Pittsburgh Steelers Win Wild, Wacky Game in Week 1

Pittsburgh Steelers Week 1

One year ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers marched into Buffalo to take on the Bills in Week 1. Pittsburgh was a 6.5-point underdog against one of the league’s top teams. They ended up marching out with a 23-17 surprise win behind impressive defensive and special teams play.

The Steelers entered the 2022 season at division rival Cincinnati Bengals facing those same odds. The Bengals, who lost narrowly in the Super Bowl last year, were heavy favorites to once again roll over the Steelers and compete in the division. However, the Steelers put those plans to halt; they got off to a strong start to the season, as they won a wild matchup in overtime.

Pittsburgh Steelers Get Off to 1-0 Start Behind Five Forced Turnovers in Wild, Overtime Game

Game Summary

Steelers Have Delightful Defensive First Half

The Steelers started off horribly on offense, gathering just about 110 yards in five possessions. New quarterback Mitch Trubisky did not look good early. In fact, the team was only able to get three first downs in the half while punting three times. But the spotlight was all over the defense in the first half.

On Joe Burrow’s first passing attempt, he threw a 31-yard pick-six to Minkah Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick only had a few turnovers last year after having a monster season in 2020. Here, he gets off to a fantastic start while making some other impactful plays later in the game. The Bengals got a long, 59-yard field goal on the ensuing drive; but on their next drive, Alex Highsmith sacked Burrow which led to a fumble, Burrow’s second turnover of the game.

The Steelers used this short field to get a field goal and extended their lead to 10-0. But the party was just getting started. After blowing up a Joe Mixon run for a loss of four yards, T.J. Watt picked off Burrow’s pass on the next play. Here, the Steelers got enough momentum to lead them to their first and only offensive touchdown drive of the game. A clutch 32-yard reception by Zach Gentry set up the Steelers inside the ten, and the team got a big touchdown on second-and-goal. From the one, Trubisky found Najee Harris for a touchdown and extended Pittsburgh’s lead to 17-3.

The Bengals next drive ended in yet another interception, this time for Cameron Sutton. Cincinnati ended with one more field goal before going into the half down 17-6.

Bengals Claw Back Late

The Bengals came out fighting in the second half and nearly won the game after being down multiple scores. Burrow started to get his groove going after four first-half turnovers and found Tyler Boyd for a touchdown. After a two-point conversion, the score was then 17-14 with the Bengals threatening. Two possessions later, the Steelers were able to notch Boswell’s second field goal and extend the score to 20-14.

A promising next drive led to yet another nightmare for the Bengals. Burrow was picked off for a fourth time, this time by Ahkello Witherspoon on the Steelers’ 23-yard line. The teams exchanged punts and turnovers-on-downs in efforts to score and wear down the clock.

With just one second left, Burrow found Ja’Marr Chase in the end zone for the tying touchdown. Evan McPherson trotted out for what seemed like an easy extra point to win the game. But Minkah Fitzpatrick had something to say about that. The elite safety rushed through the line and blocked the attempt, sending the game into overtime.

A Wild Overtime Leads to a Pittsburgh Win

The Steelers started off overtime with a punt and the Bengals capitalized with a good-looking drive. However, their woes continued as McPherson horribly missed a 29-yard attempt way right. However, Cincinnati had their backup long snapper in and had several issues getting the hold down before the kick.

The Steelers’ first play was a great 25-yard pass to Diontae Johnson who made an amazing one-handed catch. This set up Pittsburgh’s potentially game-winning field goal opportunity from 55 yards out. However, Boswell doinked it off the right upright and gave the Bengals another chance.

A key strip-sack fumble for a loss of 12 yards forced the Bengals to punt with just over a minute to play in overtime. The Steelers worked well and quickly got into field goal range after several nice passes from Trubisky. From 53 yards out, Boswell got his redemption as he nailed the game-winning field goal for Pittsburgh.

Offense Struggles Early But Shows Promise

The Offense Can’t Get Going

The offense struggled early, mainly because of the ineffectiveness of Trubisky and the offensive line. The first-year Steelers quarterback totaled just 194 passing yards in five quarters of play; nearly 80 of those were accumulated in the overtime period. Trubisky added the touchdown to his line and also scrambled for nine yards on a few attempts.

