5 things learned about the Steelers: Matt Canada’s offense takes shape against the Bengals

Five things we learned from the Steelers 23, Bengals 20:

1. Motion sensors

The mobility that Mitch Trubisky was supposed to bring to the Steelers offense — a trait that Ben Roethlisberger lacked in his later seasons — was on display in Game 1. So was the constant movement and moving pockets that were expected of Matt Canada’s system in his second year as offensive coordinator.

The growing pains were evident.

The offense had just one touchdown on 15 possessions and produced several first downs on a single drive before overtime. The run game got heated to the point that Canada called Chase Claypool’s number six times on throwing sweeps/end runouts, and he ended up leading the Steelers with 36 rushing yards.

Canada’s stamp was noticeable from the first snap as Trubisky threw a shovel pass to Claypool.

Another wrinkle was a screen to No. 2 tight end Zach Gentry that resulted in a 32-yard completion at the Bengals 9 and setting up a 1-yard TD catch from Najee Harris. Canada also broke the flea flicker in the first quarter, which allowed Trubisky to complete a 31-yard pass to tight end Pat Freiermuth at the Bengals 3. Emblematic of the offensive struggles, the Steelers had to settle for a basket on this possession. .

Trubisky averaged 5.1 yards per attempt — Roethlisberger averaged 6.2 a year ago — and finished with a 78.2 pedestrian passer rating.

2. Slow starts

One of the objectives of the attack this season was to start faster than in 2021.

In the final eight games of last season, the offense produced just nine points in the first quarter and went five games without. Also, the last touchdown scored by the offense in the first quarter was in Week 10 against Detroit. And it was provided courtesy of a touchdown pass from Mason Rudolph.

The defense contributed to Minkah Fitzpatrick’s 31-yard interception return for a touchdown less than three minutes into the game on Sunday, and the offense contributed a field goal to take a 10-3 second lead. quarter.

The Steelers eventually got a touchdown before halftime to take a 17-6 locker room lead. That was an improvement over last year when the Steelers averaged 6.7 points in the first half of the season. Only the New York Giants 4-13 were worse in 2021.

The problem Sunday came in the second half as the Steelers totaled 64 yards and had four first downs. After the defense made a fourth-and-2 save with 1:51 remaining, the Steelers were forced to use a timeout due to an injury to Harris. They returned the ball after just 24 seconds of time out and left the Bengals with one timeout remaining.

3. Defend the run defense

At first glance, it looked like the Steelers’ run defense had picked up where it left off in 2021 when they allowed the fastest yards in the NFL.

Joe Mixon landed a 31-yard run en route to an 82-yard performance. Joe Burrow rushed for a 23-yard gain and the Bengals rushed for 133 yards. After deeper dissection, however, the Steelers showed improvement in stopping the run.


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It took Mixon 27 carries to get his 82 yards, and the Bengals averaged 3.9 yards per carry on 34 total attempts. To put that into perspective, only six teams last year allowed their opponents to average less than 4.0 yards per carry for the season. The Steelers, of course, ranked last in giving up 5.0 yards per carry and were the only team to top 4.7.

Mixon had 14 points that resulted in gains of 2 yards or less, including five points for negative yardage. That’s no mean 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’s topped 1,000.

4. No daylight

Harris left after his 10th rush of the game resulted in a 2-yard loss, giving him 23 rushing yards. With two catches for 3 yards, he totaled 26 yards from scrimmage although one of his receptions was for a 1-yard touchdown.

Harris rushed for 6 yards on four carries in the first half, but regained it shortly after intermission when he made rushes for 11 and 8 yards. He had three points that went negative, including one when the Steelers brought in tackle Trent Scott to serve as an extra tight end.

The lack of wiggle room was hardly surprising given how slow the offensive line was to solidify during the preseason. One of the few bright spots for the quintet of Mason Cole, James Daniels, Kevin Dotson, Chuks Okorafor and James Daniels was that Trubisky was only sacked once, and that happened when he lost 2 meters after exceeding the limits. Trubisky was also hit five times compared to the Steelers hitting Joe Burrow 11 times.

5. Get Physical

When the defense is on the field for 94 plays, mistakes are inevitable. The Steelers secondary was not immune and the proof was in the form of five personal fouls. Ironically, all of the offenses were against players who had interceptions in the game.

Minkah Fitzpatrick was called twice for unnecessary second-half roughing and could have been flagged another time for a hit that concussed Bengals receiver Tee Higgins. It was all part of a physical day for Fitzpatrick, who led the Steelers with 14 tackles, had the opening interception return for a touchdown and crossed the line to block the potential game-winning extra run late in regulation. .

Ahkello Witherspoon had an interception on Bengals territory midway through the fourth quarter and was flagged for pass interference early in overtime.

A pass interference call on Cam Sutton nullified an interception, though the Steelers got a turnover on the next play. Sutton then got his interception, but he was called for holding late in the fourth quarter away from play, and that infraction nullified a 10-yard sack from TJ Watt.

Joe Rutter is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Joe by email at jrutter@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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