3Rivers’ Takeaways: Overtime victory versus Seahawks vindicates Steelers

Christina Rivers (3Rivers_Writer on Twitter) offers her Pittsburgh Steelers post-game takeaways, both positive and negative, as Steel City Underground extends its coverage of the Steelers’ on-field performances throughout the 2021-22 NFL regular season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers earned a sweet, sweet victory in Week 6 of the 2021 NFL regular season over the Seattle Seahawks in what turned into a very physical game with a few hiccups. The Steelers were able to get out to an early lead only to experience a need to adjust on defense when Pete Carroll and the Seahawks staff made a halftime change to emphasize the run game offensively.

Pittsburgh was able to clean things up only to have the game officials put a wrench into what may have been a regulation win. (Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin called it an “embarrassment”.) With solid defensive play, however, the Steelers were able to convert a game-winning field goal late on Sunday night at Heinz Field.

Unlike Week 5, my takeaways from this game are mostly positive in regards to the Steelers’ play.

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“Big Ben” isn’t finished

There’s been plenty of talk across social media and sports media about how Ben Roethlisberger isn’t living up to expectations. I’m not sure why anyone would expect the 39-year-old quarterback to play the same way he did early in his career, especially considering the years he didn’t have the best protection along the offensive line (this isn’t the first season he’s experienced that) and the injuries he’s received. Jokes of him being an “old man” might be funny, at times, but the narrative that he is “finished” is overexaggerated, in my opinion.

In the last two weeks, Roethlisberger has backed up his statements that he has to be better; that he needed to play clean and make better decisions. Before the start of this season, Roethlisberger was open about the fact that the offense would experience growing pains, the lack of cohesion due to new situations with personnel and play calling. Just last week, Roethlisberger said the following after the win over the Broncos:

“Listen, by no means are we going to sit here and say, ‘Oh, we’re fixed. We’re this great offense.’ We’re not there yet.”

Roethlisberger still has an arm. He was tossing bullets, some deep balls, and was able to connect with Diontae Johnson on a regular basis against the Seahawks. His longest pass went for 59 yards but he completed 29-of-40 passes for 229 yards (94.7 quarterback rating) and a touchdown. Yes, he lost the ball on a rare let-go of a pump fake that was ruled a fumble but he only took one sack, threw no interceptions, and even added some RPOs. Part of that was scheme changes. The rest was all “Big Ben” being better. Kudos to the veteran quarterback.

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Defense remains stout

Complain about the way the defense struggled when the Seahawks changed to a run-heavy offense all you want. In the first half of the game, they blanketed the Seattle offense and gave up zero points. In the second half, they adjusted and gave their team the opportunity to win the game.

Cameron Heyward wasn’t perfect, but he gave extra effort and encouragement as the Steelers “D” adjusted and overcame the challenges. Along with Heyward, T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith were creative in presenting pressure and nice plays; the duo recorded six quarterback hits, 3.5 sacks, five tackles for a loss of yardage, and one forced fumble. Watt also swatted down at least three pass attempts.

“It’s a great story unfolding. You can’t sleep on Alex Highsmith.” – Cam Heyward

Of note was the play of Tre Norwood. The young defensive back was the only player other than Watt and Chris Wormley (a defensive lineman) to earn a pass defense. He also earned three solo tackles and one tackle for a loss. It’s encouraging to see him emerge as the Steelers are challenged.

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Additional takeaways

The receivers need to adjust to the lack of JuJu Smith-Schuster in the starting lineup. While Johnson continues to impress, he had just one drop (the first of the season?) due to a low ball, Chase Claypool did struggle a bit. Ray-Ray McCloud was not solid as a wideout but hasn’t had many opportunities. James Washington, for all the assurances from analysts that he’d be a difference-maker, just hasn’t been. Why Washington isn’t standing out in his opportunities is a head-scratcher.

Tight end Pat Freiermuth may not get targeted a lot, yet, but he has shown that he isn’t afraid to make necessary plays or critical blocks. What’s not to like?

Najee Harris continues to have an outstanding rookie season as the workhorse out of the offensive backfield. His ability to continue pushing for more yards on the ground and make smart plays when asked to be a receiver is improving more and more every week as the offensive line begins to gel. Harris is a difference-maker.

Chris Boswell has been shaky in the past. His game-winning field goal was celebrated by the entire team; he was mugged by teammates at the end of the game in all the excitement. Boswell converted all three field-goal opportunities against the Seahawks and is one of the most reliable kickers in the NFL this season.

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