I know that 2020 has taken away some of our most beloved traditions. Thankfully, not Steelers football.
At least it’s still on television, even if you can’t go to the games.
And because the Steelers are playing, you get to continue enjoying our favorite Steelers postgame tradition here at “Breakfast With Benz.” It’s our weekly “Feats of Strength” and “Airing of Grievances.”
Often, when the Steelers win, we just stick with the “Feats of Strength.” When they lose, it’s only the “Airing of Grievances.”
In victory, however, when they still manage to give us as many grievances as they did Monday night, we’ve got to vent as well.
The Steelers won their season opener over the New York Giants 26-16. It wasn’t pretty for the first 28 minutes or so. But, as we have chronicled in the past, any win in September is a blessing for this bunch.
So let’s have at it. The good and the bad from Week 1 in 2020.
Oh, and the most important positive note? At least the NFL figured out a way to play the games!
FEATS OF STRENGTH
Beating Barkley: We warned that if New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley got loose, the Giants could pull off an upset.
The Steelers defense wasn’t going to let that happen. He was held to a meager six yards on 15 carries.
“We had a commitment,” said head coach Mike Tomlin. “We weren’t going to be bashful about that commitment. We thought that guy was a catalyst for whatever they were going to do offensively. We put our secondary in harm’s way some to do so. But we embrace that challenge. We needed to stack the line of scrimmage.”
It was the second-lowest rushing total of Barkley’s career.
The linebackers — all of them — were fantastic in all aspects of the game.
T.J. Watt had an interception. Vince Williams had a sack. Devin Bush had seven tackles. Bud Dupree was a disruptive force all night. Ola Adeniyi had a tackle for loss off the bench. And Alex Highsmith got into the backfield once at the end of the game in his debut as well.
Good JuJu: JuJu Smith-Schuster had a strong game with six catches, 69 yards and two touchdowns.
.@TeamJuJu‘s ready for his Pylon Cam close up.
— NFL (@NFL) September 15, 2020
He also threw a key block and jumped on a fumble by Benny Snell.
“Ooh, ooh! Can you Snell that Snell?”: With James Conner leaving the game with an injury (have you heard that sentence before?), Snell came in and contributed mightily.
Aside from that fumble, he had 113 yards on 19 carries.
Dating back to the 2019 season finale in Baltimore, Snell now has 204 yards in his last two games.
The two-minute drill: The Steelers offense was really bad in the first 28 minutes of the game. The offensive line was getting owned at the line of scrimmage. Ben Roethlisberger was off-target. And a lot of the jet motion, misdirection, Matt Canada stuff wasn’t fooling anyone.
But that’s when Ben Roethlisberger got the ball with 1:32 remaining in the first half and marched the team 78 yards for a touchdown, culminating in this gutty James Washington score.
— NFL (@NFL) September 15, 2020
That gave the Steelers a 16-10 lead.
“We were able to pick up the tempo,” Roethlisberger said to ESPN after the game. “Dictate more of the coverages we were going to see. The guys gave me enough time. In those situations, it’s how fast I get the ball out of my hand and let those guys make plays.”
Of those eight plays on that drive, five were pass completions from Roethlisberger. He also scrambled for 11 yards.
Cam’s hands: For as good as the Steelers defense was, it bent on a 19-play third-quarter drive by the Giants. It lasted 87 yards in eight minutes and 50 seconds. But at the 4-yard line, linebacker Bud Dupree — who was excellent all night — harassed Giants quarterback Daniel Jones into a wobbly throw that was intercepted by …
… Cam Heyward??!!
— NFL (@NFL) September 15, 2020
Yup. That’s why the Steelers gave Heyward that huge contract extension right before the season started.
Look out, Minkah!
I swear, nothing matters the rest of the season. Heyward boxing out Robert Spillane for an interception in the end zone is the highlight of the year already.
AIRING OF GRIEVANCES
Injuries: Conner got hurt. Again. Already.
This time, ESPN reported it was a left ankle injury. The running back only had nine yards on six carries before being replaced by Snell.
Stefen Wisniewski has a pectoral injury. And, as for Zach Banner, I’m not sure if moving Matt Feiler and giving him the right tackle job was the right thing to do.
But Banner worked really hard to earn it. And his fourth-quarter knee injury appeared to be pretty bad. Hopefully he can come back from it. He deserved better than that.
Special teams: Chris Boswell missed an extra point. He kicked a ball out of bounds on a kickoff, too.
Diontae Johnson fumbled a punt. Jabrill Peppers had a pair of decent punt returns.
Diontae Johnson: Johnson fumbled the punt. He had a drop. He had a really bad miscommunication with Roethlisberger at one point as well.
He rebounded well in the second half, though, with six catches and 57 yards on the night.
The third quarter: After scoring at the end of the first half, the Steelers appeared to be marching for another. Then Roethlisberger threw an unnecessary, deep 50-50 ball to Washington on a third-and-5.
Washington made a nice play on it. But Giants defensive back James Bradberry deftly ripped it away.
The Steelers then allowed that 19-play Giants drive before Heyward turned in his best Donnie Shell impersonation.
At least their second drive that quarter bridged into the fourth with a field goal.
The crowd noise: Executing that fake crowd noise is no easy task. But it’s been done better than that before. It seemed to erupt with wild applause out of nowhere at times during the broadcast.
Even when the Steelers did something right.
When Ray-Ray McCloud nearly popped the second-half kick return, I think all those “Giants fans” were rooting for a touchdown.
The refs: It wasn’t a horribly officiated game. But the officials blew a couple of crucial calls. A third-down pass interference on Joe Haden in the first quarter was a joke. It kept a drive alive and allowed New York to throw a touchdown pass on the next play.
That 19-play drive was aided by a missed hold from one of the Giants trying to block Watt on a fourth-and-1 completion to Saquon Barkley.
The Steelers got away with one, too, though. Ask Giants tight end Evan Engram about Mike Hilton holding his wrist band.
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