by Brandon Walker, For New Pittsburgh Courier
The Pittsburgh Steelers lost their season-opener Sunday night, Sept. 8, on the road to the New England Patriots by the score of 33-3. I, and most other pundits, thought they would fall short in Foxborough, but the way that they lost is alarming. Tom Brady carved up the Steelers defense that had to use former Alliance of American Football player Kameron Kelly at free safety (for the injured Sean Davis) and rookie Devin Bush at inside linebacker. He passed for 341 yards and three touchdowns.
That was not a surprise. However, an offense that returned six players selected to the Pro Bowl in 2018 scoring only three points is an embarrassment.
The Patriots usually take the opposing team’s best weapon out of the game by mixing up coverages, but Bill Belichick had his top corner, Stephon Gilmore, cover Steelers’ top receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster in man-to-man the entire game. JuJu could not win his matchups on a consistent basis and as a result, fellow Steelers Donte Moncrief, James Washington, Ryan Switzer and Vance McDonald could not win theirs. Another concerning issue that came out of Sunday’s game was how the Patriots dominated in the trenches, especially in short-yardage situations. The Steelers failed to convert on third down and 1 on three separate occasions and were stopped on a fourth and 1 opportunity. The Steelers only rushed for 32 yards on 12 rushes while Ben Roethlisberger threw the ball 47 times. It seemed like the Steelers gave up on offense and waved the white flag on the game when they went for the field goal on fourth and goal from the 1-yard line on their only scoring drive.
As for the defense, they obviously did not play their best game, but I like the young talent that the team has drafted over the past few years. The main issue of this defense is defensive coordinator Keith Butler. Butler’s inability to use players to the best of their ability and his unwillingness to make in-game adjustments on the fly was on full display on Sunday night. For example, when the Steelers were playing man coverage, the Patriots countered using pick plays and option routes to get the matchups that they wanted and Butler did not adjust until the game was out of reach. Another example was when T.J. Watt was double- and triple-teamed the entire game and Butler didn’t make any changes. An idea would be to move him around the line, or maybe have him swap places with Bud Dupree. The Patriots had two new starters along the offensive line and Butler did not try to blitz or pull stunts.
Sunday’s loss speaks to the aura of arrogance that still exists on this team. Even without LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown, some of the main elements of a potentially cancerous locker room are still in that organization. Do you trust that Roethlisberger is going to keep quiet in the media the entire season? Does Mike Tomlin fully have the reigns of the locker room with an assortment of strong-headed personalities? I think that the Steelers have systemic internal flaws due to their past organizational success. I believe that Tomlin and General Manager Kevin Colbert think that how they have gone about business is still working and the team culture is fine, but could it be that this organization is failing and the only people who have not realized that fact yet are the Steelers’ braintrust?
As for moving forward to this Sunday, Sept. 15, the Steelers, this time at home, will face another future Hall of Fame quarterback in Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks who averted an upset bid from the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1. The Steelers should have the advantage—a 1 p.m. kickoff, facing an opponent traveling from the West Coast. A win this Sunday will be key for the rest of this season as they play in a competitive AFC North. A loss this Sunday, and the Steelers could be in real trouble.
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