Five things we learned from Steelers 23, Bengals 20:
1. Motion sensors
The mobility that Mitch Trubesky was supposed to bring to the Steelers’ attack – a trait that Ben Roethlisberger has lacked in his later seasons – was apparent in the opening game. So was the constant movement and mobile pockets that were expected of Matt Canada’s regime in his second year as offensive coordinator.
Growing pains were evident.
The offense amassed only one touchdown on 15 properties and produced several touchdowns in one flight before overtime. The running game clashed to the point where Canada called Chase Claypool’s number six times in sweeps/finishes around the jets, and he ended up leading the Steelers with a 36-yard rushing.
Canada’s imprint was noticeable from the very first moment when Trubisky threw a shovel pass to Claypool.
The other crease was a screen for #2 Zach Gentry’s narrow end that resulted in a 32-yard completion for the Bengals 9 and the creation of a TD trap for Nagee Harris 1 yard. Canada also fired a flea flash in the first quarter which resulted in Trubisky completing a 31-yard pass to end Pat Freiermuth’s tightness to the Bengals 3. Symbolic of the offense struggle, the Steelers had to settle for a field goal on this possession.
Trubisky averaged 5.1 yards per attempt—Roethlisberger averaged 6.2 a year ago—and finished with an infantry rating of 78.2.
2. Slow Entrees
One of the goals of the attack this season has been to start faster than in 2021.
Over the last eight games of last season, the offense produced just nine points in the first quarter and spanned five games without getting anything. Moreover, the last drop recorded by offense in the first quarter was Week 10 against Detroit. It was submitted with permission from Mason Rudolph touchdown pass.
Defense intervened with Minka Fitzpatrick returning to intercept from 31 yards down after less than three minutes into the game on Sunday, and the offense contributed to a field goal to lead 10-3 in the second quarter.
The Steelers eventually earned a touchdown before the break to advance 17-6 in the locker room. That’s an improvement over last year when the Steelers averaged 6.7 points in the first half of the season. Only 4-13 New York Giants were worse in 2021.
The problem occurred on Sunday in the second half as the Steelers totaled 64 yards and managed four first touchdowns. After the defense stalled fourth and second with 1:51 to play, the Steelers had to use a timeout due to Harris’ injury. They returned the ball just 24 seconds into the elapsed time leaving the Bengals with one timeout remaining.
3. Running defense defense
At first glance, it looked like the Steelers’ defense picked up where it left off in 2021 when they let in the most dashing yards in the NFL.
Joe Mixon blasted off 31 yards on his way to an 82-yard performance. Joe Burrow jostled for 23-yard gains, and the Bengals totaled 133 yards on the floor. Despite a deeper dissection, the Steelers showed improvement in stopping the run.
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It took the Mixon 27 loads to get 82 yards, and the Bengal averaged 3.9 yards per load on 34 total attempts. To put that into perspective, only six teams last year allowed opponents to average less than 4.0 yards per carry this season. Of course, the Steelers finished last by allowing 5.0 yards per carry and were the only team to pass 4.7.
The Mixon had 14 trails that resulted in gains of 2 yards or less, including five runs for negative range. That’s no small feat for the Steelers considering Mixon rushed for a career-high 1,205 yards last season, the third time in his five-year career he has crossed the 1000.
4. No daylight
He left Harris after his tenth game drive resulted in a 2-yard loss, causing him to rush for 23 yards. With two cuts for 3 yards, he totaled 26 yards of melee although one of his receptions went for 1 yard.
Harris had a rushing 6 yards on four carts in the first half, but picked it up shortly after the break when he was running for 11 and 8 yards. He had three runs that went for negative yardage, including one when the Steelers brought in Trent Scott’s tackle to act as an extra blocking tight end.
The lack of running room came as no surprise given the way the offensive line had been slow to decline in pre-season. Among the few positives of quintet Mason Cole, James Daniels, Kevin Dotson, Chox Okorafor and James Daniels sent Trubesky only once, and that happened when he lost 2 yards after running out of limits. Trubisky has also been hit five times compared to hitting the Steelers Joe Burrow on 11 occasions.
5. Get physical
When the defense is on the field for 94 plays, mistakes are bound to happen. The Steelers minor was not immune and the evidence was in the form of five character mistakes. Ironically, all the fouls were against players who got in their way in the game.
Minkah Fitzpatrick was called up for unnecessary roughing twice in the second half and could have been flagged again for a hit that hit Bengals receiver Tee Higgins. It was all part of a physical day for Fitzpatrick, who led the Steelers with 14 tackles, earned the opening interception back for the touchdown and exploded across the line to block a potential extra winning point in late regulation.
Ahkello Witherspoon stopped an interception in the Bengals midway through the fourth quarter and was flagged for a passing interception early in overtime.
A pass interference call against Cam Sutton nullified any interception, although the Steelers got a turn in the next play. Sutton later got his interception but was called up to hold late in the fourth quarter off the play, and that offense nullified a 10-yard sack by TJ Watt.
Joe Rotter is a Tribune Review writer. You can contact Joe via email at email@example.com or via Twitter .