Josh Shreckengost | High Top Sports Network
At times during their 26-21 win over the visiting Denver Broncos in Week 2, the Steelers looked to be playing against two opponents. Well, at least according to starting inside linebacker Vince Williams who tweeted, “We beat two teams today! #WeAllWeGot” following a win which pushed the Steelers’ record to 2-0 on the young season. A questionable pass interference call on Terrell Edmunds on a 3rd-and-11 late in the game extended a Denver drive and had the Broncos in position to score the go-ahead touchdown with under two minutes remaining before Edmunds recorded just the second sack of his career and first since his rookie season to end the threat. Still, that does not excuse the fact that Pittsburgh racked up 10 penalties on the afternoon and their undisciplined play allowed the Broncos to stick around and nearly pull off an improbable win after being thoroughly dominated in the first half. The Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde performance by the Steelers is a bit disheartening, but several positive factors emerged for Pittsburgh during the victory. The defense is legit, Big Ben was cut loose and made a couple of superb touchdown throws, and the return unit – both Ray-Ray McCloud on kicks and Diontae Johnson on punts – could be one of the best in the NFL by season’s end. Let’s get more in-depth with my three Big Play Bullet Points:
· Big Ben is BACK
So much for being on a pitch count. The Steelers’ Hall of Fame QB was slingin’ it against the Broncos and Roethlisberger completed 29-of-41 pass attempts for 311 yards, two touchdowns and (of course) an interception. Roethlisberger made a couple of bad throws in the game – the interception in the third quarter and another near pick earlier in the game – but he also made a couple of plays which resulted in touchdowns. His 84-yard bomb down the far sideline to rookie wideout Chase Claypool showed that Roethlisberger’s arm strength was not in question following his season-ending elbow surgery from a year ago. Big Ben also hit Diontae Johnson for a 29-yard TD on a play that harkened back to his younger days when he eluded the pressure, rolled out of the pocket and fired a dime on the run for the score. All told, Roethlisberger looked pretty freakin’ good for the second week in a row. · The D Found a Way Defensive coordinator Keith Butler could not have scripted a better first half for his squad as the Steelers pounded Drew Lock into the turf and surrendered only three points to the Broncos in the opening 30 minutes. After a few nice runs by Melvin Gordon III, the Steelers tightened up and shut down the Denver running game and wreaked havoc on Lock’s backup, Kevin Driskel. The Black and Gold recorded five sacks in the first half and pursued Driskel relentlessly. However, the second half was not nearly as kind to the Steelers as they surrendered 18 points – 14 of which came off of turnovers by the offense – and committed costly penalties which allowed the Broncos to sustain their drives. Yet the defense made a play when it was needed most as the aforementioned sack by Edmunds came on 4th-and-2 from the Steelers’ 15-yard line with just under two minutes left. On a side full of superstars, Edmunds has taken his fair share of criticism for not living up to expectations after being drafted in the first round in 2018, but all of that was forgotten – at least for a day – when he planted Driskel to seal a Pittsburgh victory. · The Return Game is a Sleeping Giant Diontae Johnson made the Pro Bowl as a rookie last season following his emergence as a big-time punt returner (remember that 85-yard TD return PR TD against Arizona?), but the Steelers have long been without a game-breaking kickoff returner. Ray-Ray McCloud may finally be the guy to bring the ball out of the end zone for the Black and Gold on a consistent basis and give the team a home run threat in the kick return game. McCloud had one kickoff return for the Giants that went for 33 yards and he averaged 32 yards per return against the Broncos, including a 49-yarder which was a career best. McCloud was signed after the Steelers FINALLY cut Ryan Switzer (thank you, Lord) and has shown some serious flash in his limited chances with the ball. As for Johnson, he had an 81-yard PR TD negated by an idiotic and unnecessary block in the back penalty, but still averaged 12.5 yards per return on two attempts. I like where the Steelers are with their returners and wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple of big plays from both Johnson and McCloud. Make sure to check back every week after each Steelers game for Shreck’s Steelers Synopsis as Josh Shreckengost posts his musings, observations and opinions on the Black and Gold here at www.hightopsportsnetwork.com.