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First Half Stagnation Kills Steelers in Season Opener


The NFL season started with all its usual grandeur and pageantry on Thursday night, with a contest pitting two of the league’s all-time glamour franchises against each other under the incessant rain of Gillette Stadium. But a classic affair it was not, as the Patriots’ offense persisted its way to a 28-21 win that wasn’t as even as the scoreline suggested.

For the Steelers, a pair of missed field goals and a butchered touchdown right before the half wound up being mistakes too insurmountable to fix.

What started out as a promising opening drive would serve as a microcosm for Pittsburgh’s night. Backup running back DeAngelo Williams carved up New England’s front seven with darting outside runs and efficient carries between the tackles, but a busted Antonio Brown gadget play and a holding penalty forced the Steelers into a long field goal which was missed by long time Jaguar Josh Scobee.

After Scobee missed his second attempt from a similar distance, the Patriots piled on two touchdowns before the Steelers offense could respond with points of their own. But when Ben Roethlisberger threw a beautiful floater to the front corner of the endzone, Darrius Heyward-Bey – forced into action because of Martavis Bryant’s suspension – couldn’t keep his feet inbounds on a routine grab.

Pittsburgh settled for a field goal, and with a 14-3 lead New England’s way at halftime, it was up to the defense to make the splash plays. It’s not as if they needed any reminding, but Steeler Nation got the message first hand on Thursday night: this is not the Steelers’ defense of old.

The Steelers’ lamentable excuse for a starting defense can’t be expected to hold a lead – much less carry the team – in 2015. The offense would warm to the task in the second half, but it was too late. Any score by the offense would be quickly negated as the Patriots systematically moved the chains care of poor tackling and even worse coverage.

If they want to start making noise in the playoffs this year, the Steelers quickly need to evaluate where their strengths are and who they need to lean on. The offense will get better with the return of Bryant, Le’Veon Bell and, much later, Maurkice Pouncey. But the defense – at least personnel wise – is already as good as it’s going to get.

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