The rumors of the demise of the Steelers offense were greatly exaggerated.
The Steelers offense went through a drought since the first half of the opener, but did just enough at the right times to beat the Panthers 37-19, with Ben Roethlisberger looking like Ben Roethlisberger again.
The Steelers quarterback found something resembling a rhythm in the second quarter, and was rewarded for his patience in the second half. He threw a pair of touchdown passes to Antonio Brown, and finished the night 22-of-30 for 196 yards.
That was more than enough to beat the Panthers, but perhaps a sign that the Steelers have found the kind of balance they’ve been looking for under offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Roethlisberger had a couple of chunk plays, but mostly worked the intermediate spaces.
And he worked them well.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. The Panthers would love to be able to run the ball, but the way they’re built right now, it’s hard.
Their offensive line is both patchwork and young, as both tackles are new to their jobs (right tackle Nate Chandler was a defensive tackle two years ago). They’re rotating journeyman Fernando Velasco and rookie Trai Turner at right guard.
If not for having an anchor in center Ryan Kalil and a promising young player in left guard Amini Silatolu, it would be a total mess. And those two were beaten several times, which is a really bad sign.
At least they have the good sense to not beat their heads against the wall, with just five rush attempts in the first half (for 10 yards). It’s not what you’d expect against a leaky Steelers run defense (which came in allowing 174.0 yards per game on the ground), or from a team that has spent so heavily on backs over the years.
2. Oh, and by the way, Cam Newton’s not nearly right, from a physical standpoint.
The Panthers quarterback didn’t have much of an offseason because of ankle surgery, and then suffered a rib injury which kept him out of the opener. He’s wearing body armor just to be on the field, and was getting pinned in the pocket by three-man rushes.
Were he well, he’d have spun out of a few of those pressures and run, regardless the status of his line.
But he’s not, which makes him a bit of a sitting duck.
3. Now that he’s realized that you can’t smoke a bunch of weed on the way to the airport, Le’Veon Bell’s become a really good running back.
He was able to find holes in a good Panthers run defense, and looks better since losing some weight this offseason.
He’s a solid between-the-tackles runner, and has enough burst to make big plays out of small cracks, as he did on his 81-yard burst in the third quarter. He finished with 147 yards.
The Steelers gashed the Panthers for 264 on the ground, with LeGarrette Blount adding 118 and a touchdown late.
4. The Steelers haven’t drafted as well as they’re accustomed to in the past, and that will create depth problems eventually.
The depth was tested in the second half, when linebackers Ryan Shazier, Jarvis Jones and cornerback Ike Taylor left the game in the third quarter.
Taylor suffered a pretty grotesque-looking arm injury, and the fact they immediately applied an air cast made it apparent it was broken.
5. The Panthers made a conscious decision to part ways with Steve Smith, primarily because he didn’t play well with others.
They clearly miss having proven offensive targets, but the guy they could have used Sunday night was Ted Ginn.
Watching undrafted rookie Philly Brown bobble away the game in the fourth quarter by letting a punt bounce off his chest and into the end zone for a Steelers touchdown was sad.
Ginn split for Arizona in the mass evacuation of the receivers room, though wanted to keep the guy who emerged as an offensive threat and a trustworthy returner.
But they didn’t really have the money to make a competitive offer, since they used the franchise tag on defensive end Greg Hardy, which put more than 20 percent of their salary cap into Hardy and defensive end Charles Johnson.
That made them top-heavy, and susceptible to injury or the commissioner’s exempt list. So while it was nice to think about having a pass-rush secured, it left them thin in so many places.