The Pittsburgh Steelers began the 2022 season with a wild win against their division foe, the Cincinnati Bengals. The 23-20 win was not necessarily expected as Mike Tomlin‘s team had holes all over the offensive side of the ball and a weak run defense. No one believed it would even be a close game. It wasn’t a great performance, but the team has some positives to build on and negatives to correct and most importantly, came away with a win. It is hard to single out specific players in a negative fashion on the defense side, but here are the winners and losers following the big win against Cincinnati.
1.) Teryl Austin, Defensive Coordinator
It is so difficult to name a defensive player at the top of this list. Thus, we look at the leader of the group. Austin is in his first season as the Steelers’ defensive coordinator and he had the unit flying around on Sunday afternoon. They got consistent pressure with a four-man rush and the secondary held Joe Burrow in check for the majority of the game. The run defense was a little suspect, but any time you can limit a talented offense to just x points is impressive.
The defense consistently made big play after big play and it almost seemed greedy hoping they would make another big play. You can’t ask the defense to do much more. The last time a team with five takeways lost a game was in 2012. Austin gets a solid grade in his first game on the job.
2.) Alex Highsmith, Edge Rusher
Great play is always expected from guys like T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Highsmith needed to make a big leap entering his third season to compliment Watt on the other side. He was outstanding against Cincinnati. The edge rusher finished with three QB hits, two sacks and a forced fumble. He made a huge play on a strip sack in the first quarter and played exactly how the team needs him to. Let’s hope the injury he suffered late in the fourth isn’t too serious.
3.) Pressley Harvin III, Punter
Harvin began his 2022 season on a positive note. Many were critical of his play a season ago and rightfully so as he was in the bottom half of the league in most punting categories. On Sunday, however, Steelers fans got a glimpse of how efficient he can be. His punt at the end of the third quarter was perfectly placed out of bounds at the nine-yard line and allowed the defense to force a three and out to regain possession with decent field position for the offense. Aside from a touchback in the fourth, he extremely punted well.
4.) Chase Claypool, Wide Receiver
Claypool had six rushes for 36 yards and and four catches for 18 yards. He was the main positive of the offense. The way he was used should continue as it as reminiscent of his rookie season. As the offensive unit begins to get better each week, Claypool needs to be a focal point for the Steelers as he has a great size advantage over most defensive backs and could be the ultimate weapon.
1.) Matt Canada, Offensive Coordinator
Without strong play from the defense, the offense may not have put up even 10 points. Aside from a couple of play calls, the unit looked pretty similar to how they did last year with Ben Roethlisberger leading the way. No one is asking for 30+ points a game from Canada’s group, but it will be hard to watch week in and week out if the stay away from aggressive play calls and rely solely on the defense’s successes.
On a key third and long towards the end of the third quarter, Trubisky quickly found Zach Gentry underneath and it looked like a designed play essentially giving away the drive as the offense began to catch some momentum. Canada completely abandoned the run once again as he did the majority of last season in certain situations. Don’t let the 20 points fool you, 7 of those points came from Fitzpatrick’s pick-6. The offensive play calling wasn’t good Sunday afternoon. His seat should be hot already.
2.) Najee Harris, Running Back
Harris only had 10 carries for 23 yards. He had a touchdown reception which made up for a poor performance, but he lands on the losers list due to his lack of production in the rushing attack. One has to think that Lisfranc injury he suffered in training camp may still be lingering. He had a great run midway through the fourth quarter, but was pretty silent other than that. Hopefully, he was just shaking off some rust, but an injury late in the fourth quarter is cause for concern for the Steelers.
3.) George Pickens, Wide Receiver
Pickens had a ton of hype surrounding him throughout the preseason and had nothing to show for it against the Bengals. He didn’t have a catch in his career debut until the fourth quarter and was not open very often. The Steelers need him to perform a whole lot better if the offense wants to have a chance of being dynamic in any way. The good news is that it can only go up from here for Pickens.
Don’t let the interceptions fool you. The penalties and lack of solid coverage were one of the main reasons for the Bengals’ comeback. The majority of the eight team penalties came on the defensive side and one of the biggest contributing factors to that was the play of Cameron Sutton and Ahkello Witherspon. Levi Wallace left with an injury and Arthur Maulet was not impressive either. Take Fitzpatrick out of this game and this group would have been exposed even more.
5.) Offensive Line
Trubisky wasn’t sacked, but was under constant pressure the entire game. Throw in a brutal 2.8 yards per rush and the line didn’t perform well. An injury to newcomer, Mason Cole highlights one of the bigger storylines during the game as he injured his ankle, but he returned. While the line didn’t have any huge penalties or big gaps, the unit wasn’t good either. It will take time for the offensive line to gel and they made an improvement from the preseason games, but were far from acceptable in terms of their play.
1.) Mitch Trubisky, Quarterback
It was reported early Sunday that Tomlin plans to start Trubisky for the entirety of the 2022 season. He wasn’t impressive on the stat sheet, but didn’t turn the ball over. His rough stat line and lack of explosive plays can be attributed to the bad game plan created by Canada. He won the Steelers the game with an incredible shifty move on a free play, finding Pat Freiermuth over the middle of the field. Trubisky does need to be better though. He was not at the top of his game in the season opener.
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Who are your winners and losers from the Steelers first regular season game of 2022? Let us know in the comments below!