberger. Delivered two of the better deep, accurate throws (to AB and Sammie Coates) you’d ever want to see. Set an NFL record (first quarterback to combine with three different receivers for 500+ receptions -Hines Ward, Heath Miller and Brown). Caught and passed Joe Montana on the all-time list for pass receptions. And generally reinforced the, now, popular perception that he is (finally!) a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback, and clearly on the very short list for being the best in the league.
*Offensive line. They controlled the line of scrimmage, with Ben’s near fumble the only time that he came close to being abused. And, of course, there was also their ability to move the ball on the ground. Of particular note was the run blocking of David DeCastro, and pass blocking of Alejandro Villanueva.
*Todd Haley and the offensive scheme. The stated goal this season was to average over thirty points per game. At 38, mission accomplished.
*Keith Butler and the defensive scheme. Questionable tackling aside, Butler’s defense held Washington to one touchdown and less than 17 points, executed two turnovers and came tantalizingly close to two more. Replicating this type of effort will almost certainly result in wins almost every time.
*Ol’ man Deebo. James Harrison, the 150-year-old outside linebacker, delighted Steelers’ fans at the end with an interception in the end zone.
*The kicking game. Picking up where he left off last year, Chris Boswell looked like a machine, while Jorden Berry didn’t have much to do (always a good thing), but executed his limited duties well.
*Newcomers. Shaky starts by wide receivers Sammie Coates and Eli Rogers were redeemed by a touchdown reception (Rogers) and a beautiful long reception by Coates. Javon Hargrave, L.J. Fort and Sean Davis had unremarkable, but solid games. Jesse James (receptions) and David Johnson (blocking) delivered well on the tight end responsibilities.
*Team discipline. Though there were some early execution issues, not unexpected given the circumstances, there were very few penalties or assignment problems. There was relatively little Steelers vs. Steelers dysfunctionality.
*Steelers Nation. As has become customary, there was concern leading up the game as to the potential impact of Steelers fans with their Terrible Towels taking over an enemy stadium. My brother Andy attended the game and reported that, according to his observations, at least a fifth of the crowd of 80,000 were Steelers fans. By the fourth quarter they had 80% percent of the remaining attendees and that it was essentially a home game at that point.
The first game of the season is often the hardest to forecast. Teams have months to prepare for their opponents and usually are smart enough to not tip their hands concerning how they will approach the competition.
One of the things the characterized the first week of NFL Football in 2016, is that pretty much all of the games played previous to the Steelers game were close affairs that were often not decided until the very end. Based upon that it was not reasonable to assume that the expansive and extravagant expectations concerning this team would be proved to be so much fanciful thinking, as Pittsburgh could be mired in a close contest against an opponent that should not have been on par with the Steelers. Besides the what was the first week norm league wide, there was also the fact that Pittsburgh has tended to struggle in openers and in September generally in recent years.
So forgive us for being excited that the Steelers performed at or near the high side of expectations, delivering the week’s sole blowout (Rams v 49ers not complete as I write) and the highest offensive output, against a defending division champion, in their home stadium, in front of a national audience.
Solid in all three phases, this is the strongest, most impressive beginning by a Steelers squad in quite some time. Given the nature of how the league’s hype machine works in the first couple weeks of the season, don’t be surprised if you hear that Pittsburgh is the reincarnation of the Roman Legions or the Mongolian Hordes, and that the undefeated record of the ’72 Miami Dolphins is just so much burnt toast. But, you gotta admit, it is a great start. Le’Veon Who?