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Week 1 Game Recap: Pittsburgh Steelers 3, New England Patriots 33


What you need to know

Pittsburgh Steelers

There were plenty of questions coming into Sunday night football for the low drama Pittsburgh Steelers, but the most glaring was what does this offense look like without Antonio Brown? Also, there are many offshoots of this question to dive into. Can Juju Smith-Schuster handle the wide receiver one chair? Will anyone be able to step up behind Juju Smith-Schuster to take some pressure off? How will Ben Roethlisberger adjust to life without his former top wide receiver? Unfortunately, after Week 1, we are left with those same questions and host of new ones. On Sunday Night Football the Steelers sputtered on offense as they were looking for rhythm and big play ability out of their receivers. When Ben Roethlisberger did have time in the pocket, the football was being dropped and separated from the intended receiver or predictable play calling was putting Ben Roethlisberger in less than advantageous situations.

New England Patriots

Rex Burkhead can do a bit of everything, James White can catch, Sony Michel can run. This will be a fluid backfield with some of the fantasy headache mitigated by 2 RB sets and RBs split wide

Antonio Brown. If he keeps his head on straight and follows orders, this offense could be lights out. It will also make target share unpredictable on a weekly basis for other receivers

Pittsburgh Steelers

QB Ben Roethlisberger, 69 offensive snaps, Pass: 27 - 47 - 276 - 0 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 1 - 7 - 0
Drops and overthrows are the story of Ben Roethlisberger's night against the New England Patriots. Similar to last year, Ben Roethlisberger and his offensive coordinator, Randy Fichtner, started the game with short passes and allowing Roethlisberger to get into rhythm. In fact, Roethlisberger started the game three for three with a pinpoint pass to Juju Smith-Schuster converting a first down on their opening drive. Unfortunately, instead of continuing to pick the Patriots apart underneath, Roethlisberger took a deep shot on third down to Johnny Holton. The ball was underthrown and Holton was not able to make a play to keep the drive alive. As the game continued, Roethlisberger was trying to find other weapons to step up due to tight coverage on Juju Smith-Schuster from Stephon Gilmore. Roethlisberger not only found safety in dumping the ball off underneath to both James Conner and Jaylen Samuels, but also found reliability in slot receiver Ryan Switzer. Unfortunately, Roethlisberger's best throw of the night came on a dropped pass in the end zone by Donte Moncrief. The pass was exactly where it needed to be for an 18-yard touchdown, but the ball was separated from Moncrief by the defender. Ben did have one other highlight toss second year wide receiver James Washington on a 45-yard completion. The ball was thrown well ahead of the receiver and Washington made a good play tracking the ball. Ultimately, something we to remember from this game is that things could have been a lot worse for Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger ended the game with one turnover, an interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter when the game was out of hand, and he easily could've had two more. One from a fumble in the red zone when he was hit from behind and another when a defender undercut Juju Smith-Schuster's route.

RB James Conner, 32 offensive snaps, Rush: 10 - 21 - 0, Rec: 4 - 44 - 0 (4 targets)
After touching the ball on four out of the first five plays of the game, it looked like the Steelers were planning on feeding Conner a healthy workload against the Steelers. Conner did not have any big gains to start the game, but was picking his way through the Patriots defense patiently and taking what was given. After the first five plays of the game, James Conner did not see another touch until the second quarter of the game, when he was stuffed on a third and short, forcing the Steelers to punt the ball. On their fourth possession of the game, Conner received three straight toss plays. On the first, Conner picked up five yards and followed his pulling guard perfectly. The second, was a quick toss to the left from shotgun where Conner caught the ball and picked his way through the center of the Patriots offense. On the third straight toss, which looked identical to the first, linebacker Jamie Collins cut through the Steelers offensive line and tackled Conner for a four yard loss on third down, stalling another Steelers drive. Conner's best run came in the second quarter. He was lined up in the slot and ran a drag route. Conner made the defender miss and was able to take advantage after the catch. Conner looked to be removed from the game early when it was out of hand.

RB Jaylen Samuels, 23 offensive snaps, Rush: 2 - 4 - 0, Rec: 1 - 2 - 0 (2 targets)
Stepping in for Conner, Samuels showed he will be involved in the offense during the entire season. Samuels did not see entire drives until the end of the game, but was used at wide receiver, in two running back sets, and as a fill-in when Conner needed a breather.

WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, 62 offensive snaps, Rec: 6 - 78 - 0 (8 targets)
Going from second chair wide receiver to first chair is never easy. You draw either double coverage or the opposing team's best defensive back on every plan. On Sunday night, Juju Smith-Schuster went toe to toe with the Patriots top defensive back, Stephon Gilmore, and had a long night. Smith-Schuster dealt with tight coverage from the start and had to work for every yard. On his first reception of the game, Smith-Schuster had to high point the ball over the defender and concentrate as he brought the ball into his body with another defender draped on him. His second catch on the evening was his easiest by far. Smith-Schuster had inside position on his defender and when he cut his route inside the defender was left trailing him. By the end of the evening things did end up loosening up for Smith-Schuster. With off coverage, Smith Schuster was able to convert a couple garbage time catches before injuring himself on his last reception of the game. After the game new has come out Juju Smith-Schuster was sent after the game for an x-ray after suffering a toe injury on his last reception.

WR Ryan Switzer, 46 offensive snaps, Rec: 6 - 29 - 0 (6 targets)
The Patriots philosophy is always take away what your opponent does best. For tonight, the Patriots were focusing on taking away Ben Roethlisberger's safety blanket, Juju Smith-Schuster. Smith-Schuster was instead replaced with Ryan Switzer. While he was not the downfield playmaker Antonio Brown was, Switzer put himself in good positions to convert first downs and keep drives alive.

