1) The first-team offense was on fire.
Le'Veon Bell, Markus Wheaton, DeAngelo Williams, Martavis Bryant, Antonio Brown the offensive line, and Big Ben Roethlisberger answered an important question during the opening drive. How good is the Steelers first-team offense? Very good. Scary good. From the Martavis Bryant TD to the two-point conversion to put the Steelers up by eight mere minutes into the game, the Steelers offense is one of the best units in the league.
First Team Offense Grade: A+
2) Special teams were not on fire
For all the worry about the Steelers secondary and pass rush, the defense is not the weak link on the Black and Gold. Special teams has that honor. Danny Smith is the special teams coach, so it would be easy to place the blame on him. Special teams, however, face more challenges than other units. Most of the players on special teams were among the best players on their college teams. Unfortunately, entry level jobs in the NFL aren't the positions they played when they were stars. These players are relegated to returns, punt coverage, and kick coverage, jobs these players might not be familiar with. Pair that lack of experience with the Jackson Jaguars choice to put almost all of their kicks outside of the endzone, rendering them non-returnable, and guys unfamiliar with special teams coverage do not get the experience they need to improve.
Still, for now they are struggling, allowing 25 yards per kickoff return and 15 on punt returns. Not acceptable.
Special Teams Grade: D (Only because Hartley didn't suck)
3) Ryan Shazier looked pretty good
If I had to pick one word to describe Shazier in Friday night's game, it would be "everywhere." He was in the right place at the right time, and it didn't matter where that place was or what the time was, he figured it out and put himself in position to make big plays. He overran a few plays and missed a few tackles, but overall his contribution was strong. He was one of the bright spots on the Steelers defense Friday night.
Our 2014 first-round draft pick showed signs of promise last year before he was sidelined with an injury during the third game of the regular season that kept him out seven games. In the offseason, questions arose about his ability to live up to his potential. His draft report described him as agile, quick, strong, speedy, and "a disruptive playmaker vs. the run and the pass." Shazier is showing he is an impact player worthy of our first-round pick, leading the team in tackles during each of the two preseason games.
Ryan Shazier Grade: B+
4) Steelers secondary trying to eliminate glitches
The Steelers continued to try out some Cover 2 looks, which Tomlin, a proponent of Cover 2 from his time in Tampa, was personally teaching early on in training camp. We need to keep in mind that the Steelers are still learning their jobs and trying out new schemes. Players new to the NFL are also needing to step up and deliver, another challenge facing Butler and his defense.
Evidence of struggles with the new coverage was Shamarko Thomas biting underneath on a play leaving B.W. Webb haplessly chasing the Jaguars receiver into the end zone. That was a theme of the night as the safeties provided minimal support for Webb who was often left scrambling, covering for their mistakes. Alden Darby, who looked pretty good last week, struggled with Cover 2 as well.
A bright spot in addition to B.W. Webb, the other half of the double-consonant duo, Kevin Fogg seemed comfortable with the Cover 2 scheme. He told me last week that he was comfortable with the Cover 2 from his time at Liberty University: "Liberty ran Cover 2 and we ran a lot of that with my first coaching staff." He also told me about one of his strengths, "I can cover well. I may be smaller to some people, but I'm pretty physical in the way I play the game."
Practice makes perfect, so hopefully by the start of the regular season new players will be even more competent and all players will be more confident in their execution of these new schemes.
Also important to note, experienced Veteran and Pro Bowl LB Lawrence Timmons did not play on Friday. And, a rather poor pass rush, marked by over pursuits, also made the secondary's job a bit harder than it should have been.
Steelers Secondary: C-
5) Limited snaps for Harrison in the regular season? I don't think so
James Harrison was one of the strongest players on the defense on Friday, responsible for several big plays including a phenomenal sack-fumble on Blake Bortles. It will be hard to justify sitting out a man who has the drive, strength, fitness, football smarts, and nastiness the Steelers need to restore their defense to its former glory (if glory means consistently inflicting terror and pain on opposing offenses).
Harrison was also the Steelers defense's worst critic saying after the game, "I didn't see anything that we really did too well, to be honest." At least his sack went well.
And, as an aside, according to Ramon Foster a young player (whom Foster graciously decided not to name) thought Harrison was retired and helping out as a coach, saying, again, according to Foster, "Man, I thought that dude was retired and helping out!" Oops. Guess that's how you're perceived when you're forced to spend the first week of camp in sweats.
James Harrison Grade: A (Mostly because he's terrifying! Have to give the man an A)
6) Sammie Coates and Garrett Hartley played well
Sammie Coates had a phenomenal catch in Friday's game. Despite worries about his ability to concentrate, follow through on plays, and not drop the ball, Coates has delivered-- most of the time-- in the preseason.
Coates was also a bright spot in special teams coverage, performing competently as a gunner in coverage.
Shaun Suisham's injury was a tough blow to the Black and Gold, but Hartley is helping to put fans' minds at ease by performing well in practice and during the game. On Friday he was good from 48-yards, for the 33-yard extra point, and another 29-yarder. And, if you didn't already know, Hartley is a cohost of an outdoor show, which explains his profile picture on Twitter.
Felt great being back in action..@steelers close game with situations which we cannot script. Wheels up coming back home— Garrett Hartley (@GHartley5) August 15, 2015
Coates and Hartley Grade: A
And, a bonus observation since we are working towards our seventh ring this season:
7) Landry Jones struggled again
My rating for Landry Jones on Friday night was B.O.B. - Bring out Boyd. That's about a two on a scale of one to ten for those of you who prefer numerical Likert scales. It isn't clear what the Steelers hope to find out by having Jones in the game quarter after unproductive quarter, especially since Tajh Boyd is a plausible option having had a successful career at Clemson.
Landry Jones Grade: Bring out Boyd
This clearly wasn't a comprehensive list. What were some of your observations from the second preseason game?