He missed on quite a few throws and didn’t look good, but the Steelers still somehow got the win. When Trubisky absolutely needed to make throws, he did so; but he has to do a better job of getting more yards and connections in the earlier downs.

Pat Freiermuth was the leading receiver with five catches for 75 yards. Diontae Johnson didn’t have many early targets but found a groove later in the game; the star receiver hauled in seven receptions for 55 yards, including several key plays that set the Steelers up. Also tallying 40 yards was Zach Gentry, who did that on just two catches. Rookie receiver George Pickens was targeted just three times and he brought in a lone reception for three yards.

Lackluster Running Game But Improved O-Line

The Steelers were able to tally 75 rushing yards on 23 carries in Week 1. Surprisingly, the leading rusher on the day was wide receiver Chase Claypool, who had 36 yards on six carries. Najee Harris, who rushed for 1200 yards in his rookie year last year, got just 23 yards on 10 carries before leaving with an injury.

The offensive line didn’t look abysmal as in past games but there is still room for improvement. They did a nice job containing big-loss plays, allowing just one sack in the game. They didn’t create a whole lot of running holes or time for passing, but they played well enough to at least keep the offense afloat.

Chase Claypool Shows Flashes of 2020 Self

Chase Claypool had a really disappointing sophomore season in 2021 after balling out in 2020. Although tallying just 54 total yards (36 rushing and 18 receiving), Claypool showed that he could be used in multiple ways and looked better with his situational awareness. Claypool used 10 touches (six carries and four receptions) to his advantage in his showing. He made a really good play in the Steelers’ final drive, staying in bounds to keep the clock rolling with time nearly gone. It doesn’t seem like much, but it kept Cincinnati from having the chance to have some time left if Boswell missed that 53-yarder.

Defense Looks Great After Re-Tooling

Five Forced Turnovers

As mentioned above, the Steelers defense forced five turnovers throughout the game. Four interceptions shocked the Bengals’ passing game and threw off their entire game plan. Picks by Fitzpatrick, Watt, Sutton, and Witherspoon destroyed the Bengals many chances to score in Week 1.

Two strip sacks (one by Alex Highsmith and the other by Arthur Maulet) were also key to the Steelers’ victory. Turnovers can really damage a team, and it showed as the Bengals faltered due to their six giveaways.

Holding Tough Against Formidable Opponents

One of the biggest challenges for the Steelers in Week 1 was containing Joe Mixon and Ja’Marr Chase. Mixon ran rampant all over Pittsburgh last year, averaging close to six yards per carry in two games last season. This year, Mixon was held to 82 yards on 27 carries, for an average of 3.0 yards per carry. Mixon had a 31-yard carry that really helped his total; without that carry, he would have been held to 51 yards on 26 carries, which is less than two yards at a time. The run defense was dominant and seemed to return to old form after a really poor 2021 season.

The team had a difficult time containing Ja’Marr Chase, who tallied over 100 yards and a touchdown. However, they still made some big plays when needed and still won the game. It’s definitely something to look at but not something to dwell on.

Sacks and TFLs Also Helpful

Pittsburgh also had seven sacks in Week 1, three of which came from Alex Highsmith. Watt, Maulet, Cameron Heyward, and Robert Spillane also each had a sack. Watt had three tackles-for-loss before being removed due to an injury. Fitzpatrick led the team with 14 tackles and had a big game otherwise with his pick-six and blocked PAT. The defense was disruptive all game and held up when they absolutely needed to.

Looking to the Future

Next Week Vs. New England

Next week, the Steelers have their home opener against the New England Patriots. Both teams are looking rather equal on paper, which should equate to a good matchup. Watch out for the injury statuses of T.J. Watt, Najee Harris, and Patriots quarterback Mac Jones; their healing and playing ability will certainly impact the trajectory of this game. The Steelers have a good chance to win, and if Jones is out, it grows even more as long as their offense settles in.

Watt Injury Note

Early reports indicate that Watt has a torn pectoral, which would mean a long time on the IR. Depending on the type of injury and the grade (if it’s actually a tear), Watt could be out for a few weeks to 4-6 weeks to the entire season. Further tests and MRIs will reveal if the reigning DPOY will have to miss the rest of the new season.