The Pittsburgh Steelers were missing four key skill position players (Le'Veon Bell, Markus Wheaton, Ladarius Green and Martavis Bryant) for their season opener in Washington. They still looked like one of the most explosive teams in football during a 38-16 win over the Redskins on Monday Night Football.
Here's what we learned:
- DeAngelo Williams is the most underpaid, underrated running back in football. Williams ran through a porous Redskins rush defense with incredible patience, vision and ability to get skinny while squeezing through tired Washington defenders. Williams finished with 171 yards from scrimmage, including six catches and two touchdowns. The 33-year-old only got stronger as the night wore on, rushing for 73 yards in the fourth quarter. He can still make people miss and power through defenders at the goal line.
Williams signed to a two-year, $4 million contract last March and has proceeded to start more games than starter Le'Veon Bell since then. Bell will return from suspension in Week 4. In the meantime, the Steelers still have one of the best backs in the league.
- It doesn't hurt Williams that Antonio Brown and the big-play Steelers passing game attract so much attention. Coach Mike Tomlin said the team wanted to be "thoughtfully aggressive" and it paid off.
Pittsburgh's first touchdown came when Ben Roethlisberger (300 yards, 3 TDs and 1 INT) dialed up a gorgeous 26-yard touchdown on fourth-and-one to Antonio Brown. The team's second touchdown came on a drive where coordinator Todd Haley again threw on fourth down. The Redskins, meanwhile, passed on a fourth-and-one at the Pittsburgh 40-yard line in the first quarter, setting the groundwork for a timid night from Washington.
- Kirk Cousins' push for a long-term contract is off to a rough start. His numbers (30 for 42, 329 yards, two interceptions) don't tell the story about his disappointing night. Cousins was not accurate early in the game, wasting promising drives with low throws. He made poor decisions on when to run and when not to run. The Steelers played zone defense much of the night, forcing Cousins to be patient. He refused to wait for a big play to develop despite a quiet Steelers pass rush. It got so bad that ESPN's Jon Gruden was audibly groaning after some decisions, feeling the pain of his brother on the Redskins sideline.
- The Steelers stayed away from throwing at Redskins cornerback Josh Norman. The Redskins' big-ticket signing mostly stayed on the left side of the field, so the Steelers lined up Brown against Bashaud Breeland on the right side. Brown repeatedly torched Breeland on the way to 126 yards and two scores. Breeland also missed a number of tackles in run support. Safety DeAngelo Hall should also bear the blame for Brown's production, showing inexperience at his new position. Too often he was late coming over the top to help Breeland.
- The Steelers' defense looks less like the old Dick LeBeau blitz-happy group than ever. It looks more like the zone teams that Tomlin coached in Tampa and Minnesota. Perhaps Tomlin knows that a low-risk approach makes sense when his offense can carry the day.
- This game was Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier's career in a nutshell. He flew around in run support and in pass coverage, saving a potential touchdown to tight end Jordan Reed. Shazier had two passes defensed and a big interception return. Unfortunately, he ended the game on the sideline once again because of a knee injury, but he told reporters after the game his knee was "completely fine."
- Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan wants to build a tough team up front, but they couldn't run the ball or stop the run. Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan struggled to get consistent pressure on Big Ben.
- One big positive for the Redskins: DeSean Jackson looked just as good as we read about during a buzzy offseason, finishing with six catches for 102 yards. Now he just needs a quarterback willing to go deep more often.