After a game, even a meaningless preseason game, there are players who impress, and some who disappoint. This is where our weekly “Winners and Losers” column was born. Sometimes being labeled a loser is a bit harsh, but ultimately there are players every game who simply aren’t up to “the standard”.
Anthony Chickillo - Those who suggest there isn’t a battle at outside linebacker, there certainly is one at the reserve position for the black and gold. Arthur Moats stole the show in Week 1 against the New York Giants, but it was Chickillo, who had 2 sacks, 1 pass defense and 5 total tackles. Chalk one up to Chickillo in Round 2, with 2 rounds to go.
Special Teams - Special Teams coordinator Danny Smith has been a punching bag for years with the Pittsburgh fan base, but you can’t complain about his unit’s performance Sunday. A punt return for a touchdown, a blocked punt, perfect place kicking and pinning the opponent deep into their end. Solid day, and it truly does make a difference.
Trey Williams - Speaking of those special teams plays, none were bigger than Trey Williams’ 64-yard punt return for a touchdown. As someone just trying to make the roster, making a splash play like that can go a long way in helping you do just that. It is always good to see those battling for their jobs to be able to make an impact like Williams did.
James Conner - I’m not going to lie, I had James Conner on my losers list until about mid-way through the 3rd quarter. I know he was playing against the second and third string players, but the way Conner ran the ball, even against the first and second string, shows tremendous hope for the young running back. 20 carries for 98 yards, a 4.9 yards per carry pace, is a tremendous start.
Sack Parade - For the second straight game, the Steelers were able to get after the quarterback. 4 sacks this week, with 6 quarterback hits, was again a trademark of the defense. The starting unit was able to get pressure, but the absence of Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree was noticeable. Preseason or not, I always love watching the Steelers sack the quarterback.
Jordan Dangerfield - While Chickillo might have won the early defensive MVP award, Dangerfield’s two interceptions certainly got coaches’ attention in the second half. The first was a gimme, but the second was much more skilled. Good news for Dangerfield as he tries to secure his role as a backup safety on the 53-man roster.
Ross Cockrell - The entire starting defense didn’t look good, but Cockrell’s lack of closing speed was noticeable on Sunday as he was burned on more than one occasion. You can chalk it up to a lot of factors: lack of motivation, under estimating the opponent or simply not having a good day. Either way, Cockrell needs to improve to help solidify the team’s defensive secondary.
3rd Down Defense - The final stats for the Falcons’ third down conversion rate (5-for-16) is skewed with Pittsburgh performing better in the second half. The starters in the first half surrendered 5 of 6 third downs as Matt Ryan, and others, shredded the defense when it mattered most. If the preseason is to get film on tape for improvement, there will be plenty to digest this week. It was downright bad.
James Conner’s Hands - James Conner, and his legs, were winners, but his hands were big-time losers. The 3rd and 2 drop was bad, and it only got worse as the game progressed. So Conner isn’t Le’Veon Bell when it comes to catching the football. Breaking news — not many are. However, he will have to show he can at least catch dump offs and screens to be a true dual threat in the NFL.