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Takeaways: Compensating for Loss of JuJu Smith-Schuster Was Priority One for Steelers Offense

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PITTSBURGH — The Steelers came out Heinz Field with their second-straight win on Sunday night. While everything was not as stellar and polished as it needed to be, the Steelers still moved to 3-3 on the season. With the ups and downs they have had, it was the best they could do to get to this point. Still, what takeaways can there be from what was a sloppy performance in front of the bright lights?

Replacing JuJu Smith-Schuster is Anything But Easy

The Steelers offense certainly did not look great on Sunday. There were obvious points of things that were good, and the offensive line held up relatively in pass protection, which was solid. As the game rolled along, the Steelers got a competent running game as they ripped off a few big gains. However, they were never able to find a consistent chain mover on third down in the tough situations when they needed it.

The Steelers lost JuJu Smith-Schuster for the season due to a shoulder injury, and so it is no surprise that the Steelers struggled to find a consistent target on those conversion downs. Ray-Ray McCloud had a few flashes, but nothing was consistent. James Washington barely played. Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool will make their plays, but they were not the reliable chain mover that Smith-Schuster was.

So, that likely means that Pat Freiermuth and Eric Ebron would the men who are next up. They combined had six catches that moved the chains on Sunday. The tight ends need to be integrated into the gameplan even more than they were on Sunday. That will be the Steelers’ best way to replace Smith-Schuster going forward, even if that is an extremely hard task to do.

Alex Highsmith is Taking Over

T.J. Watt had a monster game. However, everyone knew why Watt was the highest paid defensive player in the game. With the game winning strip sack and then a sack to kill a promising Seattle drive in Pittsburgh territory, Watt was simply the X-Factor as it stands.

However, that should not make Alex Highsmith’s performance go under the radar. With four quarterback hits, 1.5 sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss, Highsmith had his best game of the season. His sack against one of the better left tackles in the NFL in Duane Brown, was a great speed rush where he executed his rip and dip move to perfection. Consistently throughout the game, Highsmith was either collapsing the pocket or making strong holds on the edge against the edge. He was so thoroughly dominant throughout run defense that the Seahawks ran to Watt’s side almost 80% of the time.

Then, putting up those numbers while not ever coming off the field for a play is wildly impressive. The stats for Highsmith coming into Sunday’s game were not there as he recovered from a groin injury. Now, it finally seems like he is reaching the precipice of his potential.

The Tackling is a Serious Problem 

If there was ever a serious problem coming out of this game, the tackling would have to be public enemy number one. Going back through the game, the Steelers easily missed upwards of at least 15 tackles throughout the game. It really hurt them as they turned tackles for loss into explosive plays at times. It was a clinic of how to not tackle from a defense that so far on the year has been one of the better tackling units in the NFL.

The secondary looked like they were anything but the last line of defense. They failed to make huge tackles as the Seahawks churned out multiple explosive plays as a result. The linebackers and even the defensive line missed their fair share of tackles, too. These were not just NFL athletes making other NFL athletes look silly. These were routine tackles that should not be missed by NFL defenders. This is the biggest thing that has to be fixed in the bye week as they move on to face Cleveland in two weeks.

The Steelers 2021 Rookie Class Brings Immediate Contributions 

Sunday was a great display for Steelers fans if they wanted to see what their future looks like. Najee Harris was doing a little bit of everything. His continuous improvement over the course of the last couple weeks is fantastic. Harris looks like a player that could be a top-flight running back very shortly. If his pass protection comes along just a little bit more, he will firmly be in that discussion.

Tight end Pat Freiermuth is developing into a lifeline of sorts for Ben Roethlisberger. He set new career-highs in yardage and catches on Sunday. While his blocking is still a work in progress as well, Freiermuth is making himself to be a solid player in this league.

Kendrick Green played perhaps his best game in the NFL on Sunday. Going against guys like Poona Ford and Al Woods, Green was dominant at times, and when he was not, he was solid. That was a great step in the right direction for a guy who has seriously struggled to find his footing after moving to center with only limited experience there in college.

Isaiahh Loudermilk made a few key run stops. He was a guy coming into the year who looked like he may not get much tread at all. However, with injuries, Loudermilk has now become a mainstay in the rotation. There were two key run stops that Loudermilk was in on and they were key stops. His contributions can not be swept under the rug.

Tre Norwood has been an absolute gem of a find by Kevin Colbert in the seventh-round. He is such a fast learner, and his ability to cover guys out of the slot on those key conversion donws is a huge boost for this defense. He is only scratching the surface of what his potential could be.

Lastly, Pressley Harvin III had a few solid punts on the night. Not only that, he was a great holder, which is a key job in the NFL as it stands. Harvin’s late booming punt pinned Seattle back deep, and left them behind the eight ball from the very beginning.

 

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