Ben Roethlisberger’s return was the hyped-up storyline of the Steelers’ return to the field against the Giants in Week 1. While he appeared to be shaky at first, Roethlisberger and the Steelers got the job done and took a win from the New York Giants and first-year Head Coach Joe Judge. Even if everything does not revolve around Roethlisberger, this offense is the focal point of concentration for this team. The defense had a rather dominant performance that was expected. The good news is most of it is positive. Let’s take a look at the Steelers winners and losers from Week 1.
Who were the Steelers winners and losers from Week 1?
Winner: Ben Roethlisberger
There has to be some form of tentativeness to officially say that Roethlisberger is back after he struggled for most of the first half. Still, after seeing his surgical second half and end of the first half, it is tough not to get excited about what you saw if you are a Steelers fan. Roethlisberger had 229 passing yards for three touchdowns against the Giants and did it with a rhythm.
The more critical aspect of the Roethlisberger’s return was how comfortable he looked after he shook his rust off. No longer was he erratic under pressure or throwing the ball all over the map. In the second half, Roethlisberger was throwing guys open and throwing darts. It was an excellent performance to watch. Part of it may have been the increased stability along the offensive line as they settled in, but Roethlisberger deserves his fair share of praise.
He spread the wealth around and did not miss his reads. That was the most impressive thing about his return. It was how he went through his progressions with care and did not just set on one easy target as he began to air it out. There was not an interceptable pass on the whole day from Roethlisberger. As he connected with all four top receivers, including JuJu Smith-Schuster for two touchdowns, Roethlisberger and the offense are just scratching the surface of their potential.
If Roethlisberger can play at a high level like this from here on out, the Steelers can win the AFC North. Roethlisberger being a winner coming out of Week 1 is more important than any of the other winners or losers on this list.
Loser: James Conner
James Conner suffered an unfortunate ankle injury early in the second quarter and, as such, did not return to the game. Even before he got hurt, however, Conner seemed to lack creativity in his game and only had a measly nine yards on six carries. With his performance, injury, and a rising Benny Snell, Conner could his snaps decrease throughout the season.
Winner: Benny Snell and the resurgence of his speed
Snell, who was spelling Conner, looked much better overall. He legitimately outplayed Conner.
Snell, who had subpar athleticism coming out of college last year, transformed his body over the offseason, and it showed in Week 1. There was a little bit more explosiveness, but where it made a difference was in his quickness. Snell was far more sudden than he ever was before. That was surprising, based on everything we have heard, but there is no doubt his change of direction was superb.
Snell topped the century mark today, and it was because of himself just as much as it was because of his offensive line. Snell was shaking off tacklers, evading tacklers with his newfound quickness, and running hard to grind out as many yards as he could on any given run. This is a guy who looked like a bellcow, three-down running back. His pass protection skills are only a bonus.
Loser: Offensive Line
For the Steelers, it is the injury department where the issue arises. David DeCastro was already nursing a knee injury that kept him out of Monday’s game, but now Stefen Wisniewski and Zach Banner appear to have suffered significant injuries. Wisniewski sustained a pectoral injury that is reportedly a torn pectoral muscle, which would end his season. Banner was seen emotional on the sidelines after suffering a non-contact right knee injury. He had to be carted off the field.
Kevin Dotson and Chukwuma Okorafor stepped in quite nicely and are viable replacements for them both. However, the question now becomes depth along this offensive line. J.C. Hassenauer likely steps into the backup center role and the Steelers may be comfortable with him. However, there is almost no tackle depth right now. Starting left guard Matt Feiler is the backup tackle at both spots. A trade or free-agent signing very well could be required to remedy these issues.
For now, the Steelers are shorthanded along the offensive line, but it is hard to see them going against the Denver Broncos next week with only six healthy offensive linemen.
Winner: Outside Linebackers
Every single outside linebacker on the Steelers roster had nothing short of a great day. Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt racked up 15 total pressures, with Dupree registering seven and Watt registering eight on the day. Their ability to dismantle the Giants offensive line both in run defense and in the pass rush was invaluable to the Steelers win. The team racked up 12 tackles for loss on the day, thanks in large part to the fantastic duo of Dupree and Watt.
Ola Adeniyi had a great rep where he ripped across the face of the tackle to make a big stop in the backfield. Adeniyi was getting consistent pressure all-day. He registered four pressures on Monday in a rotational role. That was a career-high for Adeniyi, who is looking to make a third year leap. Rookie Alex Highsmith added on two pressures and looked stout in his first reps in the NFL. As a whole, the unit had 21 pressures on the day.
The good news is that the Steelers had more winners than losers coming out of Week 1, and one of the losers (Conner) actually led to another big winner in the emergence of Snell. Now the Steelers need to carry that positive momentum into their Week 2 game against the Broncos.