The Pittsburgh Steelers have now completed the first quarter of the 2018 NFL season. At 1-3, this is certainly not where they or the fan base thought they would be. No one could have foreseen Ben Roethlisberger being lost for the season or the defense and running game struggling quite so much. There is some hope however as the team recorded their first win of the season in convincing fashion. Now they face the second quarter of the season which includes their BYE in week seven. Let’s evaluate what we’ve seen so far from the Black and Gold.
1st Quarter: @New England L, Seattle L, @San Francisco L, Cincinnati W
2nd Quarter: Baltimore, @LA Chargers, BYE, Miami, Indianapolis
It’s not easy when you lose your starting quarterback. When that quarterback has the experience and knowledge of Ben Roethlisberger, it’s even more difficult. That in mind, I’m going to give Randy Ficthner a little bit of a break but only a little. Until the win over the Bengals, we saw very little in the way of creativity. We saw both a running and passing game look drastically inconsistent. Some of that is on coaching and some of that is on the players for the lack of execution. One cannot dismiss however that based on records, they faced three very good opponents.
That is no excuse however for struggling on early downs and struggling even more on third down. The offensive line has not imposed itself the way we were expecting either. Too often guys are getting pushed back or are giving up the edges and in each case plays are getting blown up as they get started. We saw some progress with the front five against Cincinnati but much of the running game was based on getting wide rather than straight ahead blocking.
There is no question that JuJu Smith-Schuster has yet to prove he can be a legitimate number one receiver and that’s not all his fault either. Donte Moncrief has been a disaster. James Washington seems close but isn’t yet reliable and Diontae Johnson may actually the be the closest one of all in terms of being a serious threat across from JuJu. Until someone actually starts to draw attention away from JuJu, he’s going to continue seeing more attention than most. Having a healthy Vance McDonald would also be nice too.
MVP so far: None
Much like Fichtner, Keith Butler earned the right to keep the fans at bay for a week at least with an aggressive, well-executed gameplan against the Bengals. It helps to play an offensive line as weak as what the Bengals offered but Butler won’t make any excuses. He must continue to develop plans that are not overly sophisticated and that allow his guys to make plays.
Devin Bush has looked very good and didn’t come off the field on Monday night which in my opinion was his best game. The one issue I was concerned about with him was getting off blocks and his performance against the Bengals proved the arrow is up. Mark Barron has been disappointing so far as a free agent signing. He was supposed to be a guy who could cover backs and tight ends but he’s struggled.
Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt have been really solid but the proof was in the pudding Monday night. When the Steelers’ offense gives them time to rest then their performances in the second half get that much better. T.J. Watt is continuing to climb into the ranks of one of the better edge rushers in the league while Bud Dupree is actually making a play every now and then.
The continued communication problems however in the secondary haunted this team again in the first couple of games. I do think that the arrival of Minkah Fitzpatrick has stabilized this issue. The last two weeks have not been nearly as bad in terms of blown coverages and missed assignments.
MVP So Far: Stephon Tuitt
Special Teams (B+)
I never dreamed I would be typing that Danny Smith is having a good season so far but it’s true. The penalties are down, Chris Boswell has been perfect and there have been no kicks blocked. This coming week will be a massive challenge because the Ravens are always good on Special Teams and John Harbaugh typically pulls something out of the bag of tricks for the Steelers.
MVP So Far: Chris Boswell
Coaches coach and players play. But when the coaching isn’t up to snuff then we can’t expect the players to be either. Both weeks two and three were winnable games and they came down to a combination of poor execution and poor in-game calls by the coaches. There is no magic number in terms of evaluating Mike Tomlin by season’s end. The loss of Ben Roethlisberger somewhat negates that. That said, evaluations can still be made going forward about the team’s preparation and overall play. At 1-3, it’s easy to criticize. The second quarter features three winnable home games and road trip out west. I expect the grades at the halfway point to be better.