What we learned: Secondary a weakness for Steelers

Tom Brady was masterful in the Patriots' 28-21 victory in the 2015 NFL Kickoff on Thursday night.

After watching Pittsburgh's defense blow coverages throughout the game, it's fair to wonder if Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo would have torched their patchwork secondary as well.

Until new coordinator Keith Butler discovers a consistent pass rush and solves issues at the back end of his defense, the Steelers will be a flawed, unbalanced team putting too much weight on the shoulders of Ben Roethlisberger.

We've learned not to issue definitive, over-reactive declarations in Week 1. On this night, though, the Steelers had the look of a pretender masquerading as a contender.

Here's what else we learned in the NFL's season opener:

  1. So much for the Steelers' grandiose plans to jam Rob Gronkowski at the line of scrimmage. Gronkowski became the first player in NFL history to deliver multiple games with at least three receiving touchdowns against Pittsburgh. We never placed any stock in the struggles of the Patriots' first-team offense last month because the offensive version of J.J. Watt didn't suit up. Going back to the 2012 season, Brady has essentially played like Aaron Rodgers with Gronkowski on the field and Andy Dalton when the best tight end on the planet is sidelined. Only four tight ends in history have more career touchdowns than Gronkowski's 57. He's still just 26 years old.
  1. Although Browns fans witnessed a division rival take one on the chin, they must have had mixed feelings about seeing running back Dion Lewis and pass rusher Jabaal Sheard land in New England as instant impact players. With LeGarrette Blount serving a one-game suspension, an elusive Lewis functioned as a three-down back, totaling 120 yards on 19 touches. To put that performance into perspective, Lewis has never posted more than 99 yards from scrimmage in a single season. He was out of the league last year after breaking his leg with Cleveland in the summer of 2013. Even if Blount returns as the early-down bruiser, Lewis should be locked into the passing-down specialist role in which Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen have excelled.
  1. The early returns on the Steelers' two August trades for cornerback Brandon Boykin and kicker Josh Scobee have been disastrous. Boykin can't crack the rotation in a porous secondary, and Scobee shanked a couple of field goals Thursday night. On the bright side, the fifth-round pick being sent to Philadelphia won't be upgraded to a fourth-rounder if Boykin doesn't play at least 60 percent of the defensive snaps.
  1. Credit the Steelers' front office, on the other hand, for identifying DeAngelo Williams as a quality insurance policy for All-Pro tailback Le'Veon Bell. Williams looked noticeably more spry than he was last season with the Panthers, bursting through holes and beating Patriots defenders to the edge for his best game since 2012.
  1. While Williams excelled as a backfield fill-in, Darrius Heyward-Bey cost the Steelers as the replacement for suspended wideout Martavis Bryant. Showing an alarming lack of awareness, Heyward-Bey lost an easy touchdown when he knelt down to catch a pass and left his foot on the end-zone chalk.
  1. Antonio Brown's streak of 33 consecutive games with at least 50 yards and five receptions is one of the most impressive feats of the past three seasons. Even better, he now has a dozen straight games with at least 70 yards and seven receptions.
  1. Brady now owns the NFL record for most wins with one team (161), breaking a tie with Brett Favre.
  1. The league-wide paranoia surrounding the Patriots won't be dying down anytime soon. Frustrated coach Mike Tomlin confirmed after the game that Steelers coaches were forced to listen to the Patriots' radio broadcast on their headsets due to a technical issue in the first half. "That's always the case," Tomlin lamented. Pats coach Bill Belichick revealed that the mix-up wasn't limited to Pittsburgh's headsets, as New England "had a lot of problems" and "had to switch microphones a couple times."
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