Given that it was his first game of the regular season after playing what amounted to about a quarter of action in the preseason, Ben Roethlisberger looked very sharp in his 2015 debut on Thursday. Roethlisberger was 26 of 38 for 351 yards, with one touchdown and one interception against the Patriots. Most of Roethlisberger’s passes looked precise, two in particular–a 26 yarder to Markus Wheaton down the right sideline late in the third quarter, where he put it where nobody could catch it but his receiver (Wheaton did a great job snagging it and getting both feet in-bounds); and his 11-yard touchdown strike to Antonio Brown in garbage time. Considering he was missing three key contributors–Maurkice Pouncey, Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant–this should bode well moving forward, as the Steelers will go as far as Roethlisberger can take them in 2015. Grade: A-
How about DeAngelo Williams as an offseason signing? There’s no question Bell was missed on Thursday, as he sat out the first of two games due to a drug-related suspension to start the season, but it was sure hard to tell. Williams rushed for 127 yards on 21 carries and looked about as fast and explosive as he has at any time during his career. Will Johnson, normally the fullback but playing the role of backup tailback in Bell’s absence, contributed just seven yards on four carries, but he did score the team’s first touchdown of the year, on a one-yard plunge in the third quarter. Grade: A
He was no Gronkowski, but veteran Heath Miller certainly did his share to fill the vacuum created by Bryant’s absence due to a four-game drug suspension. Miller caught eight passes for 84 yards–including a 14-yard catch on the first drive of the game. Grade: B-
Antonio Brown was his usual stellar and consistent self, catching nine passes for 133 yards and a touchdown. Markus Wheaton contributed 55 yards on three receptions, including the aforementioned snag on the sidelines that was a thing of beauty in-terms of body control and sideline awareness. Wheaton also scored some points when he pulled in Roethlisberger’s pass on the two-point conversion following Johnson’s third quarter touchdown. Darrius Heyward-Bey, playing the role of third down receiver and deep-threat, had four catches for 58 yards–including a 43-yard bomb. Unfortunately for the veteran receiver, he didn’t display sideline awareness when tried to pull in what would have been a 26-yard touchdown pass late in the first half, as his right foot slid out of bounds as he went to the ground to pull in the football. Grade: B+
Playing the first of many games without Maurkice Pouncey, the Steelers hogs looked impressive in Week 1. The offense produced 464 total yards; Williams averaged six yards a carry; and Roethlisberger was only sacked one time in 38 passing attempts and was afforded exceptional protection most of the night. During the play that resulted in the impressive sideline catch by Wheaton, Roethlisberger had all the time in the world to survey the field and find the open receiver. Grade: A
The Patriots only rushed for 80 yards on 24 attempts, which is certainly encouraging. However, there was very little pocket pressure on Tom Brady for most of the night. The star quarterback was only sacked two times on 32 attempts, as he passed for 288 yards and four touchdowns. Grade: C
Inside linebacker Ryan Shazier was very active, totaling seven tackles (five solo), including two for a loss. Rookie Bud Dupree actually recorded the first sack of his career, when he downed Brady on Pittsburgh’s first defensive series in the first quarter. Jarvis Jones had a few impressive plays going against the Patriots Nate Solder, particularly when he stopped running back Dion Lewis for no gain. Grade: C+
As expected, the secondary didn’t have a great night against Rob Gronkowski, who caught five passes for 94 yards and three touchdowns. But receiver Julian Edelman proved to be almost as big of a match-up problem, as he contributed 97 yards on 11 receptions. Veteran Will Allen did contribute one of Pittsburgh’s two sacks on a safety blitz in the third quarter, and fellow safety Mike Mitchell almost turned the tide of the game, when he stripped Lewis of the football near the goal line in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, neither Mitchell or anyone else in the secondary could fall on the football before Gronkowski did. Grade: D
As expected, Dri Archer contributed very little on kickoff returns, only taking one out of the end zone for 22 yards. Brown returned just one of four New England punts and gained only three yards, as he wasn’t the asset he sometimes is in the return game. On the plus side, the coverage units were decent, as New England only totaled nine return yards on the night. As for punter Jordan Berry, he averaged 43.5 yards on two punts in his NFL debut. Speaking of debuts, it wasn’t a good Steelers debut for the newly-acquired Josh Scobee, who was two of four on the night–including misses of 44 and 46-yards in the first half. Grade: D+
Considering the pomp and circumstance surrounding the NFL’s annual Kickoff Classic, head coach Mike Tomlin’s team looked like one prepared to play and one that could have won if not for some key mistakes.
Unfortunately, there were those mistakes that included a puzzling option pass by Brown on the first drive of the game when Pittsburgh’s offense looked unstoppable. On a drive that seemed to be going allong nicely, Todd Haley’s choice there just seemed out of place. The play resulted in an eight-yard loss and stalled the momentum of a promising drive. And, while the Steelers did total 464 yards, the fact that Scobee attempted four field goals is a testament to the offense’s inability to finish enough drives in the end zone to off-set a potent and efficient Patriots’ attack. Particularly frustrating was the first and goal from the one early in the fourth quarter that ultimately led to a Scobee 24-yard field goal.
On the defensive side of things, Keith Butler, making his debut as defensive coordinator, had few answers for the Patriots offense, as the now familiar problems of getting to the quarterback and creating turnovers were evident all evening. Grade: C