What a rollercoaster of a week it’s been for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The team fell to 0-2 after being defeated by the Seattle Seahawks at home, losing starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the process. Mason Rudolph, meanwhile, proved to a solid replacement for the two-time Super Bowl MVP.
There was also a portion of business going down on Monday night. The Steelers acquired Dolphins DE Minkah Fitzpatrick for a 2020 first-round pick, boosting a defensive unit that had an impressive Sunday afternoon.
Some say the team in its current situation is a mess. The worst part is that the mess has lost its first two games of the season, in a competitive division alongside considerably high-quality teams. As if predicting the team’s performance before the season wasn’t difficult enough, now the question marks are as many as they’ve been is a very long time in The Steel City.
However, Pittsburgh shouldn’t be underestimated, even without the service of their franchise QB. Both positives and negatives can be taken from the two losses, but the Steelers are looking like another organization that has the potential to show the National Football League that a well-structured roster can overcome a loss of a vital playmaker.
Although the Steelers defence allowed 28 points to the Seahawks, it made an upgrade from the 33 it conceded by New England the week before. Of course, the Patriots’ offence is a force to be reckoned with, but the unit put up an impressive showing.
Devin Bush recovered one of the two fumbles Pittsburgh forced. They sacked Russell Wilson four times, and had 7.5 tackles for loss. Wilson nevertheless had a big game with a 130.5 passer rating and found his usual connections (such as Tyler Lockett) and some new prosperous targets (such as TE Wil Dissly). You’re probably not going to win many games allowing 28 points (only the Saints won after allowing 28 in Week 1 to the Texans), but the defence was close to its potential and is ready to take flight.
The addition of Fitzpatrick should help speed up the process. The Steelers sent a 2020 5th-rounder and 2021 6th-rounder to Miami for Fitzpatrick, 2020 fourth-round pick and 2021 seventh-round selection. A front line that put a lot of pressure on the opposing QB just got whole lot scarier.
No less impressive was Mason Rudolph. The Oklahoma State product posted a 90.2 rating in his debut, throwing two touchdown passes. He also re-established his reputation of an NFL-ready playmaker right away from his third-round selection in 2018. And the biggest reason for his high ceiling is the Steelers’ deep receiving core. After being quiet in the Stephon Gilmore coverage at Gillette Stadium, Juju Smith-Schuster was finally the Steelers’ top WR while tight end Vance McDonald caught 2 TDs. James Washington and Dante Moncrief also should get more targets since Rudolph’s need for receiving help will take centre stage from now on.
It’s something the Steelers can give him. And his expectations seem to be as big as his potential to deliver after Mike Tomlin invested his trust into the 24-year-old, choosing him over Josh Dobbs, whom he traded to Jacksonville. Remember the Nick Foles miracle? Sure, it was a shorter span of games, but it was into the playoffs, and nobody got him as the Super Bowl MVP QB he proved to be.
The biggest concern right now probably has to be the running game. James Conner, an explosive back last season, has almost sunk into darkness in the beginning of the 2019 season. Jaylen Samuels has also had struggles, and both need to find their way back in order for the whole offense to produce. Channelling the 2017 Eagles mentioned above, LeGarrett Blount and Jay Ajayi both had their significant impact in Philadelphia’s championship campaign.
And it doesn’t get easier for the shorthanded Steelers. The defence will have another tough test when it visits Levi’s Stadium and the 49ers. The offence, led by a (fingers crossed) healthy Jimmy Garoppolo, has put up 30+ point in both of their games. San Francisco enter as seven-point favourites.
However, even the loss of Roethisberger doesn’t change the fact that the Steelers have a defence on the upswing and an offence that is (conditionally) ready to perform behind Mason Rudolph, while having its problems in the meantime without any doubt.