|Pittsburgh Sports Talk|
Pittsburgh Sports Talk Pittsburgh Sports Talk
|Pittsburgh Sports Talk|
Key Take Aways From The Steelers 1st Preseason Game ----------------------------
---------------------------------------------------- By, Jared Kanter -----------------------------------------------------
There was a lot to be excited about for Steelers Nation at the conclusion of Saturday’s preseason contest. The exhibition match gave fans a window into what their Matt Canada led offense might look like with a more mobile passer under center and provided an opportunity to observe their highly touted draft class in game-speed action. Here are what I consider to be the key takeaways from our first look at the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers:
Improvement Within The Offensive Line
It is no secret that last year’s offensive line was a primary factor in the team’s underwhelming offensive performance. A productive run game has stood atop coach Mike Tomlin’s list of priorities for as long as he has led the team. Prior to the campaign’s start last year it felt as though the question had been answered with the acquisition of elite talent Najee Harris, but veteran departures within the offensive line left an already questionable unit desperate for young talent. In 2021 the Steeler’s front 5 ranked 32nd in the NFL and allowed its running back to be contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage on 42% of carries. Revamping this unit was clearly a point of emphasis for the front office through the execution of this past off-season. The acquisition of veteran center Mason Cole and 4-year starting guard James Daniels serves to solidify the interior line play and reaffirm an experienced presence within the unit. While these acquisitions look to fill a need at their respective positions, it is also the front office’s hope that they might facilitate the growth of last year’s draft picks Kendrick Green and Dan Moore Jr. Strides in the right direction appear to have been taken as the Steelers did manage 185 yards on the ground at a 6.85 per rush clip in their preseason opener. The unit’s pass protection, however, still left a lot to be desired as it mirrored a multitude of the same breakdowns we became privy to throughout the 2021 season. It is important to remember that effective offensive line play requires familiarity and trust to exist between those in the unit. It is very much so a process and this collection of guys have only recently been acquainted so it is fair to say that the Steelers are still early in this process. The squad has plenty of reps remaining prior to the start of the season to conjure the familiarity and trust necessary to address these prevalent shortcomings. The success we witnessed in the run game should serve as an encouraging step in the right direction.
A Legitimate Competition At Quarterback
It has been a long time since the Steelers found themselves in need of transparency at the quarterback position. For as long as most Steelers fans can remember it has been #7 under center. As the offense enters it’s first legitimate rebuild in almost 2 decades, the roster welcomes Mitch Trubisky and rookie Kenny Pickett into the folds. Both young and eager to prove themselves an asset on the turf, we witnessed a determination under center that we haven’t seen in a preseason contest since Ben took the job in 2004. Both registered an impressive performance. Trubisky’s reps were limited to the first quarter but we saw him confidently take the 1st team down the field and score an opening drive touchdown. He would finish with 63 yards on 4 of 7 passing. The team’s only familiar name at the position, Mason Rudolph, would then take over and do the same. On 15 attempts he was capable of accumulating 93 yards of offense and threw a perfectly placed 26-yard touchdown pass to outstanding rookie George Pickens in the back of the endzone. Finally, Kenny Pickett would enter the game. The Steelers invested serious draft capital to acquire this young man under the assumption that he would one day exist as the new face of their franchise. His 20th overall selection marks the first time since 1997 that the Steelers drafted a quarterback in the first round. His play on Saturday suggests that this investment may have very well been worth the capital. He finished the game with 95 yards through the air and 2 touchdowns, including a game winning drive that had Steelers fans in attendance on their feet. He completed 13 of his 15 pass attempts and earned a QBR of 132.6 which is the highest ever achieved by a rookie in their first NFL game. He looked confident in the pocket but didn’t hesitate to escape when necessary. He displayed a mobility that has been lacking from the Steelers offense for some time now, moving the chains with his legs on more than one occasion. The performance earned praise from his head coach, his teammates, and the fan base which is as much as you can hope for in a preseason debut. While the development should without a doubt be encouraging, Steelers fans should take a deep breath, a step back, and recognize that while he did look impressive, he has a long road ahead prior to being trusted with the leadership of an NFL offense. Instead of calling for Pickett’s immediate promotion, Steelers Nation should be content in the fact that they appear to have 3 competent quarterbacks, all with a legitimate chance of winning the job and filling the sizeable shoes left behind by Steelers great Ben Roethlisberger.
The Pittsburgh Steelers boast the most expensive defensive unit in the NFL. Our coaching staff and front office have always been strong believers in the fact that it is defense that wins championships and for that to be true this season, there are holes that needed filled. The signing of Myles Jack looks to be a strong move as he thoroughly impressed in his first action as a Steeler. He stood out in pass coverage and never failed to oblige his assignment. Devin Bush on the other hand, still appears to be answerless in his attempts to right the ship after a subpar 2021 season. There was more than one occasion that he appeared flat-footed, indecisive, and impatient. These instances ended up costing the team yardage on the ground and suggest that the 2nd MLB position is very much so up for grabs. The first team defense was absent a lot of star power with no appearances from TJ Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Cam Heyward, and a multitude of other name within the front 7. This did not stop the unit from holding the Seahawks to 3 points through the majority of the first half. Standout performances from 2nd level players like Myles, Arthur Maulet, Tre Norwood, and more suggest that the Steeler’s hefty investment in the defensive side of the ball may end up coming to fruition. It goes without saying that more will be revealed as the preseason continues and hopefully we get to see the entirety of our defensive unit out there together.
Outstanding Rookie Class
Strong contributions were made by this year’s draft class. 2nd round pick George Pickens continues to live up to the hype, catching 3 balls for 43 yards and a touchdown. He displayed effective route running on the first reception of the game and phenomenal body control on a toe-drag sideline catch. He topped the showing off with an incredible back right corner touchdown reception from Mason Rudolph in the second quarter. Pro Football Focus gave this ball at 9.9% chance at being caught and the young receiver made it look easy. While fellow rookie Calvin Austin didn’t make an appearance on Saturday, the reports out of camp on him are encouraging as well. 3rd round pick DeMarvin Leal impressed in his limited work too. He managed to effectively fill gaps on the defensive line and left the game with 2 tackles. Connor Heyward showed some versatility in effective blocking as well as a pair of receptions for 24 yards. Youth and the energy that youth brings is just as important to a football team as the experience and calm minded grit that the veterans provide. This Steelers team appears to have an effective balance of the two.