AFC North Review: Steelers Land With Thud During 2023 Season Opener

There was a lot of optimism that the Pittsburgh Steelers were headed in the right direction in the AFC North Division. With a new general manager, the Steelers had invested a lot of time and money to improve the offense line and the defense. However, Pittsburgh’s offense was buried underneath the vicious San Francisco defense.

The Cleveland Browns were also able to pick up a big win by pounding defending division champion Cincinnati at home. The AFC North Division race is one that will see many twists and turns throughout the season, so it is important not to react to one week, whether it was good or bad. 

 

Team Result
Baltimore Ravens W,  at Houston Texans 25-9
Cincinnati Bengals L,  24-3 at Cleveland
Cleveland Browns W, 24-3 vs. Cincinnati
Pittsburgh Steelers L, 30-7 vs. San Francisco 49ers

 

Hard to Like Anything About the Steelers

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Pittsburgh Steelers

It’s hard to pinpoint what was the worst part of the Steelers’ offensive performance against San Francisco. The offensive was totally incompetent from top to bottom. Pittsburgh’s only redeeming drive was a 15-yard personal foul by the 49ers’ defense before halftime. Quarterback Kenny Pickett looked overwhelmed by the situation.

Pickett finished with 232 yards but threw two interceptions and was sacked five times. What was likely most disappointing was how its rebuilt offensive line fared. The Steelers didn’t get much going on the running game, which they thought would thrive. Najee Harris only carried the ball six times for 31 yards. 

Pittsburgh only attempted nine runs all game. The Steelers’ passing game didn’t have an answer either. Dontae Johnson left the game with an injury, while free agent signee Allen Robinson led Pittsburgh with five catches for 64 yards.

 

Dobbins Goes Out with Injury

 

The Baltimore Ravens’ rebuilt offense already got bad news. During the Ravens’ 25-9 win over Houston, Baltimore running back J.K. Dobbins tore his ACL and is out for the season. Dobbins only finished with 22 rushing guards on eight carries.

The Ravens were hoping to make their offense more dynamic this season by opening things up in the passing game. Quarterback Lamar Jackson only finished with 169 passing yards and completed 17 of his 22 passing attempts. Zay Flowers did a good job in his NFL debut. He ended up catching nine passes for 78 yards.

 

Maybe Burrow Should Have Taken Some Time

 

Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow wasn’t able to get much work in the preseason due to injuries. Burrow looked like he was a little off schedule during Cincinnati’s season-opening loss to Cleveland. Burrow was sacked twice and only completed 14 of his 31 passes for 82 yards.

There shouldn’t be too big of a cause for concern for the Bengals. Cincinnati started 0-2 last season and were 4-4 at the end of October. The Bengals caught fire down the stretch to win the AFC North division. While an improved Cleveland team can throw a wrench into things, the Bengals are still one of the favorites to win the division. 

 

Cleveland’s Defense Looks Pretty Scary

 

The Browns were relentless in their pursuit of the Cincinnati offense. While Cleveland didn’t force any turnovers, the Browns only allowed Cincinnati to have the ball for 24 minutes and 10 seconds of game time. The Browns stopped Cincinnati on 13 of its 15 third-down attempts. 

Cleveland’s offense didn’t have to put up monster numbers to beat the Bengals. The defense was able to keep things under wraps. Myles Garrett and Ogbo Okoronkwo both recorded sacks for Cleveland. The Browns also hit Burrow 10 times and recorded seven tackles for loss.

 

Watt Nearing Pittsburgh History

 

Linebacker T.J. Watt was the Steelers’ lone bright spot on Sunday. Watt recorded his third three-sack game of his career. Those three sacks moved him into a tie for first place in Pittsburgh history with 80.5 career sacks with James Harrison. 

The NFL didn’t start keeping sacks as an official statistic until 1982. Watt, 29, has been a consistent performer for Pittsburgh. He has recorded double-digit sack totals in four of his first six seasons in the league. Watt was the league leader in both 2020 and 2021, when he recorded 15 and 22.5, respectively. Watt was limited to 5.5 in 2022, when he only played in 10 games due to injury.

 

Watson Can Count on Star Running Back

AFC North Review: Steelers Land With Thud During 2023 Season Opener
Deshaun Watson

Cleveland quarterback Deshaun Watson is still looking to regain his former form as one of the top quarterbacks in the league. After a lengthy absence from the game, Watson returned from a 10-game suspension last season and showed some rust. But he also showed signs in the season opener of being a capable performer. 

Watson rushed for 45 yards and a touchdown and also passed for 154 yards and a score. Some of those signs of struggle also appeared. Watson only completed 16 of 29 passes and threw an interception. What Watson has that is nice is a running back he can count on.

Cleveland running back Nick Chubb has proven to be a highly effective running back. He carried the ball 18 times for 106 times in the opener, averaging 5.9 yards per carry.

 

Odell Beckham Jr. Settles into New Role

 

Baltimore wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. showed getting back to the football field is going to take some time to adjust. Beckham, a three-time Pro Bowler, missed all of last season after suffering a torn ACL in the Los Angeles Rams’ win in the Super Bowl two seasons ago. The Ravens brought him in hoping he could capture some of his old form in their pursuit of the AFC North championship.

During the season opener, Beckham caught two passes for 37 yards. However, Beckham, 31, hasn’t shown that form in many seasons. During Beckham’s first six seasons in the league, he topped 1,000 or more receiving yards five times. His most recent 1,000-yard season came during the 2019 season with the Browns when he caught 74 passes for 1,035 yards.