By: KDKA-TV News Staff
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (KDKA) - As the Steelers get prepared for their home opener against Las Vegas at Heinz Field in week two following an unexpected season-opening victory against the Buffalo Bills, the league is taking notice of the Steelers' defense.
"I learned that this defense has a chance to be really special and they've been building toward that over the last few seasons, but make no mistake, they won that game along with special teams. Yes, the offense woke up in the second half and made enough plays to win that game, but it was the defense and a big play on special teams that was the story of it," said NFL on CBS analyst Evan Washburn.
While the first half saw the offense held off the board, it's not much of a concern for Washburn, because, with rookies and a new coordinator, they're finding their way.
To start the year, the offense is going through some growing pains.
"They have four rookies starting offensively, two on the offensive line, in a challenging environment, and they just didn't play well in the first half," Washburn said. "They also didn't make any massive mistake that set them back, and that was important as well. This team is going to go as far, at least in the first half of the season as they find their way offensively, as the defense will take them. Based off of the way they played in that game against a really dynamic offense, that could be a place where the defense could take this team to some impressive places."
It may have not been a huge day for rookie running back Najee Harris but it's clear Tomlin and the coaching staff have trust in what he will become as the Steelers' starter.
"It should be noted that he played every snap of that game and that in itself is an accomplishment," said Washburn. "That's a testament to his physicality, his conditioning, and the comfort Pittsburgh has in him to be in the game in the biggest moments, even when they aren't running the ball, whether it be as a pass catcher or in protection."
Preseason predictions of the AFC North have the Browns and Ravens as the favorites to come out of the division and in Washburn's estimation, that's exactly the type of motivation Head Coach Mike Tomlin and the rest of the team needs to have a big year.
"This is strictly an opinion, they like it," he said. "They've been the hunted in that division, along with Baltimore for so long, and now everyone is penciling in Cleveland/Baltimore as the two teams that get out of that AFC North and think Pittsburgh likes the idea of being able to sneak up on folks - and they did it week one, they beat a team that many have right there with Kansas City atop the AFC."
The Steelers open their home schedule this Sunday at Heinz Field at 1:00 against the Las Vegas Raiders.
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