The Pittsburgh Steelers benched many of their stars and veterans for their first preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings. We bring back our traditional report on the winners and losers or the Steelers in their performance this week.
Dri Archer - After an abysmal rookie season, Dri Archer turned in a solid preseason performance with 6 carries for 24 yards and 6 catches for 33 yards. Though the yards don't look impressive in a postgame observation of the stat sheet, Archer converted three of the four third downs which the Steelers were able to extend drives within the game. Archer's speed was a consistent asset whenever the ball was put in his hands and the limited success of the Steelers' offense was often through him.
Ryan Shazier - Some may debate Shazier being a winner because of his early mistakes on the opening drive, but after whiffing on some early tackles Shazier seemed to dial in after his first few mistakes. Shazier came up big for a fourth down stop in the red zone on the opening drive when he shot right through the middle of the line, took out the Vikings' full back and put a hit on the running back, leading a Steelers' charge that caused a turnover on downs. Shazier also looked good in some open space tackles he made as the game continued.
Honorable Mentions: Shakim Phillips and Sammie Coates.
For what it's worth, Coates and Phillips both made impressive catches when the ball was thrown close enough to them. Both also gave problems to the first round draft pick, and considered best cornerback of the 2015 draft, Trae Waynes. Phillips beat Waynes for a big one-handed catch that got the Steelers inside the red zone for the first time in the game. Coates almost pulled in a spectacular one-handed grab in the corner of the endzone while being held on to by a Vikings cornerback. Coates then beat his man for what would have been an easy touchdown Coates would later make a big catch in traffic that set up a 4th down and 1 which the Steelers would convert. Coates also drew a pass interference call against Waynes that set up the Steelers inside the five yard line.
The only thing that held these two as solid winners were because they collectively only managed three receptions. However that was more in part to the first guy on our losers list.
Landry Jones - The reins of the Steelers' offense were in the hands of Jones for the entire game, and although he did not have the Steelers' best weapons available, he did have several opportunities to lead them to scoring drives. Jones looked pretty much how he has always looked for the Steelers in the preseason: lost, inaccurate and underperforming. He went 16-for-32 in passes for 135 yards and no touchdowns. He also appeared to not have a strong grasp on the time of the play clock, allowing several delay of game penalties and seemingly unaware of situational urgency. This was probably his best last chance at earning a spot as a long term backup for the Steelers moving forward and he did not deliver in the manner which he needed to earn the spot. He consistently missed open receivers and there were at least two touchdowns he missed on in a severe overthrow intended for Coates and a overthrow that led to a stumbling one-handed grab by Shakim Phillips. You could say he missed a touchdown pass to CJ Goodwin, but he still delivered that pass on target to the guy who should have scored the touchdown, and by his failures also made the losers list. Jones' performance might have sealed his fate with the Steelers and opened the door for another quarterback to take his place.
Jesse James - As a rookie's first preseason performance, James' could not have gone much worse outside of suffering a serious injury. James dropped the previously mentioned touchdown pass which Jones delivered squarely to James' chest at the one yard line after a well executed tight end delay play. James stayed into block just long enough to come off the line and be uncovered, had the ball right in his chest and dropped a fourth down opportunity to score a touchdown. For a guy that is supposed to be a red zone threat, that was not a good start to his career. He also had another pass hit him squarely in the numbers that resulted in a turnover. The scorers on nfl.com recorded it as a fumble but from watching the game it looked more like a bobbled pass that was never caught and was intercepted. He also committed a false start penalty to round out what was a rough night for the fifth round draft pick from Penn State. Hopefully he improves.
Devin Gardner - On a team that's loaded with talent at the wide receiver position, you need to maximize every opportunity you get to make plays if you want to make the team at that position. Gardner did not do this against the Vikings. He recorded no receptions and dropped a sure touchdown pass from Jones in the first half. Considering the rookie status of Coates as well as his performance in this game, as well as that of Phillips and the standing of the Steelers' wide receiver corps, Gardner may be on the way out sooner rather than later.