There was plenty of PPE on the Steelers’ sideline Monday night at MetLife Stadium.
The protective sleeve on Ben Roethlisberger‘s right elbow.
That last piece of medical apparatus is designed not only to protect Roethlisberger’s physical health, but also the mental health of Steelers fans in 2020.
Playing for the first time in 364 days after an elbow injury and subsequent surgery pretty much wiped out his 2019 season, Roethlisberger threw for three touchdowns and no interceptions in the Steelers’ season-opening 26-16 win over the Giants.
Last year’s quarterback clown show demonstrated just how lucky the Steelers have been to have Roethlisberger on the field. Who knows how many seasons the 38-year-old has left, so Steelers fans shouldn’t take Roethlisberger’s performance for granted.
Steelers fans also should enjoy watching Bud Dupree while they can. If he keeps playing the way he did Monday, he’ll be gone before Roethlisberger but for a different reason.
The Giants couldn’t keep Dupree out of the backfield, and his pressure led to the biggest play of the game.
The Steelers clung to a 16-10 lead late in the third quarter as the Giants moved the ball 87 yards on 19 plays and had a second-and-3 at the Steelers’ 4-yard line. That’s when Dupree chased Giants quarterback Daniel Jones and forced him to toss up a wobbler that Cameron Heyward intercepted at the goal line.
So instead of falling behind 17-16, the Steelers eventually extended their lead to 19-10 on Chris Boswell‘s 36-yard field goal and put the game away when Roethlisberger threw his third touchdown pass of the game, his second to JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Dupree, who had a career-high 11.5 sacks last season, didn’t have any Monday night. He did, however, have two of the Steelers’ 11 tackles for loss. He’s playing under the franchise tag this season, and will probably get a boatload of money on the open market next spring. The Steelers probably won’t be able to re-sign him, but teams can’t keep everyone in a salary-cap league like the NFL.
March of 2021 is a long way off, however. Dupree, along with some other playmakers on that defense, can help the Steelers make a deep playoff run between now and then.
The Steelers sacked Jones three times and intercepted him twice. Saquon Barkley, who two years ago was the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year and second in the league with 1,307 rushing yards, was held to six rushing yards on 15 carries.
The Giants’ 10 first-half points were basically handed to them. Diontae Johnson muffed the game’s first punt, giving the Giants the ball on the Steelers’ 3. Even then they were held to a field goal. The Giants’ lone touchdown of the first half, a 41-yard pass to Darius Slayton, came on a drive that was kept alive by a questionable pass interference call on Joe Haden.
Smith-Schuster is another Steeler who didn’t seem long for Pittsburgh entering 2020. He’ll be a free agent after this season, but if he keeps providing evidence that he really is a No. 1 receiver like he did Monday night, he and the Steelers might have some negotiating to do. After his disappointing 42-catch season in 2019, no one is happier to see Roethlisberger back than Smith-Schuster, who caught six balls, including the two touchdowns, for a team-high 69 yards.
The Steelers don’t have to worry about re-signing Johnson for a while. The 2019 third-round draft pick won’t be a free agent until 2023. After realizing that some things, like footballs, are OK to catch during a pandemic, Johnson caught six passes for 57 yards. Five of those receptions came after Heyward’s interception late in the third quarter, helping the Steelers take control of the game.
Benny Snell is another player the Steelers won’t have to worry about losing until 2023. James Conner left the game with an ankle injury after gaining nine yards on six carries. Even before Conner went down, however, Snell seemed quicker. The 2019 fourth-round pick led the team with 113 yards, including 90 in the second half.
Unless the Steelers finally see the light and employ a committee approach at running back, Snell deserves a shot at being the bell cow even if Conner is healthy.
The Steelers defense looks like it can give the offense the breathing room to figure out that and other issues such as an offensive line that already was without an injured David DeCastro Monday and then lost right tackle Zach Banner, possibly for the season, and backup guard Stefen Wisniewski.
There’s also the breathing room that comes with a 1-0 record, the Steelers’ first since 2017, the last year they made the playoffs.
Steelers fans should know by now not to take Roethlisberger, or playoff berths, for granted.
Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.