The momentum that the Pittsburgh Steelers felt after Week 1 seemed to literally take a kick to the groin for Week 2. Seemingly healthy on Friday morning, groin injuries sidelined CB Joe Haden and LB Devin Bush before the game. It only got worse when TJ Watt watched three quarters of the game from the sideline after injuring his groin. Without the defense to carry Ben Roethlisberger and the work-in-progress offense, the Las Vegas Raiders made it a long second half for the Steelers in the 26-17 loss.
The Steelers maintained multiple streaks: 75 consecutive games with a sack, Roethlisberger had his 18th consecutive game with a TD pass, and the Steelers now going 12 consecutive games without scoring on the opening drive. The Steelers once again couldn’t get the offense on track but the defense was keeping the Steelers in it through the first half as they kept the Raiders out of the end zone and took away the Raiders top offensive weapon – TE Darren Waller. After 10 catches for 105 yards in the opener, he was limited to 5 catches for 65 yards by the Steelers defense.
The Steelers were able to bring the game to within two in the 4th quarter after Roethlisberger found rookie Najee Harris who took it 25 yards for his first career touchdown. Unfortunately, the pass rush without Watt was absent during the second half and Raiders QB Derek Carr was able to take the top off by throwing for 382 yards (at one point had 9 consecutive completions). He all but put the game out of reach with a 61-yard TD to Henry Ruggs, who outright beat CB Ahkello Witherspoon and caught FS Minkah Fitzpatrick pinching up to help cover Waller, unable to come back and help as Ruggs was able to secure the catch and run in untouched for the score and a 23-14 lead.
Mike Tomlin has preached about the team “not living in their fears” but his decision to punt it on 3rd and a yard on the Steelers side of the field with 8:23 left was questionable at best. While the offensive line has not opened up gaping holes for Harris thus far this year, it has shown the ability to drive forward and the young RB has demonstrated that he does not go down very easily.
Despite it being the first home game with fans present since 2019, there was not an overwhelming sense of urgency or emotion. The defense was not able to get the better of the opponent, however it was nice to see Roethlisberger take shots down the field and even tried some pump fakes. But once Watt went down, the Steelers margin for error (already thin) was reduced substantially. The unit faced a major hit when reliable run stuffer Tyson Alualu fractured his left ankle and expected to be out for the season with Stephon Tuitt being out indefinitely.
Unquestionably, these are the final days for Roethlisberger as well. He did not lose the game, but historically Big Ben would have successfully challenged more than twice all day at home vs. a defense of the Raiders caliber. He came just shy of 300 yards on the day, but it would have been a hollow milestone much of it came late and was not able to complete off scoring drives. 17 points is not enough in today’s NFL. The Matt Canada work-in-progress offense might need to step it up a bit if the injuries to Watt and company keep the star defenders on the sidelines for a while.
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