WR Donte Moncrief, 62 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 7 - 0 (10 targets)
The next week for Donte Moncrief may be spent purely on the jugs machine. After being the most targeted wide receiver for the Steelers, Moncrief ended the night with at least four drops, including an 18-yard touchdown which was thrown perfectly. He also had a second end zone target where Ben Roethlisberger was not able to throw the fade route well enough and Moncrief could not get to his spot fast enough. Moncrief showed no tenacity when catching the ball and allowed defenders to separate him from the ball multiple times. The times Moncrief did catch the ball were on shallow crossing routes over the middle where defenders couldn't create contested catch situation.

WR James Washington, 36 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 51 - 0 (6 targets)
One of the few bright spots of the game came from James Washington in the third quarter. With the Steelers looking for answers downfield, Washington had over the top overage. His defender felt Washington bump against him and then Washington was able to pull away. He tracked the pass deep for a 45-yard gain. Washington's only other reception on the evening also went for a first down conversion in the fourth quarter.

TE Vance McDonald, 49 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 40 - 0 (4 targets)
The reports during the offseason often talked about how involved Vance McDonald would be, how he would rarely come off the field, and how he would step up as the second impact receiving option to Juju Smith-Schuster. In Sunday night's match-up Vance McDonald was impactful in his lack of production. McDonald was held in check until deep in the fourth when he managed his first reception of the game on a third down and long. McDonald's second reception only came because the Patriots, for some reason, chose to call a timeout before the past play of the game which allowed the Steelers to run one more plan.


New England Patriots

QB Tom Brady, 70 offensive snaps, Pass: 24 - 36 - 341 - 3 TD / 0 INT
It's as if the offseason didn't happen. Tom Brady didn't miss a beat, spreading the ball around the different receivers and throwing at various depths of the field. The Patriots used several different formations, including more 2 RB sets than normal, thanks to James White and Rex Burkhead. There was a bit of rust at the start, including a couple underthrows and overthrows, but that soon changed with some nice throws, including his absolute dime touchdown to Philip Dorsett. Dorsett ran a go route, and Brady looked off the safety and placed the ball well for his receiver. Dorsett's second touchdown was another long one where he simply ran past zone coverage in what was debatably either really shoddy or a blown assignment. Blown/bad coverage helped on more than that play, as the Steelers defense simply didn't compete on several plays. Brady's first touchdown was a crossing route to Josh Gordon, who broke a tackle on his way to the end zone. Obviously, it elicited a huge roar from the crowd. It's been the same old for the GOAT for years - more of the usual dominance we've seen with no signs of slowing down.

RB Sony Michel, 23 offensive snaps, Rush: 15 - 14 - 0
You could call this a dud for Michel, who didn't do much of anything despite great game script. On the positive side, he did see touches. On the negative side, he split plenty of time with James White and Rex Burkhead. There weren't huge holes in terms of running room, but he didn't do much with what was given, looking fairly ordinary. He did not, however, look injured or held back, so this may be one to chalk up to rough play. Better days are likely ahead, especially given the look of this offense.

RB Rex Burkhead, 32 offensive snaps, Rush: 8 - 44 - 0, Rec: 5 - 41 - 0 (8 targets)
Surprisingly, Rex Burkhead was active, playing a healthy complement of snaps and logging 13 touches after being hurt most of last year. He played in 2 RB sets with James White, as well as some single RB sets in both the pass and run game. It's very clear the Patriots value his versatility, and he'll have a role health permitting.

RB James White, 33 offensive snaps, Rush: 4 - 26 - 0, Rec: 5 - 56 - 0 (7 targets)
White operated in his usual role, though he did split snaps with Rex Burkhead, which may limit his upside going forward. He still got 7 of Tom Brady's 36 targets, and 1 of Julian Edelman's on a trick play to boot. There was nothing significant of note beyond the usage numbers, something to monitor no doubt.

WR Julian Edelman, 67 offensive snaps, Pass: 1 - 1 - 32 - 0 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 1 - 8 - 0, Rec: 6 - 83 - 0 (11 targets)
Edelman did typical Edelman things against the Steelers, including a trick play showing off his arm, which seems to happen once or twice a season. Edelman did miss a catch, but also caught one in the second half where he was absolutely whacked and still hung onto the ball. There wasn't much rust to speak of, but with all the weapons the Patriots have, it's fair to wonder if he will be as consistent as he usually is in the stat column. That said, the trust he has with Tom Brady is unrivaled.

WR Phillip Dorsett, 61 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 95 - 2 (4 targets)
It may be his high watermark for the year, but Dorsett had himself a game, including two touchdowns on deep throws. His first was a go route where he ran past defenders on a great throw by Tom Brady. His second touchdown was semi-broken coverage against the zone, and he simply ran straight ahead for an easy touchdown. His snap share is likely to go down with Antonio Brown in the fold, but he showed he still has value to the Pats.

WR Josh Gordon, 47 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 73 - 1 (4 targets)
Edelman did typical Edelman things against the Steelers, including a trick play showing off his arm, which seems to happen once or twice a season. Edelman did miss a catch, but also caught one in the second half where he was absolutely whacked and still hung onto the ball. There wasn't much rust to speak of, but with all the weapons the Patriots have, it's fair to wonder if he will be as consistent as he usually is in the stat column. That said, the trust he has with Tom Brady is unrivaled.