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.
Alex Highsmith Needs MRI after Ankle Injury Suffered vs. Browns
PITTSBURGH — Steelers rookie linebacker Alex Highsmith suffered an ankle injury that will require an MRI in Sunday’s playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns.
Highsmith left the game in the first half and was seen limping on the Pittsburgh sideline. He made an attempt to return to the game, but was unable to continue playing and did not see the field at all in the second half.
In-game, the Steelers announced that Highsmith was doubtful to return with an ankle injury. After the fact, head coach Mike Tomlin said that Highsmith suffered a high ankle sprain. Highsmith’s father posted on Twitter early on Monday morning that Highsmith will require an MRI on his injured ankle.
Not the way we wanted the season to end but I am thankful to have been a part of this amazing ride! The Highsmith Family is proud to wear the Black & Gold and we look forward to more success in the future! Please pray for Alex as he gets an MRI tomorrow on his ankle! #HereWeGo pic.twitter.com/JJA4PpZpvx
— Sam Highsmith (@SHighsmithClan) January 11, 2021
Given that Highsmith was able to walk and even run in short bursts after the injury, it does not seem likely that it will impact his offseason training plans.
The team’s third-round draft pick out of Charlotte, Highsmith was thrust into a starting role after starting outside linebacker Bud Dupree suffered an ACL injury that required surgery.
On the season, Highsmith played in 16 regular season game and made five starts. He finished with 48 tackles, five for a loss, six quarterback hits, one interception and one pass defended.
With Dupree set to become an unrestricted free agent and unlikely to return, Highsmith should be expected to retain his starting role in 2021.
Mike Tomlin Doesn’t Regret Punt, Will Talk to Ben Roethlisberger About Future
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin answers questions from the media following his team’s shocking defeat at the hands of the Browns in the playoffs. Tomlin explained why he decided to punt on a 4th and 1 in the 4th quarter while trailing by multiple scores. He also touched on the timeline for when he will talk to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger about his future with the team.
JuJu Smith-Schuster Says He Doesn’t Regret ‘Browns Is the Browns’ Comment
PITTSBURGH — It was repeated so often in the five days between when JuJu Smith-Schuster said the phrase on Wednesday to Sunday night’s game at Heinz Field, that it nearly became the No. 1 talking point coming into the game.
“The Browns is the Browns.” Before the game, after the game and probably during the game, many of the Browns made it clear that they had taken exception to Smith-Schuster’s characterization of the team.
The Browns IS THE BROWNS!! 🌚
— Jedrick Wills Jr.®️++💕 (@JWills73) January 11, 2021
Smith-Schuster said after the game that he had no regrets about what he said.
“You know, I don’t regret what I said,” Smith-Schuster said. “I said, ‘The Browns is the Browns.’ They came out and they played a hell of a game. You know, there’s been games where we feel we lose them and today wasn’t our night and hopefully the same Browns will show up next week against the same opponent and go out and do the same thing they did tonight and have a hell of a game.”