Well, that was fun! Sort of.
Once again, the Pittsburgh Steelers pulled out a win in the preseason late thanks to a masterful two-minute drive in the fourth quarter for the go-ahead touchdown from quarterback Mason Rudolph. Rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett looked good to close the first half, and the Steelers defense bent but didn’t break in the end, holding on for the 16-15 win to move to 2-0 in the preseason.
While it’s always nice to win, even in the preseason, there’s plenty to be concerned about coming out of the second performance in a stadium for the 2022 version of the Steelers. The first-team offense looked mostly abysmal, especially in the trenches. The run defense again remains a bit of a problem, and the Steelers had far too many penalties on the night.
Some good, some bad, some ugly. Let’s check out some positional grades.
QB — B+
The Steelers’ three-way quarterback competition continues to heat up in a major way.
Rookie Kenny Pickett stole the show again on Saturday night, leading a perfect two-minute drive at the end of the first half, capping it off with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Benny Snell Jr. out of the backfield to give the Steelers the lead at the break. Much like his NFL debut, Pickett was on time, had really good ball placement and really knew what was coming pre- and post-snap, allowing him to make quick, decisive reads.
Mason Rudolph looked really good in the second half as well, aside from the safety he took, which wasn’t really his fault if we’re being fair. Aside from that, he was accurate with the football, used his legs to extend some plays, took some shots down the field and really looked good in the two-minute drive late in the game before finding Tyler Snead for a 1-yard score on fourth and goal, giving the Steelers the lead.
Mitch Trubisky had the worst night of the quarterbacks, but that’s not in a negative way. Even behind a shaky offensive line that had him under duress all night, Trubisky did what he could with his legs, threw a pair of nice balls to Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson, and really did what he could while under siege.
Lots to like from the quarterback perspective coming out of this one.
RB — D+
After a strong performance last week, the running back room fell flat on its face this week.
Benny Snell Jr. lacked any sort of burst or physicality on three carries, finishing with -2 yards on the night. Doesn’t help that he didn’t have much room created in front of him. He also had a drop out of the backfield in the first quarter, though he bounced back in the second quarter with the touchdown catch from Pickett, shaking a tackler to dive into the end zone.
He was fine in pass protection too, but not much to like as a runner in this one.
Same for Jaylen Warren, who very clearly worked himself into the RB2 discussion in Pittsburgh. He ran for just three yards on three carries, but I did like what I saw in pass protection from him. He stood tall in front of oncoming defenders, stuck his face in there and competed. Love to see that. I did like what I saw from Warren as a pass catcher too, hauling in three catches for 24 yards, including a 13-yarder.
Anthony McFarland Jr. seems to be the odd man out, getting just three touches offensively on the night. He didn’t do much with them, gaining just eight total yards.
Mataeo Durant had the longest run of the night for a running back, gaining seven yards, but he fumbled without being touched on his lone carry and was fortunate to get it back. New running back Max Borghi added one carry for one yard in the win.
Not much to write home about in this one from this group. A bit discouraging.
WR — B
Tyler Vaughns is having quite the preseason for the Steelers. One week after catching the game-winning touchdown, Vaughns was pivotal in the two-minute drive to score the go-ahead touchdown. He was good getting into and out of his breaks and made plays after the catch, forcing some missed tackles to pick up additional yardage. He finished with four catches for 56 yards on the night and is solidifying his spot as a practice squad guy that could be elevated in 2022.
It was great to see Chase Claypool made a contested catch on the slot fade on the first drive of the game. That’s an area he has to make a jump in, and he got off to a great start in that department Saturday night on his 29-yard catch in the first quarter. Diontae Johnson also looked solid in limited action, making two catches for 33 yards in the win, winning consistently over the middle. He did have a ball bounce of his hands in the first quarter on a scramble drill from Trubisky that nearly went for an interception, but it was a tough play.
I did like what I saw from Tyler Snead in the second half. He ran a great route on the go-ahead touchdown and finished with three catches for 17 yards. He’s not long for the roster, but he’s making the case to stick on the practice squad after landing on the 90-man roster as a tryout guy.
Rookie George Pickens was quiet with just two catches for six yards, but nothing too concerning there. He just wasn’t targeted much, and wasn’t put in positions to win on routes.
Myles Boykin continues to make plays in contested situations and is really solidifying a spot on the 53-man roster. Gunner Olszewski had great effort on the 4th and 1 jet sweep, but he put the football on the ground in the process. Can’t have that.
TE — B-
The Pickett to Pat Freiermuth connection looked strong Saturday night as Freiermuth finished with two catches for 35 yards, including the great 24-yard play on the two-minute drive in which he ran a strong route, slipped behind the Jacksonville linebacker and caught the dart from Pickett.
He was rough as a blocker though, which isn’t much of a surprise overall. He’ll have to take a step there, and soon. Zach Gentry added one catch for nine yards, but he also struggled as a blocker in the win. Everyone in the trenches on offense struggled for the Steelers, to be quite honest.
Connor Heyward added one catch for two yards and was targeted on the 2-point conversion from Rudolph but couldn’t haul in the throw.
OL — F
Is there a grade lower than an F? That’s what I’d give the Steelers offensive line.
Dan Moore Jr. was easily the worst lineman on the field for the Steelers. He struggled with speed, tended to overset, and then really struggled to recover back inside, allowing a ton of pressure and the only sack on Trubisky on the night. It’s a pivotal second season for Moore Jr., but that’s two sacks allowed in two preseason games.
