The Pittsburgh Steelers did not look great against the Tennessee Titans Sunday. The offense gained only 195 yards and averaged just 2.1 yards per carry on the ground in their 16-9 loss. In all, the offense simply looked dysfunctional.
While the defense played well, it didn’t exactly help the offense despite allowing only 229 total yards.
The Steelers finished with just one sack and no forced turnovers. These were not the results that they were hoping for after making it a point to increase their big plays on the defensive side of the ball this year.
As bad as things were, Mike Tomlin said in his press conference on Tuesday that the Steelers were “an explosive play or two” from having a different result, via Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
It may be hard to believe, but he is right.
Emmanuel Sanders just missed a deep pass from Ben Roethlisberger on the opening play of the game. Isaac Redman fumbled the ball on 3rd-and-inches on a play that could have set up a 1st-and-goal inside the 5-yard line.
Failed opportunities such as these were just part of the reason the Steelers lost their opener. There were too many underachieving playmakers who held the team back. They will need to raise their level of play in Week 2 if the Steelers are to compete against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Here are five playmakers who must shine against the Bengals.
Note: All stats from this article are from ESPN.com.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Alan Robinson reported that it is “unlikely” that Heath Miller will be ready for Week 2, meaning that David Paulson will once again be the starter.
Following an outstanding training camp in which he caught nearly everything that came his way, Paulson appeared poised to have a solid year as a receiving tight end.
The problem is that once the game started, his play fell off.
Paulson was no longer running free as he had in practice and his hands weren’t as consistent. As a result, he was not an integral part of the game plan against the Titans.
In fact, Paulson did not have a pass thrown his way.
With the lack of a big target, Paulson needs to fill the void, particularly in short-yardage situations. He needs to use his size and wide catching radius when the Steelers do not have much space to work with. He doesn’t need to go out and have five or six receptions, but making two or three to keep the chains moving would certainly be a start.
Without a healthy running back who is good at catching the ball out of the backfield, the Steelers are down to just their receivers to make plays. Paulson can help take the pressure off the receivers and provide Roethlisberger with a safety net.
Ike Taylor had a steady game against the Titans, but he was not particularly impressive either.
While he kept the play in front of him, he allowed the receiver to keep the chains moving with some short routes. This cannot be the case against the Bengals.
Taylor will be matched up with A.J. Green.
Green was outstanding last week with nine receptions for 162 yards and two touchdowns. That type of game against the Steelers will likely mean a blowout win for Cincinnati.
Preventing the big play will be key for Taylor and the success of the Steelers’ defense. If he can hold him to four or five receptions and around 10 yards per reception, you know that the defense will be playing well.
Taylor doesn’t need to intercept the ball and make big plays, but he needs to keep Green from being a major factor in the final result.
Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that Jarvis Jones has been promoted to co-starter a week after registering 30 snaps compared to 46 snaps for Jason Worilds.
Both outside linebackers were credited with three tackles, but Jones had two tackles for a loss. It was just his first game, but it is encouraging that he is already making plays in the backfield.
On maybe the best play for the Steelers of the day, Jones burst into the backfield, easily squeezing between the tight end and tackle to meet Chris Johnson square on for one of the hardest hits of the game.
It was a “Welcome to the NFL” moment for Jones—in a good way.
Despite this, Jones needs to apply more pressure to the quarterback. He was able to get some push, but it wasn’t nearly enough for a guy that is expected to be the Steelers' next great playmaker.
This week, he will go up against a much better quarterback in Andy Dalton.
Dalton can be disrupted when under pressure, and Jones will be a key part of that. He doesn’t need to get a sack, but he has to be in Dalton’s face all game.
Isaac Redman was virtually handed the starting running back job after Le'Veon Bell suffered a foot injury in the preseason.
After one week, it is amazing that Redman is even getting back onto the field.
Sure, there are problems with the offensive line, but Redman did not help his own cause by rushing for nine yards on eight carries. Keep in mind that his long run of the day went for eight yards.
Besides his lack of production on the ground, he fumbled the ball twice, including one that may have prevented the Steelers from going up 9-0 in the first quarter. An early touchdown may have changed the entire complexion of that game.
Even with his poor performance, ESPN.com’s Scott Brown reports that Redman will remain the starter this week. As far as Tomlin’s comments on the situation, he told reporters in his news conference that he is ready to give Redman a second chance.
"Obviously he played a bad game," Tomlin said. "He'll be given an opportunity to redeem himself."
It is a known fact that the offensive line is going to have problems, particularly with the absence of Pouncey. But even with issues up front, Redman has to do better than 1.1 yards per carry if the Steelers are going to have a chance against the Bengals.
Save the excuses that several passes to Sanders weren’t right on the money. Great receivers make tough catches every week, and that is something Sanders did not do on Sunday.
He missed a big-play opportunity on the first Steelers offensive play of the season. He dropped a sideline pass when he hit the ground out of bounds. That's not good enough for a starting receiver.
Imagine if that was Mike Wallace instead of Sanders. The critics would have been out in full force.
Sanders finished the day catching seven of 12 targets for 57 yards and a paltry 8.1 average. His long catch of the day went for 20 yards.
With a complete lack of playmakers on offense right now besides Sanders and Antonio Brown, the Steelers need everything they can get out of their receivers. Sanders must step up his game.
He needs to make the tough grab, pick up yards after the catch and move the chains. Cincinnati will not have a hard time shutting down the ground game and can really handcuff Pittsburgh’s offensive by focusing its attention on Antonio Brown.
That will leave Sanders as the man who must make up the difference. Will he be up for the challenge?