The Pittsburgh Steelers quickly put any concerns regarding the state of their offense to rest by blowing out the New Orleans Saints 27-14 on Friday. Unlike Pittsburgh's previous two losses to the Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions, however, Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell took the field together.
It was sure worth the wait.
Brown caught four passes for 87 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown, while Roethlisberger completed 12 out of 17 passes for 148 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Bell, meanwhile, played well into the second quarter, finishing the game with three carries for 21 yards as well as five catches for 37 yards.
Though Pittsburgh's big three won't share the same field again until Week 4, it is safe to declare that the starting offense's proverbial arrow is pointed up. As for the rest of the team...
Members of the starting offense who are NOT Bell, Brown and Roethlisberger - Stock up
Eli Rogers and Jesse James are going to be vital components of Pittsburgh's offense in 2016. Rogers, much to the chagrin of fantasy "experts" everywhere, started the game as the No. 3 receiver. At this point, Rogers just seems to know the position better than fellow sophomore Sammie Coates. James, who is growing as a blocker on a week-by-week basis, made an excellent play on Friday in which he broke loose from his blocking assignment mid-play in order to give Roethlisberger an extra target. Roethlisberger found James for a five-yard touchdown strike.
Big dudes - Stock down
Star DE Cam Heyward exited Friday's game after injuring his foot while starting RT Marcus Gilbert sustained an elbow injury. Heyward says he expects to play Week 1, while Mike Tomlin stated in his post-game press conference that Gilbert's injury isn't serious. This is certainly encouraging news, but we will be monitoring this situation closely over the next few days.
Pittsburgh's secondary - Stable
I am on record as saying that I think Pittsburgh will have the worst secondary in the NFL this season. I was wrong. As long as the New Orleans Saints continue to be an NFL franchise, the Steelers will be no worse than 31st in the league.
Drew Brees was surgical in his limited action against the Steelers, but, then again, this is not uncommon for the future Hall of Famer.
Landry Jones - Stock up
Jones, widely considered to be the worst quarterback in NFL history (by Steelers fans), was in a torch-the-New-Orleans-Saints kind of mood on Friday, so he went ahead and did just that, completing 19 of 22 passes for 206 yards and one touchdown. After throwing four (four!) interceptions against the Eagles in Week 2 of the preseason, Jones has firmly established himself as Pittsburgh's backup quarterback.
Le'Veon Bell's knee - Stock up
Bell got a ton of work on Friday; like, way more work than you would like to see an All-Pro running back who is nine months removed from major knee surgery receive in a preseason game. Regardless, Bell looked explosive as a runner, smooth as a receiver and solid as a blocker. He fumbled, which is weird (he has just one fumble in 799 career touches), but it appears as if he will return to his All-Pro form when he returns on Oct. 2 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Receivers not named Brown, Wheaton, Heyward-Bey, Coates and Rogers (and maybe Demarcus Ayers) - Stock down
Nothing captures the intimacy between player and fan quite like training camp. For three weeks at the end of every summer, fans have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with unheralded prospects who are fighting for their professional lives. After camp wraps, however, reality begins to set in, and it becomes blindingly obvious that many of these dudes will be forced to seek employment elsewhere. This will most likely be the case for Levi Norwood, Cobi Hamilton, Marcus Tucker and Issac Blakeney. The Steelers will carry five receivers (Brown, Wheaton, Coates, Rogers and Heyward-Bey) into the regular season, though Demarcus Ayers does seem to have some upside as a Tavon Austin-ish utility weapon. But hey, if I had a dollar for every time I lauded Dri Archer's versatility, I could give Antonio Brown the raise that he deserves.
The front seven - Stock up
Being that the Steelers have so many capable linebackers and defensive linemen, their front seven is more like a front 13. Javon Hargrave should earn substantial playing time this very season as an interior pass rusher, and Vince William's success over the last three seasons have made longtime veteran Lawrence Timmons somewhat expendable after this season. The Steelers don't have a Khalil Mack or Von Miller, but they do have eight very capable linebackers. Adding Hargrave and Ricardo Matthews in the offseason is already paying off, as it takes some pressure off of Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, who were both in the top-five in snaps played among defensive linemen last season. The Steelers will be among the league leaders in sacks and run defense this season, and although the secondary will be sieve-like once again, at least it won't be as bad as New Orleans' secondary.
The Steelers will travel to Carolina to face the defending NFC Champion Panthers in the final game of the preseason on Sept 1.