The 2023 Pittsburgh Steelers are proof that the preseason doesn't matter. They were 3-0 in the exhibition slate and the first-team offense took the field for five series and scored a touchdown on each. However, the Steelers were utterly dominated at home in a Week 1 loss to San Francisco and now will be down two key players on Monday night in Week 2 against visiting Cleveland, which is up to -2 on the SportsLine consensus.
Top Steelers receiver Diontae Johnson is expected is expected to be sidelined at least a few weeks with a hamstring injury, and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Cameron Heyward could be out even longer with a groin injury.
The 27-year-old Johnson caught 86 passes on 147 targets for 882 yards but zero touchdowns last year and had three catches on six targets for 48 yards in last Sunday's 30-7 loss to the 49ers. Johnson went down after his biggest play of the day, a 26-yard reception. It was the fifth time in their past eight regular-season games the Steelers failed to score at least 20 points.
Second-year wideout George Pickens should slide into the No. 1 receiver role with Johnson out and veteran Allen Robinson into the No. 2 spot. Formerly of the Rams and Bears, Robinson led the team with five catches and 64 yards against San Francisco. Robinson served mostly from the slot while Calvin Austin in his NFL debut largely stepped into Johnson's role on the outside along with Pickens. Austin missed his entire 2022 rookie season due to injury. Gunner Olszewski was inactive against the 49ers but should dress in Johnson's spot on Monday.
Leaving out Johnson in Week 1, the Steelers wide receivers averaged just 8.5 yards per reception, a figure boosted significantly by a garbage-time 31-yard catch from Robinson. Johnson had 10 catches for 122 yards in two games last year vs. Cleveland.
As for Heyward, he is out indefinitely as he will need surgery. The 34-year-old six-time Pro Bowler entered the game two sacks away from the franchise's sack record of 80.5. He is expected to go on injured reserve but should return at some point this season. Rookie defensive tackle Keeanu Benton is a top candidate to see an expanded role. He was a second-round pick out of Wisconsin.
Pittsburgh puts two streaks on the line Monday: It has 19 won straight regular-season home games vs. the Browns, the second-longest home win streak vs a single team in NFL history, and has won 20 straight home games on Monday Night Football, the longest streak all-time. The Steelers' last home loss on Monday Night Football was 23-20 to the Giants in 1991. Pittsburgh did lose at home to Washington on a Monday in 2020, but that was a daytime start.
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