There is no way to sugar coat what happened to the Pittsburgh Steelers in their Week 1 loss at the New England Patriots. However, they all count the same in the standings and the team sits at just 0-1. Now, they get the 1-0 Seattle Seahawks, who squeaked by the Cincinnati Bengals to secure a win in their home opener.
The initial reaction to these games is that Russell Wilson and company could do similar damage to the Steelers defense as Tom Brady, and the Steelers offense cannot possibly score enough to keep up. However, what you see in Week 1 is never an indictment of who a team is, but rather a gauge of where their journey begins. What you learn when digging into the win of the Seahawks and loss of the Steelers is that there is a reason to think both teams could walk out of Week 2 with a 1-1 record.
These three things could give the Steelers an edge that does not show in the standings.
1. STEELERS RUN DEFENSE
We know how the Steelers lost on Sunday. Tom Brady picked them apart pass by pass, confusing every secondary member. Are the Seahawks going to review this tape and use a similar idea? Yes. The Seahawks are also going to play their game, though.
The Seahawks are a run-first football team. They ran the football 52% of the time last season, the only team to run the ball more than pass. Last week only the Colts, 49ers, Ravens, and Vikings ran at a higher rate than Seattle. They have an identity and play to it. The Steelers defense looked lost on Sunday, but they certainly defended the run well. Sony Michel carried the football 15 times and picked up 14 yards in Week 1.
Looking at the usage of Michel, it was similar to Carson, who had a better day against an arguably worse defensive front last week.
The Seahawks use Rashaad Penny on the field at the same time as Carson in a similar way to the Patriots using Rex Burkhead in Week 1, and the Steelers attempting to use Jaylen Samuels. Burkhead had eight carries for 44 yards against Pittsburgh and was the more dynamic option. Penny had six carries on Sunday. With Cam Heyward, Javon Hargrave, and Stephon Tuitt leading the way, this will be a chance for the Steelers to not only flex a strength but show growth in defending two-back sets.
2. INJURIES TO SEAHAWKS RUN DEFENSE
When the Seahawks traded for Jadeveon Clowney, their front looked competent on paper. Of course, that is on paper. The players that were supposed to lineup across from him included Ziggy Ansah, Poona Ford, and Jarran Reed. However, Ansah played in just seven games last season, missed last week, and is not progressing on the injury report. Ford is listed as day-to-day, but his status seems unlikely. Reed is suspended for this game.
This will leave former Steeler Al Woods, Woodland Hills graduate Quinton Jefferson and second-year end Rasheem Greene to fill in the shoes. All three have their own qualities, but all three were initially listed as rotational options for a reason.
The Steelers offensive line got dominated on Sunday night. It was not a great start for what is supposed to be the strength of the team. With the crowd behind them in a must-win game, the Steelers need to lean on the running game. If they cannot get James Conner going against this Seattle front, then the Mike Munchak loss is worse than the biggest naysayers thought. Heck, even Samuels should potentially get in the mix, as the offensive line should be in a better spot.
3. SECONDARY CONCERNS
The Steelers pass offense looked completely out of sync on Sunday. It looked like a team that lost their best wide receiver and then had to play on the road against a defense that held the Rams to three points in the Super Bowl. The fact of the matter is that the Patriots invested in their secondary and are reaping the rewards.
Stephon Gilmore followed JuJu Smith-Schuster, and the defense still had the McCourty brothers, Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson, Duron Harhom and Patrick Chung to defend the questionable tertiary Pittsburgh pass catchers. That is a defense with a lot of talent and a scheme to match.
The Seahawks defense is similar to their offense. They have an identity. The Seahawks run the football, and on defense, they play Cover-3. They also plays sides with their corners, so while third-year cornerback Shaquille Griffin would be an interesting matchup for Smith-Schuster, it is unlikely for him to follow Smith-Schuster, especially considering how much the team moves him around pre-snap.
The Steelers should be moving all of their players around and looking to find matchups away from Griffin to expose. On the other side is second year cornerback Tre Flowers. After an up-and-down first season Flowers allowed 10 receptions for 170 yards and one touchdown against the Bengals. He was getting beat deep and did not have over the top protection with Tedric Thompson at free safety. Thompson saw Andy Dalton connect on multiple deep under his watch and is now banged up with a hamstring.
The Seahawks also tried to play three linebackers rather than move to nickel due to the weakness of their run defense. It left Mychal Kendricks in coverage often as him and K.J. Wright combined to allow nine receptions for 94 yards. Maybe we finally see a receiver against the opposing team’s linebacker this week rather than the other way around?
The Seahawks come in with a better record, but are a team that can be exposed. If the Steelers do not find ways to move the football on the banged-up defense, there have to be serious questions about what Brown and Munchak meant to this roster. Even more questions have to brought on Roethlisberger. On defense, this game starts with defending the run, which should give Steelers fans hope heading into Sunday.