The matchup on Sunday Night Football was supposed to be a clash of two AFC powerhouses. The reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots hosted the only other six-time champion Pittsburgh Steelers. At least, that was the expectation. Tom Brady led the Patriots to an easy 33-3 victory against a Steelers team that looked like a shell of themselves. Up and down the starting lineup, the Steelers vastly underperformed. Chief among them was Donte Moncrief. He had multiple drops, including a poorly run route on a touchdown opportunity. Moncrief, however, wasn’t the only player to disappoint. It was a total team effort by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Donte Moncrief Headlines Poor Performance for Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football
By no means is Donte Moncrief the only player that had a less than stellar night. Yet given all the opportunities he had to make an impact, the lack of production is glaring. Moncrief led the team with 10 targets by Ben Roethlisberger. He could only manage three receptions for a total of seven yards. Listed as the second receiver on the depth chart, Moncrief has to be better than that. With Roethlisberger throwing him passes, Moncrief could have his best season since he played for the Indianapolis Colts with Andrew Luck. This was not a great first impression.
Donte Moncrief and the Wide Receivers Collectively Looked Bad
Moncrief wasn’t the only receiver to have a bad night. Just about all of the receivers looked less than spectacular. JuJu Smith-Schuster had himself a rough night in his first game as the number one receiver on the team. His eight targets were second behind Moncrief, and the six catches tied with Ryan Switzer for most on the team. JuJu gained 78 yards, mostly in garbage time. James Washington broke free for a 45-yard reception, but only caught one other pass despite six targets and finished with 51 yards.
All around it was a bad night for the receivers. Nobody could get separation against the Patriots secondary for the majority of the game. It made Roethlisberger look lost, constantly holding the ball for too long or checking it down. Vance McDonald didn’t record a catch until the fourth quarter. His two catches for 40 yards is incredibly deceptive. With only two receivers recording more than 50 yards, that says as much about the Steelers receivers as it does the Patriots secondary. The Steelers receivers had a difficult time getting separation. But the Patriots secondary is one of the best in the NFL. A bad night by the receivers looked even worse against that stout secondary.
Lack of Pass Rush Hurts the Defense
Last season the Steelers led the league in sacks. The additions made to the defense during the off-season were expected to make the pass rush even better. However, Tom Brady faced very little pressure throughout Sunday night’s game. Bud Dupree recorded the only sack of the night for the Pittsburgh Steelers. There were only a handful of pressures on Brady, but when there were he was inaccurate. His throws were off the mark or in the dirt. In their meeting last season, T.J. Watt was a menace to Brady. On Sunday, the Patriots didn’t give him a chance to make much of an impact.
Since Pittsburgh lacked an effective pass rush, it meant the pass defense was easily carved up. Brady made mincemeat of the Steelers secondary as he has done many times. Rookie Devin Bush surprisingly led the team in tackles. Too often, however, Bush was found chasing Julian Edelman, James White, or Rex Burkhead on crossing patterns. Kameron Kelly got the nod as starting safety over Sean Davis. Unfortunately for Kelly, he got torched by Phillip Dorsett for a big touchdown. The secondary most certainly could have played better, but the lack of a pass rush did them no favors.
For Pittsburgh Steelers fans, that was a pretty awful game on Sunday night. The offense looked lethargic and the defense was torched all game long. All the changes the team went through during the off-season makes it look like the team took a step back. It’s important not to overreact to just one game. There are still 15 games for the team to improve and turn into a contender. Going forward, the pass rush needs to step up to help the pass defense. The wide receivers need to do a better job getting open and stretching opposing defenses. Washington needs to grow into a bigger playmaker and Moncrief needs to catch the ball. Improvements in these areas will lead to a different story after Week Two.
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