Random Steelers Observations: Week 1 Edition
One game down, sixteen to go, and Steelers Nation has already lost it’s ever loving mind.
This was all highly predictable. If the Steelers would have beaten the NFC Super Bowl contender San Francisco Forty Niners last Sunday at Acrisure Stadium, then the majority of fans would have been talking Super Bowl possibilities for the Steelers, because the Niners are arguably the toughest opponents on the Steelers schedule.
Alas, that scenario definitely didn’t happen. Not even close. Instead, the Steelers got thoroughly trounced by the far superior Niners team, who looked every bit like a championship contender. So instead of the inevitable overreaction being positive, it has been predictably negative, making for a long week for the rational few.
Criticism is definitely warranted. The players didn’t execute the game plans, and the coordinators didn’t provide them with adequate game plans to execute. Complete failure all around.
The Steelers lost to a superior opponent, no doubt. But by no means did the Steelers give an accurate portrayal of their capabilities during Week 1 of the 2023 NFL season. The same can be said about multiple teams around the NFL after opening week. But few fanbases can overreact like we can. You would think I would be used to it by now, but I still find it frustrating. Praying for less knee-jerk, more big picture objectivity, after Monday night, win or lose.
Without further ado, on to the observations:
- Rookie DL Keannu Benton is an absolute monster of a man. Benton was my second highest rated defensive lineman in the 2023 draft class, behind only Jalen Carter. Benton showed exactly why I coveted him so much the moment his feet touched the field on Sunday. He is extremely powerful, and blessed with fluid mobility. He is not quick twitchy, but he flows through congestion effortlessly. Benton’s hand usage is far superior to the average rookie defensive lineman, especially his club and swim moves. Many pre-draft evaluations questioned his pass rush potential, but his aforementioned fluidity suggested Cameron Heyward type potential to me. Benton showed flashes of that potential on Sunday. The Steelers are going to need Benton to step up bigtime in Heyward’s absence. I believe that the young man is more than ready to do just that.
- Taking the Steelers wide receiver situation into account with Diontae Johnson out a few weeks with a hamstring injury, it only seems logical that the Steelers utilize more 12 personnel formations. Especially when you have Mount Washington at your disposal. Rookie TE Darnell Washington is the best blocking rookie tight end I have ever seen. He embarrassed the reigning DPOY Nick Bosa on multiple occasions. It makes sense actually, when you take his collegiate usage at Georgia into consideration. He was used like an extremely athletic third tackle on almost every play. It was almost criminal how little the Bulldogs capitalized on his receiving ability, but his elite blocking abilities were deemed more valuable. The Steelers desperately need to establish their running game to be an effective offense in 2023. Washington has to be a huge part of those plans moving forward.
- As I predicted before the preseason, the Steelers offensive line is going to take some time to gel. Patience is required, especially with the shortened preseason, and only a handful of series each game to build chemistry. The offensive line depth chart is more talented and deeper than at any point in recent memory, but both the opponent and the Steelers own inept game plan did the offensive line no favors last Sunday. Chemistry is only obtained through repetition, even when you spend the day getting punched in the face. Better days are on the horizon.
- DeMarvin Leal showed me a lot against the Niners. First off, he showed he can rise again like a modern day Lazarus. Social media, and the Fox Sports Network, repeatedly reported him out with a elbow injury, but he kept coming back into the game. Not only did he return to the contest, but he played extremely hard throughout. Leal was impactful and disruptive, providing the Steelers valuable minutes with Heyward and Ogunjobi dealing with injuries, as he competed against the Niners stout offensive line. Secondly, he showed me that he has a bright future with the Steelers, as a defensive lineman. Leal showed excellent toughness and determination in less than ideal circumstances.
- I never thought I would say this, but Isaiahh Loudermilk impressed me on Sunday. He played with a real sense of urgency for maybe the first time in his career. His hand fighting was much improved, and he achieved leverage on multiple occasions, driving blockers backwards. He closed running lanes, and collapsed the pocket. He even got a big paw up in time to deflect a pass. Maybe something has finally clicked for the big man. Maybe being surrounded by a den full of Badgers has something to do with his turnaround. Whatever the reason, it’s not a moment too soon, as he is desperately needed to pick up the slack in Heyward’s absence.
- I am surprised by all the negative feedback directed at Alex Highsmith. Expectations only increase whenever a player receives a substantial pay raise, as do overzealous critiques, but I was expecting a more knowledgeable reaction. Highsmith was going up against Trent Williams, the best offensive tackle in the NFL. I knew Highsmith wasn’t going to generate much of a pass rush against Williams. I even suggested using him more in coverage, or combo blitzes, in a recent article. I vividly remember Greg Lloyd, one of the all time great Steelers edge guys, being shut down on multiple occasions against HOF tackles like Anthony Munoz and Tony Boselli. Lloyd simply couldn’t matchup to the elite size and length of those two behemoths. Williams is an elite HOF caliber tackle also. No reason to overreact to a totally predictable situation.
- Speaking of Trent Williams, apparently precious few fans recognized how effective Nick Herbig was against Williams in his handful of opportunities on defense. Big guys hate to chase speedy little guys in space, and Herbig achieved impressive leverage and penetration on a couple of occasions, due to his elite level first step and flexibility. Herbig has exceptional quickness, bend, and a nonstop motor. The kid needs more snaps.
- Speaking of needing more snaps, Joey Porter Jr has to receive way more than 7 total snaps on defense. The Steelers must tighten up their pass coverage, starting with more press man concepts, if they are going to capitalize on the strength of their defense, which is the pass rush.
- The Steelers main focus this week has to be on slowing down Nick Chubb. That means less Montravius Adams; and more Keannu Benton, Armon Watts, and Breiden Fehoko. I would also like to see Mark Robinson be a bigger part of the ILB rotation. Also, more Elijah Riley and Desmond King. Aggressively tackle the ball, and dare DeShawn Watson to beat you throwing over the top. I like the Steelers pass rush and ballhawks in that scenario.
I could go on, but that’s a lengthy read already. What do you guys think of my observations? Maybe you have a few of your own. Please share your thoughts in the discussion thread.
As always, thanks for your faithful support. Go Steelers!