PITTSBURGH — With Week 1 of the 2019 NFL season in the books, here are ‘11 things I think I think:'
1. It's all about the quarterback in the NFL, and Ben Roethlisberger wasn't very good in the season opener. Yes, he was up against the defensive genius known as Bill Belichick, but he missed far too many wide-open throws. I'll give him a pass because there were too many drops, but for this team to succeed – heck, to score a touchdown – he has to bounce back and be the future Hall-of-Famer we've seen over the previous 15 seasons. I think he'll bounce back. His track record says so.
2. New England owns a substantial piece of real estate in the collective Steelers head space. I didn't believe it until I got to Foxborough this past Friday. Ben sounded defeated when talking about the Patriots before the game. Mike Tomlin's in-game decisions, to me, appear to be of the overthinking variety. What's this little toss out to James Conner in short yardage situations? I don't know, but play "you're game" and dictate play. I think this narrative of Steelers issues at Gillette Stadium will continue until Tom Brady retires, if he ever does.
3. Antonio Brown is GREATLY missed on the field. Sure, drama free Monday through Saturday is great, but when it comes to playing on Sundays, the Steelers have to come up with a better plan to execute through the air. Do they have a dynamic player among pass catchers? I think JuJu is good, but great? The jury is still out. I think he needs another receiver to step up and make a catch.
4. Which brings me to Donte Moncrief – good grief. His debut with the Steelers was brutal and quite possibly the worst game of his career. And I'm serious. He officially had four drops against the Patriots. The most he's had in any season over his previous five seasons was four. So, he literally matched a season's worth of drops in one game. Were their nerves? Patriots make him uncomfortable? I don't know, but I think he'll get fewer snaps against the Seahawks. I also think that was a one-time atrocity. I think we should expect a much better No. 11 moving forward.
5. I think the running game was abandoned, but that'll happen when you find yourself down by 20 at halftime. James Conner didn't just magically regress over the winter. He's in the best shape of his life, but he also needs more touches and needs the "best" offensive line in the NFL to perform better. They weren't good. Maurkice Pouncey's ankle should be okay, per Mike Tomlin at his Tuesday press conference. Run the ball. I think they'll be more dedicated to it come Sunday.
6. Going back to my third point on this week's list. Replacing Brown's production has to be spread out among the pass catchers. Where was Vance McDonald in New England? I didn't see him until I spoke to him in the locker room after the game. Did Belichick completely take him away as an option? If that's the case, Randy Fichtner has to do a better job scheming him open. McDonald is a beast and it would behoove the offense to use his talents respectively. It's clear they don't trust Xavier Grimble as the second tight end. He logged two snaps in the game Sunday. Woof. There might be concern with McDonald's injury history; however, they need more targets his way and I think Ben understands his value within the offense.
7. To the defense, where communication continues to be a major issue. How many times in 2018 did opposing teams make a big play and everyone was looking at each other like they'd just met for the first time? Well, they opened up the 2019 season in similar fashion. Phillip Dorsett is going to Canton, or at least it feels that way, after Tom Brady threw him into the end zone twice. Check out the pass plays in Week 1 – 58, 24, 44, 32, 17 and 22 yards. That's unacceptable, especially after adding Steven Nelson and entering year two of Terrell Edmunds in the system. I just don't understand why communication continues to be an issue. Is the terminology too complicated? If so, simplify.
8. I think Devin Bush was overwhelmed and you can thank Brady and Belichick. Two of the best to ever enter the NFL just went after a rookie. Plain and simple. I wouldn't get too worried about him. I think he'll only get better each and every Sunday; however, he does need to do so quickly. His progress will directly impact the Steelers' overall success. The defensive line needs to be better, too, to let Bush go out and fly around like he's capable. I didn't notice Heyward, Tuitt, Hargrave or any of those guys.
9. Chris Boswell is back! I think. Well, he did drill his 19-yard field goal right down the middle to avoid the Steelers first shutout since 2006. Hey, we're looking for positives, right? He's 1-for-1 and that's a good start in returning to his 2017 form, but it won't really matter if he's in his 2018 form if the team around him doesn't get better.
10. Seattle comes to town and I think the Steelers are in danger of starting the season 0-2. And I'm 100% serious. Some believe they're legitimate contenders to be the NFC representative for the Super Bowl. Why? Russell Wilson. He plays a different style of quarterback from what the Steelers saw last week, but there's no doubt he's among the top-tier signal callers in the NFL. Tomlin said he's looking forward to the atmosphere at Heinz Field to help them out in the home opener, and the Steelers will need everything possible to try and slow down one of the best ground attacks in the league. And it starts with limiting Wilson's impact on the game. He'll get his, but limiting the damage and getting the ball back to the offense will be key.
11. I don't think there's anything to panic about. Yet. Sure, it was another embarrassing loss to the Patriots in Foxborough, but they're the best team in the NFL. With that being said, there's no time to cry over spilled milk, as Tomlin would say. Remember the 2011 opener? The one where they got smoked 35-7 by the Ravens in Baltimore? That team only lost 3 times the rest of the way and made the playoffs. I think the 2019 Steelers will bounce back because I believe Ben Roethlisberger will play better. I think Donte Moncrief won't drop four passes again. I think James Conner will have more than 32 yards rushing (total vs the Patriots) by the end of the 1st quarter against Seattle. I think the Steelers will score touchdowns. Novel concept, right? Tomlin said there will "be no division" with this team just because they're facing adversity, which they clearly are right out of the chute this season. Drama free is nice Monday through Saturday, and because of the collection of guys in that locker room, they will be better qualified to handle such a disaster as the Patriots game. I think.
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