Opposite Moore, Chukwuma Okorafor had a really ugly run block rep, letting a Jacksonville defender cut underneath him for a big tackle for loss on Snell. Run blocking isn’t Okorafor’s strong suit, but he has to be better there.
Inside, there’s so much to be concerned with. Kendrick Green continues to remain rather rough in his transition back to left guard, and Kevin Dotson didn’t look any better rotating in and out with him.
James Daniels is an absolute mess right now. He’s completely fallen off, which has continued the trend of an ugly training camp overall. He’s really struggling in new OL coach Pat Meyer’s philosophy and is allowing way too much pressure. It’s making things harder for Mason Cole at center.
This entire offensive line is a mess. I expect the Steelers to be very active searching for answers there moving forward.
DL — C-
Getting the chance to see Larry Ogunjobi in action for the first time with the Steelers sure was a treat. He was consistently around the football in limited action and finished with three tackles. He’ll be a huge part of the run defense moving forward. Great to see him get some positive work.
DeMarvin Leal was the standout at the position though. The rookie had another strong game, this time recording his first sack after missing one last week. He created a bunch of pressure, was solid against the run and finished with two tackles in the win.
Henry Mondeaux and Tyson Alualu did a nice job getting their hands on passes to help the Steelers’ pass defense out overall.
That said, this group is still a bit concerning against the run. The Jaguars ripped off too many sizable runs on the night. The All-22 tape will show where the issues really were.
LB — C
It was a better showing from Devin Bush in this one, but still not good enough overall. He moved with more of a purpose against the Jaguars, looked strong in coverage and seemed to have a good feel for what was happening in front of him. That said, he allowed linemen and tight ends to reach him at the second level and couldn’t get off blocks in an ugly fashion.
Myles Jack, in his return to Jacksonville, looked really strong tying Bush for stops with four. He was a force downhill against the run and very clearly played with a chip on his shoulder.
Robert Spillane led the Steelers with eight tackles on the night. I like his compete level, but he’s still a liability. Rather rough in coverage, flashes a few times against the run, but just isn’t moving the needle much at all inside.
Rookie Mark Robinson looked really good in this one, finishing with five tackles, including monster hit in space. He’s looking better and better the more reps he gets. Lots to like there. Feels like he’s passed Buddy Johnson already, who remains rough in coverage and isn’t quite communicating well enough.
Outside, Genard Avery flashed at times as a pass rusher, but he lost outside contain twice, leading to two big scrambles from Jacksonville quarterbacks on the night.
I liked what I saw from Derrek Tuszka to open the second half. He was strong against the run and batted a pass while rushing the passer. Hamilcar Rashed Jr. looked solid too, making a push for the fourth OLB job with Tuszka.
Good news is, T.J. Watt is, well, T.J. Watt. Watt recorded a sack of Trevor Lawrence in the first quarter and got enough work in to feel prepared for the season opener on the road against Cincinnati. Put him on ice until Sept. 11.
DB — C+
There were a few plays to like from some members of the secondary, especially guys like Terrell Edmunds, Damontae Kazee and Carlins Platel, but overall the secondary was carved up by Lawrence, C.J. Beathard and E.J. Perry on the night.
Edmunds was very good in the box against the run, serving as the extra defender who really played well downhill. Same for Kazee, who seems to be gearing up for a big role in sub packages defensively for the Steelers.
After missing a tackle last week against Seattle that went for a huge splash play, Platel did an excellent job coming downhill to make a stop on third down late in the game. Great show of growth from the UDFA.
Outside of those three there was plenty to be concerned about. Donovan Stiner continues to miss tackles at a frustrating clip. He had a real opportunity in front of him with Miles Killebrew’s injury, but couldn’t take advantage, even though he recorded six tackles. He missed at least two tackles on the night.
I did like what I saw from Levi Wallace, Ahkello Witherspoon and Cameron Sutton in limited action. Behind those three though, Justin Layne, Chris Steele, Linden Stephens and even Tre Norwood were a bit rough. Sure, Layne had an interception that set up the go-ahead touchdown drive, but it was a gift thrown to him. Steele couldn’t come downhill to stick his face into the fan against Beathard on his touchdown run, and Stephens continues to miss tackles.
Special Teams — B-
Chris Boswell looked rather shaky Saturday night, which is a bit concerning. Hopefully it was just a hiccup, but he missed from 53 yards and just squeezed his extra point attempt inside the upright. He just didn’t seem himself.
Nick Sciba did a nice job connecting from 38 yards in the second half. Feels like he’ll be sticking around awhile on the practice squad.
Pressley Harvin III had a nice night for the Steelers, punting four times, averaging 44.3 yards per punt for the Steelers. His long was 47 yards and he did have one touchback on the night. The play of the game for him was the 76-yard free kick after the safety, which drew a ton of praise. He sure can rip it when he has the whole field to work with.
In the return game McFarland looked really good on his 38-yard kickoff return. He forced a missed tackle and showed some power at the end of it. Olszewski had a 27-yard kickoff return in his lone look in that role. Coverage overall was solid for the Steelers as they held the Jaguars to just 20 yards per return.
Benny Snell had a great rep tackling Lavish Shenault Jr. on a punt, using textbook form to get him on the ground. He’ll stick around due to special teams abilities.
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