In the wake of a 30-7 rout by the San Francisco 49ers, the Pittsburgh Steelers are reeling from a number of injuries, including a significant hamstring injury to wide receiver Diontae Johnson. Compounding the team’s troubles is the loss of Cam Heyward, a six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, now sidelined due to a groin injury.
This injury onset would disrupt a season opener that began with high hopes but soon tumbled into despair. The fervor of betting aficionados marked the Steelers as a +2 home underdog against the 49ers, but the home team could not keep up the pace. The 49ers swiftly established dominance with a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, an advantage that the Steelers couldn’t overturn. Pittsburgh managed a touchdown just before halftime, but the San Francisco team, unyielding, scored another 10 points in the second half, sealing the victory.
The list of the wounded doesn’t stop at Johnson and Heyward. Tight end Pat Freiermuth suffered a chest injury while right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor was out with a concussion. Meanwhile, right guard James Daniels battled a lower body injury and defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi went down with a foot injury.
Johnson, a versatile linchpin lined up on the grid either outside or in the slot, may face several weeks on the bench nursing his hamstring. His pivotal role in past seasons is evident in his impressive record with 195 receptions, 15 touchdowns, and 2,084 yards in the 2020 and 2021 seasons alone. His performance dipped in 2022, but headlines were already predicting his potential contribution.
This accumulation of talent on the sidelines necessitates a tactical reshuffle. George Pickens, a second-round pick boasting a strong rookie season, moves into the top spot while veteran Allen Robinson II steps up to WR #2. Calvin Austin III will become the Steelers’ primary slot receiver.
Heyward’s disruption also creates a vacuum which head coach Mike Tomlin plans to fill with a roster of talented yet untested replacements. Isaiahh Loudermilk, DeMarvin Leal, Armon Watts, and rookie Keeanu Benton will all have key roles to play in compensating for Heyward’s absence.
While these injuries bring uncertainty, Tomlin is focused on the tactics needed to overcome the obstacles. As he emphasizes, the ethos “next man up” must be embodied by every member of the squad to successfully navigate this challenging phase.
Despite these setbacks, the Steelers’ reputation for consistency is not completely marred. For 20 years, this team has avoided a losing season and impressed on the field under the seasoned stewardship of Coach Tomlin. Now they face a crucial juncture in this season’s narrative with an upcoming matchup against the Cleveland Brown.
As history shows, teams who start the season 0-2 have a difficult trajectory towards the playoffs. Aware of this statistic, the Steelers are ready to convert the next match to a decisive win. Thereby they could commence the uphill path to playoff qualification, currently odds +205 according to DraftKings.
The stakes for the second-week matchup are high. The Steelers are the +2 underdogs against the Browns. This second home dog position in a row challenges them to outperform expectations, particularly in a division known for tough inter-team clashes. With teams like the Browns and Baltimore Ravens at +200 odds to win the AFC North, the road ahead for the Steelers is a challenging one.
Their future is further clouded by a drop in odds after the Week 1 setback. A long shot to win the AFC North at +750 odds, they are also predicted to finish last in the race. In the bigger picture, they are +7500 odds to win Super Bowl LVIII and +3000 odds to claim the AFC Championship. Despite the injuries and these odds, the Steelers are prepared to rise above these adversities and unleash “next man up” to full effect.