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Steelers Stock Report: Whose stock is rising, and falling, after the preseason win over the Falcons

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The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at Heinz Field, but not everything was perfect for the black and gold.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

I still don’t want to make any overzealous statements, but Anthony Chickillo is the best outside linebacker in NFL history. Chickillo, clearly inspired by the dominant performances by T.J. Watt and Arthur Moats one week ago, collected five solo tackles, a pair of sacks, and a pass deflection in Pittsburgh’s come-from-behind 17-13 victory over the Falcons. (It isn’t important to mention this, but the Falcons have blown leads in each of their past three games, dating back to last year’s Super Bowl.) (I thought this was funny).

The fact that three of Pittsburgh’s outside linebackers now have seven sacks between them after two preseason games is not particularly noteworthy in and of itself, but it does indicate two things. First, it might prove that the Steelers could have five capable outside linebackers. While the idea of a single pass rusher collecting 85 or 90 sacks this season is enticing, the more realistic scenario is that several players collect five or six sacks. This is fine, and it brings us to the second point: if you paid close attention to some of the defensive looks that Keith Butler threw at Atlanta in the second half, you probably noticed that some of the blitz plays looked somewhat unconventional, almost as if they were saturated with hues of LeBeau (that sounded a lot less gross in my head). This is good. This signifies, potentially, that Butler and the Steelers will attempt to move away from some of the “vanilla” looks we’ve grown accustomed to seeing over the past two seasons. So, the Steelers could have a stable of very solid linebackers as well as a defensive coordinator who seems intent on incorporating some exotic blitz schemes with greater regularity. In this case, an arsenal full of powerful hellbeasts screaming off the edge will only serve to benefit the defense.

Game of Thrones is on tonight, so we’re keeping the remainder of this week’s stock report relatively short, because I really feel like Jon is gonna bend the knee any day now.

James Conner - Stock up

Humanity is doomed, and I know this because I searched James Conner’s name on Twitter after his second dropped pass in Sunday’s game. We all deserve to be enslaved by scorpion overlords.

Conner’s professional debut did not get off to a great start. He dropped two passes—debatably three, for those of you who are in the “if he touches it, he should catch it” camp—and rushed for just 38 yards on his first 11 carries. Deciding that this wasn’t quite cutting it, Conner rushed for 60 yards on his next nine carries, ending the game with a workhorse-like stat line.

The drops (all of which came on third down, which is significant given that the Steelers were 2-13 on third down) were largely attributable to mental lapses rather than bad hands because a) Conner actually has pretty good hands and b) two of the drops resulted from Conner pivoting his entire body upfield before securing the ball.

Dropped passes notwithstanding, Conner had a good debut. Importantly, he allowed the Steelers to regain control of the game in the fourth quarter, because God knows the quarterbacks weren’t gonna do it. Speaking of...

Landry Jones - Stock up

Jones has yet to take a single preseason snap and yet his job as the no. 2 quarterback has never been safer. Josh Dobbs has a rocket for an arm, but inexplicably throws the ball with the confidence of a second-grader raising his hand to use the restroom after he’s already pooped his pants. And I refuse to blame this on the injury depleted offensive line or the second-tier receiving unit. New York Jets management would offer Christian Hackenberg as a human sacrifice to our omnipotent scorpion overlords if it would net them Martavis Bryant, Sammie Coates and Eli Rogers.

With that said, Dobbs is a rookie and currently the no. 3 quarterback on the depth chart. Going 10-19 for 70 yards in the preseason isn’t a huge issue. And even his interception—his third of the preseason and by far his ugliest—was the result of him attempting to make a play out of nothing. Faced with third-and-short and desperately seeking to kickstart the offense, Dobbs dropped back, sensed pressure, and rolled to his left. Unable to get his shoulders squared to deliver a pass to a wide open Jake McGee in the flat, Dobbs evaded a tackler, lost his balance, and backhanded the ball somewhere in what he thought was McGee’s direction (it was not) as he tumbled to the ground. Quincy Mauger, benefitting from some very fortuitous positioning, made a diving catch to secure Dobbs’ prayer of a heave. It was a terrible idea and an even poorer throw, but the effort was solid. But it was a terrible idea.

Fortunately for Dobbs, Bart Houston committed a terrible delay of game penalty, misfired on a pair of open touchdowns, and threw what could have been a game-losing interception (whoever dialed up the pseudo-fade to the end-zone on fourth-and-short deserves blame, also).

Starting defense - Stock down

Matt Ryan and, more troublingly, Matt Simms, torched Pittsburgh’s starting secondary. The preseason is the preseason, but Ryan and his troops looked just as sharp and efficient as they did for much of the 2016 regular season, playoffs, and first 38 minutes of the Super Bowl, so it would’ve eased a lot of concerns if Pittsburgh’s starters held it together. Postgame, Mike Tomlin told reporters that “coverage could’ve been tighter,” which was a pretty severe understatement. (It should be noted that Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree and Mike Mitchell did not play.)

Special teams - Stock up

Judging by many of the comments that I’ve seen on this very website, the performance by the special teams unit on Sunday had to be bittersweet. I get a Coach of the Year vote for the PFWA, and I can tell you right now that Danny Smith is getting my vote. He is the GOAT.

The Steelers blocked one punt (and very nearly got to two more), returned another punt for a touchdown, and routinely prevented the Falcons from doing anything with their special teams opportunities. Punt and kick coverage has always been an issue for the Steelers, so it was almost invigorating to see the special teams gunners flying around like banshees. Malik Golden almost killed a guy. He crushed some nameless Falcons returner so hard that somewhere off in the distance Jim Ross could be heard screaming “Bah Gawd!”

I’m getting ahead of myself. In all seriousness, the coverage was exceptional and Jordan Berry has clearly come into his own as a punter, landing seven of his eight kicks inside the 20.

Mike Hilton - Stock up

I have no idea whether or not the Steelers will keep Hilton on the final 53 and I would be willing to bet that they don’t, either. I will say that parting ways with a dynamic young defensive back who always seems to be on the end of huge plays will be a challenging task.

Mike Tomlin - Stock up

The jovial countenance is undervalued in professional sports. I am happy that he is the coach.

Steelers PA people - Stock up

They played “Give It Away,” after Jordan Dangerfield’s second interception. In a preseason game! I am a strong advocate of mixing the Steelers and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.