NEW ORLEANS -- The passing yards and explosive plays from Friday night pale in comparison to one crucial non-statistical observation.
The Pittsburgh Steelers looked functional at tight end.
Jesse James was comfortable running with the first-team offense in the Steelers' 27-14 win. With Ladarius Green still out and a candidate to start the year on the PUP list, James' four catches for 25 yards and a touchdown in the Superdome came at a crucial time.
The Steelers need someone to emerge at this spot, and though James isn't a burner, he showed he can function within the offense and get open if a play breaks down.
"I thought he played really well tonight," said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who torched the Saints for 147 yards and two scores in one quarter of work.
On James' 5-yard touchdown, Roethlisberger looked toward Antonio Brown, who was double-covered. Running back Le'Veon Bell was the next option, but as the linemen shifted the play to the left, James found an open patch of turf and 'popped open,' Roethlisberger remembered.
This is the quintessential Roethlisberger play, and pass-catchers must adjust when he moves out of the pocket.
"A makeshift, scramble, backyard play," said Roethlisberger of the touchdown. "Happy to see Jesse, a new guy, make a play."
James' place in the lineup isn't without its questions. He must prove he's a stout blocker, as this offense requires it. James has generally looked steady in this area but his missed block off the edge last week against the Philadelphia Eagles resulted in a Landry Jones interception.
Coming off an eight-catch rookie year, James is still finding his timing with Roethlisberger. Early in the first drive, James was supposed to sit on a route but kept running. Roethlisberger threw the ball behind James to get him to stop, the quarterback said. James couldn't secure the ball and took a hit afterward.
But the Steelers' no-huddle offense gave James a screen pass and what Roethlisberger calls 'quick stick' stuff to get him a few easy catches. At 6-foot-6 with sure hands, James can handle that.
"Not trying to be Heath Miller -- obviously no one can be Heath -- but just step up and perform," said Roethlisberger about expectations for the tight-end group. "And I thought they did a great job of that tonight."
James won't be the deep threat down the seam that Green can be. But expect him to use his lengthy frame to create mismatches in the red zone. That's where James can make his biggest impact.