STEELERS GAMEDAY: Offense Needs to Show Improvement to Start 2-0

(Associated Press)

The Pittsburgh Steelers head into Week 2 against the New England Patriots coming off of a big overtime win against the Cincinnati Bengals.  While they should feel fortunate to escape 1-0, it will certainly be a huge momentum boost heading into this week's game against an opponent they have not had much success facing.  This is not the type of Patriots team we're accustomed to seeing, which gives me hope that the Steelers can get off to a 2-0 start to the season, as long as the offense can step up their play.

Last week I discussed my focus on the defense in the opening game and they lived up to the expectations.  The defense was flying around the field last week, making play after play, especially in crucial situations.  Although edge rusher T.J. Watt was placed on Injured Reserve, which will result in him missing at least the next four games, I still think this defense is capable of being a stalwart unit.

Especially so this week, when they go up against a New England offense that no longer has quarterback Tom Brady at the helm and is void of any real playmakers.  Current quarterback Mac Jones was questionable heading into this game due to back spasms, but it appears he'll be able to play.  A banged up quarterback is something this Steelers defense should be able to feast upon.  All of that is to say that my concern today is not on the defensive side of the ball.

This time my attention will be on the Steelers offense.  Their play last week certainly left me concerned.  We saw flashes of the offense in Week 1 that we grew tired of last year.  Inabilities to move the ball and a lackluster run game highlighted that.  As much as we like to talk about the question marks at the quarterback and offensive line positions, I'm not putting that on them.  To me, this has much more to do with ineffective play-calling.

The Steelers only scored one offensive touchdown last week, and that came when the offense started in good field position.  A lack of imagination from offensive coordinator Matt Canada led to an abundance of quick drives that led to punts.  While the run game not being able to get going was a large factor, the passing game seemed just as inept.  Receiver Diontae Johnson was almost non-existent until Mitch Trubisky relied on him heavily at the end of the game.

It should be noted that of the 38 pass attempts Trubisky had, 12 of them were directed at Johnson.  That's nearly a 33% target share.  It's a shame that they waited so long in the game to make that the case.  

The first step in improving the offensive game plan should be to get Johnson the ball earlier, and just as often.  The offense appeared to flow much better when they allowed Johnson to feature his playmaking abilities, which included a spectacular catch along the out of the bounds line in overtime that was plastered all over Twitter.  If you have one of the top receivers in the league, it only makes sense to utilize him throughout the entirety of the game.

While the national focus was centered around the status of Watt's injury this week, the offense also got good injury news in running back Najee Harris.  He left the game against Cincinnati with a foot injury but he has said this week that it's not too serious and he will be able to play today.  Will he be at 100%?  Unlikely.  

But just him playing gives the offense hope for improvement.  He showed last year his ability to make big plays when the offensive line allowed it.  If Canada can put him, and the offense as a whole, in a better position to succeed, I truly believe this offense can fire on all cylinders against a Patriots team that has been a thorn in their side for the past decade plus.

Although this is a Patriots team that is on a downward trajectory, they still have Bill Belichick as their coach.  While Tom Brady's departure to Tampa Bay has showed that New England's success may have been more about him than his coach, Belichick is still one of the best minds in the game.  He will certainly have his team more ready to play than they were last week during their embarrassing loss to Miami.  However, if the Steelers can stymy the Bengals as they did last week and squeak out a win in epic fashion on the road, I have complete faith that they can do the same this week against a worse team, this time in front of their home fans.

I'm fully aware that this spread (Patriots -2) is screaming at the top of its lungs that it's a trap, but I'm just not buying into the Patriots love this week.  They looked horrible in their 20-7 defeat to the Miami Dolphins last week, a game in which their offense instilled zero fear in anyone who watched.  This could very well be a low scoring game and I think that plays greatly into the Steelers' favor.  

In a game in which I expect the defense to once again carry the team, I really hope to see an improved offense after last week's stinker.  I'm not letting the trap scare me off of a potential Steelers win.  I wasn't nearly as hopeful last week and yet, the Steelers surprised me with a big win.  That momentum should carry into this one and I truly think the home team shows out and gives the Steelers faithful a win in the home opener.  Here’s to hoping the offense doesn't have a repeat performance and make me look foolish.