EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Coming into their season opener against the New York Giants, the Steelers top priority was stopping star New York running back Saquon Barkley.
Monday night at MetLife Stadium, they did just that, as the Steelers swarmed the New York offensive line and held Barkley to an absurd six yards rushing in a 26-16 victory.
Barkley carried the ball 15 times to gain those six yards, with Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree providing the most resistance in stopping the run.
With its ground game neutralized, the Giants were forced to lean on second-year quarterback Daniel Jones, who put together some drives, but a goal-line interception by Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward in the third quarter proved to be a crucial turning point in the game.
The Steelers’ offense was not prodigious in Ben Roethlisberger’s return to action from offseason elbow surgery, but got better as the game went on.
He hit JuJu Smith-Schuster on a 10-yard score in the end zone corner in the first quarter, then James Washington charged through two defenders to score late in the second quarter. Roethlisberger connected with Smith-Schuster once again in the fourth quarter for the duo’s second hookup of the game. Roethlisberger finished with 229 yards on 21 of 32 passing to go with his three scores.
The Steelers never trailed after taking the lead going into the half. Jones connected with Darius Slayton for a late fourth-quarter score, his second of the game, but Smith-Schuster recovered the Giants’ onside kick attempt and the Steelers were able to run out the clock after rookie Chase Claypool converted on a fourth down jet sweep.
Starting running back James Conner was injured in the first half, leaving the game with an ankle injury, and he did not return. Backup Benny Snell replaced him and was more effective, rushing for 113 yards on 19 carries, including a 30-yarded that set up Smith-Schuster’s second touchdown.
Conner wasn’t the Steelers’ only significant injury of the day. Right tackle Zach Banner and right guard Stefen Wisniewski left the game with fourth-quarter injuries and did not return. Banner injured his right knee. Wisniewski suffered a pectoral injury. He had been in the lineup replacing injured starting right guard David DeCastro, who was not dressed with a knee injury.
The Steelers will have a short week to deal with their trio of important offensive injuries. They’ll host the Denver Broncos at Heinz Field for their 2020 home opener on Sunday a 1 p.m. There will be no fans in attendance for that game.