2016 Pittsburgh Steelers First Quarter Report, Part 2
by Ivan Cole
In Part 1 Ivan gave a general overview of the team to this point. Here are specifics about each unit.
To be honest, until the fourth game I have found the offense to be something of a disappointment. Considered the strong aspect of the team, the one which was supposed to carry a fragile and still developing defense, too often the opposite appeared to be the case. Citing the Cincinnati game as an example, time and again the offense was handed favorable field position by the defense and special teams but could not seal the deal until late, allowing the Bengals and Washington to hang around longer than should have been the case.
And when the defense collapsed against the Eagles the offense had no response. To be sure, they pieced together enough big moments to not create a panic or to suggest that reports of their greatness were fraudulent. But until the return of Bell and the return of Ben to form they had only infrequently exhibited their truly frightening potential.
It must be pointed out that the Kansas City game marked the first time that the Killer Bs (Ben, Bell and Brown) have been on the field healthy together in quite some time. With better than solid offensive line play and quality support at the other skill positions it is almost not fair.
And of course, without Bryant and Ladarius Green they still don’t have their full toolbox. But if they keep the key pieces healthy (the return of Bell, for example, makes it harder for opponents to expend additional resources to stop Brown and vice versa), then in spite of averaging close to 30 points a game, the first quarter could likely be considered the nadir of their offensive productivity.
There are only two things to focus upon from the first quarter. The first is that Ben absorbed relatively little physical punishment. The second is that the performance against the Chiefs should not be viewed as aberration which can’t be replicated. In a sense these are the only things that matter offensively.
This group is dealing with some adversity, but it really isn’t, game three aside, having a negative effect on its performance. What we have learned:
- It is really good to have Pouncey back.
- Besides having an inspiring personal history, Alejandro Villanueva is getting the job done and improving at the critical left tackle position.
- BJ Finney has become more than just a feel good story.
We got the first look at the two-headed monster of Bell and D-Will, an arrangement which appears to be quite satisfactory on a variety of levels. Bell’s 178 yard combined performance also will, hopefully, put to bed the idea that as talented that DeAngelo Williams is that he is an appropriate straight up alternative to Bell.
The good news here is that Antonio Brown continues to meet expectations, even as those expectations rise. With the return of Bell to the mix things may open up for him in the second quarter even more. But the most promising news may well be the evolution of Sammie Coates into a reliable deep threat.
They are by far the most pleasant development of the first quarter. A group thought to be a liability has proven to be anything but. Xavier Grimble, Jesse James and David Johnson are a nice three headed monster that may necessitate a painful decision once Green comes off the PUP list. That is, if he comes off the PUP list…
The defense has largely been outperforming expectations throughout the first quarter with, of course, that little matter of Philadelphia. Whatever concerns there were about the performance of this unit were, like that of the offense, largely dispelled with this last game.
They can get sacks and pressure the quarterback. In only one game thus far have they given up a touchdown when the outcome was in doubt. Like the offense it is possible that their best ball is ahead of them.
One of the hallmarks of a potentially great team is excellent line play on both sides of the ball. In its own way the D line impresses as much as the O line and is recognized as the strength of the unit. This is a departure from a linebacker-dominant unit that has been the case for more than a generation.
Cam Heyward is the leader here of not just the line, but the entire unit. And his performance against the Chiefs suggests that his high ankle sprain suffered in the preseason may have hampered his early performances significantly. Stephon Tuitt has been solid, but perhaps the most memorable moment may have come from rookie Javon Hargrave when he chased down a Bengals running back in the open field.
The Heyward, Tuitt, Hargrave group may be the most impressive since Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel.
This group has been muted somewhat by injuries, but this is what we know. When healthy, Ryan Shazier is a uniquely impactful and explosive talent. Vince Williams is a different type of player who is very effective in his own way.
It is time to put to bed the doubts about Jarvis Jones, and after this last game, about Lawrence Timmons as well. And why is this James Harrison’s last year?
You can see Artie Burns improve, not by the week, but by the play. On the other side Ross Cockrell is improving as predicted. The most impressive player in this group in the first quarter is the now-injured, Robert Golden. His partnership with the now-healthy Mike Mitchell dispels any considerable concerns about safety play. The growth potential and upside for the group is very promising.
Punter Jordan Berry and kicker Chris Boswell have been machines. Not enough has been made of how the kicking game and the rest of the special teams units have created and maintained advantages for the other two legs of the team.