Well, that was fun! Kind of.
Once again, the Pittsburgh Steelers pulled out a late preseason win thanks to a masterful two-minute drive in the fourth quarter for quarterback Mason Rudolph’s go-ahead touchdown. Rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett looked good to close out the first half, and the Steelers defense buckled 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 a lot to worry about coming out of the second performance in a stadium for the 2022 version of the Steelers. The first-team offense looked terrible for the most part, especially in the trenches. The run defense remains a bit of an issue again, and the Steelers had far too many penalties on the night.
Some good, some bad, some ugly. Let’s check some position grades.
QB — B+
The Steelers’ three-way quarterback competition continues to heat up in a major way.
Rookie Kenny Pickett stole the show again 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 touchdown. 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, except for the safety he took, which wasn’t really his fault if we’re being fair. Other than that, he was accurate with the football, used his legs to extend some plays, took some shots down the field and really looked good on 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 couple of nice balls to Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson, and really did what he could while under siege.
A lot to like from the quarterback perspective coming out of this one.
RB — D+
After a strong performance last week, the running room fell flat this week.
To Benny Snell Jr. lacked any kind of explosion or physicality on three carries, finishing with -2 yards on the night. It doesn’t help that he didn’t have much room created in front of him. He also had a fall out of the backfield in the first quarter, though he rebounded in the second quarter with Pickett’s touchdown catch, shaking off a tackle to dive into the end zone.
He was good in pass protection as well, but not much liked as a runner in this one.
Same for Jaylen Warren, who has very clearly worked his way into the RB2 discussion in Pittsburgh. He only ran for three yards on three carries, but I liked 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 also liked what I saw from Warren as a pass catcher, 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 getting touched on his only carry and was lucky to get it back. Freshman running back Max Borghi added one carry for one yard in the win.
Not much to write home about in this one of this group. A bit discouraging.
WR – B
Tyler Vaughns has had 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 in and out of his breaks and made plays after the catch, forcing some missed tackles to pick up extra yardage. He finished with four catches for 56 yards on the night and solidifies his place as a practice squad player who could be promoted in 2022.
It was great to see Chase Claypool make a contested catch on the slot fade on the first drive of the game. That’s an area he needs to make a leap into, and he made 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 had the ball bounce off his hands in the first quarter on a scrambled drill by Trubisky that almost went for an interception, but it was a tough play.
I liked what I saw from Tyler Snead in the second half. He ran a great route for the touchdown and finished with three catches for 17 yards. He’s not long for the roster, but he’s making the case to stay on the practice squad after landing on the 90-man roster as a test drive.
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 play in contested situations and is really solidifying a spot on the 53-man roster. Gunner Olszewski had a great effort on the 4th and 1 jet sweep, but he put the football on the ground in the process. Can’t have that.
LA — B-
The Pickett to Pat Freiermuth connection looked strong Saturday night as Freiermuth finished with two catches for 35 yards, including the superb 24-yard play on the two-minute drive in which he ran a strong route, slipped behind the Jacksonville linebacker and grabbed the dart by Pickett.
He was rough as a blocker though, which isn’t much of a surprise overall. He will 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 offensively struggled for the Steelers, to be quite honest.
Connor Heyward added one catch for two yards and was targeted on Rudolph’s 2-point conversion but couldn’t haul in the throw.
OL – F
Is there a grade lower than an F? That’s what I would give the Steelers offensive line.
Dan Moore Jr. was easily the worst lineman on the field for the Steelers. He struggled with speed, was prone to turnovers, and then really struggled to recover 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.
Against Moore, Chukwuma Okorafor had a really ugly run block rep, letting a Jacksonville defender cut under him for a big tackle for a loss on Snell. Run blocking is not Okorafor’s strong suit, but he needs to be better there.
Inside, there is so much to worry about. Kendrick Green continues to remain pretty rough in his transition back to left guard, and Kevin Dotson hasn’t looked any better rotating in and out with him.
James Daniels is an absolute mess right now. He completely fell off, which continued the trend of an ugly training camp overall. He really struggles in new OL coach Pat Meyer’s philosophy and allows too much pressure. It makes things difficult for Mason Cole in the center.
This entire offensive line is a mess. I expect the Steelers to be very active in looking for answers there going forward.
DL — C-
Getting the chance to see Larry Ogunjobi in action for the first time with the Steelers was definitely a treat. He was constantly around the football in limited action and finished with three tackles. He will be a huge part of the run defense going forward. Great to see him get a positive job.
DeMarvin Leal, however, was the standout at the position. The rookie had another strong game, this time recording his first sack after missing one last week. He created a ton 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 wary of the run. The Jaguars ripped off too many significant runs on the night. The All-22 tape will show where things 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 purpose against the Jaguars, looked strong in coverage and seemed to have a good feel for what was going on in front of him. That said, he allowed linemen and tight ends to get to him on the second level and couldn’t get off blocks in ugly fashion.
Myles Jack, in his return to Jacksonville, looked really strong tying Bush for stops with four. He was a force down 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 competitive level, but he’s still a liability. Rather rough in coverage, flashes a few times against the run, but just doesn’t move the needle in much.
Rookie Mark Robinson looked really good in this one, finishing with five tackles, including a monster hit in space. He looks better and better the more reps he gets. Much to like there. It looks like he’s already passed Buddy Johnson, who remains rough in coverage and doesn’t communicate well enough.
On the outside, Genard Avery flashed at times as a pass rusher, but he lost outside contains twice, leading to two big scrambles by 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 hit a pass rushing the passer. Hamilcar Rashed Jr. looked solid as well, making a push for the fourth OLB job with Tuszka.
Good news is, TJ Watt is, well, TJ Watt. Watt recorded a sack of Trevor Lawrence in the first quarter and got enough work to feel ready for the season opener on the road against Cincinnati. Put him on ice until September 11th.
DB — C+
There were some likable plays from some members of the secondary, especially guys like Terrell Edmunds, Damontae Kazee and Carlins Platel, but overall the secondary was shredded by Lawrence, CJ Beathard and EJ Perry on the night.
Edmunds was very good in the box against the run, serving as the extra defender who really played well downfield. Ditto for Kazee, who appears 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 a great job coming down to make a third down stop late in the game. Great show of growth of the UDFA.
Outside of those three there was plenty to worry about. Donovan Stiner continues to miss tackles at a frustrating clip. He had a real opportunity in front of him with the injury to Miles Killebrew, but was unable to capitalize, although he did record six tackles. He missed at least two tackles on the night.
I liked what I saw of 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 start of a touchdown drive, but it was a gift thrown to him. Steele couldn’t get down to put his face in the fan against Beathard on his touchdown run, and Stephens continues to miss tackles.
Special Teams – B-
Chris Boswell looked pretty shaky on Saturday night, which is a bit of a concern. Hopefully it was just a hiccup, but he missed from 53 yards and just pushed his extra point attempt inside the upright. He just didn’t seem like himself.
Nick Sciba did a nice job connecting from 38 yards in the second half. Feels like he’ll stay on the practice squad for a bit.
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 had one touchdown on the night. The game for him was the 76-yard free kick after the safety that drew a lot of praise. He sure can tear it up when he has the whole field to work with.
In the return game McFarland looked really good on his 38 yard kick return. He forced a missed tackle and showed some power at the end of it. Olszewski had a 27-yard kickoff return in his only appearance 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 canoe, using textbook form to get him on the ground. He will stick around because of special teams skills.