After a disappointing end to the 2017 season for the Pittsburgh Steelers, they opened up their preseason with a resounding defeat of the Philadelphia Eagles. Because of the talent they faced, especially on a team having the depth of the Eagles, it was a very welcome sight to see them play this well.
Thus, there are a few things we can take away from this game. We didn’t see the starters much, but a few of them left me either with a positive or negative impression. So here are a few takeaways, 7 to be exact, from the Steelers’ victory.
Jon Bostic is better than Tyler Matakevich
There was a camp battle between these two, but it now seems painfully obvious which one is the better player. Jon Bostic flew to the football and made tackles the whole game. He was decent in coverage and by far the best linebacker on the field in that respect. Bostic made tackles in the open field and penetrated the line for losses frequently, and it showed why he’s a nice addition to the defense. Aside from one play where he took a bad angle and allowed Jay Ajayi to gash the defense, Bostic had a very solid game. He looked strong and instinctive, and with the run-defense as bad as it was last season, Bostic made plays we wouldn’t have seen last year.
Matakevich, on the other hand, struggled in nearly every area. He missed lots of tackles, was bad in coverage, took bad angles, and overall looked slow. When he and Vince Williams were both on the field, that was when the Eagles got those big gains and, when Matakevich whiffed on what appeared to be a golden opportunity for sacking Eagles’ quarterback Nate Sudfeld, it resulted in a Philly touchdown.
Clearly, the battle isn’t completely over, but you would have to think Bostic has a leg up after this game.
Sean Davis is still Sean Davis
Sean Davis is making the transition to being starting free safety this season after the Steelers released Mike Mitchell. He looked no different, though, than during his past two seasons in Pittsburgh.
While Davis is always a proponent of being around the football, he again was missing open-field tackles. He also helped spring a few big running plays that should have never happened. While Davis has great instincts for run-defense, he simply doesn’t tackle well and it showed on Thursday night.
But the area of greater concern was his coverage. Davis often looks lost in coverage and, to say the least, this outing was no different. He and Vince Williams were often the reason Dallas Goedert was completely wide open in zone coverage. Davis has almost no awareness in zone concepts and he gets beat even by simple double-moves.
Nice route by Goedert. Got Sean Davis spinning. Vince doesn’t get enough depth. Easy pitch/catch pic.twitter.com/j2rGNtawrO— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) August 10, 2018
Here you can see what I’m talking about. Davis loses sight of Goedert and, with Vince Williams not being a spectacular coverage-LB, this is an easy play for the Eagles. This is the type of play Davis cannot let happen, and with Terrell Edmunds having a solid game, he might need to watch out.
Cameron Sutton has become a dynamic playmaker
If there’s a Year-2 player I was most excited about seeing, Sutton topped the list. He showed last season he’s a solid cornerback when he took over for Joe Haden and played well, especially on run-defense.
Sutton backed up everything we knew about him. He can has great coverage skills and a real presence on run-defense. The big plays never happened on Sutton’s side but, instead, he shut them down. Add to this his interception and you can see ball skills. Although it looked like miscommunication on that particular play, Sutton had the receiver blanketed pretty well, which allowed him to be in the right spot.
Sutton also showed aggressiveness today, though. He was more physical than last season and, because he was, he threw lots of receivers off of their routes. He was strictly playing lockdown on Thursday, wherever he was. His versatility should excite fans too. If he keeps this up, it’ll be hard to keep him off the field, especially if Artie Burns continues to have mental lapses and shows an affinity for not wrapping-up backs in run-defense.
Ola Adeniyi and Damoun Patterson might make the 53-man roster
The two UDFAs who really showed up were Adeniyi and Patterson, and their efforts may have given them very real shots at the 53-man roster.
Adeniyi has had a strong camp, both in pass-rushing and run-defense. His explosiveness and bend allow him to beat tackles easily. He showed that Thursday with some good hand usage as he strip-sacked Eagles’ QB Joe Callahan. It was pure explosiveness and bend. He was getting around the tackle often, and was a constant source of pressure. He made a nice play in run-defense on Wendell Smallwood when he held his place, ripped through, and made the tackle. He held his edge all night and minimized Philly’s plays. His discipline, though, needs to improve. Known for taking lots of penalties at Toledo, and with two more Thursday, it needs to be fixed.
Patterson had tapered off in camp during the last few days, but he had a fantastic game against the Eagles, starting with the acrobatic catch from Joshua Dobbs. Based on tape, I knew he had great body control and could catch well when he was near the boundaries, but that was, by far, the most impressive catch he’s made. The back-flip was a nice touch too.
Yet, he also demonstrated the little things that make a complete player. He had a willingness to block, his routes were crisp and he made catches in traffic. The biggest area was his need to show up on Special Teams, and he did that with the kickoff tackle he registered. If he can continue to do that, he has a good shot at joining the 53-man roster.
James Conner and Fitzgerald Toussaint look leaner and quicker than they ever have
I expected to see a lean James Conner, but did not expect to see a leaner Fitz Toussaint. Despite struggling in pass blocking, Conner proved he can at least be a good backup. His burst and agility were solid and he was hitting holes with burst. More important was his improved vision. He didn’t cut back into holes previously like he did in the past, and it showed as he gained more yards due to that vision. Overall, Conner had a great showing.
Toussaint looked very quick and agile in this game. He never seemed to have that much agility as he showed on Thursday night, and he was getting good gains throughout the game because of it. I think the key thing I noticed with him was his improved balance. He didn’t just go down on contact, but instead fought for extra yards and grinded them out. He set himself up well to earn a roster spot this year.
Chukwuma Okorafor has progressed faster than we thought
Okorafor was a very raw prospect coming out of college, so it was a surprise to see him taking on guys so easily.
He has fantastic pass-blocking ability. He’s quick and agile, but strong as well. He really didn’t give up much ground in pass-blocking vs. the Eagles, but he needs to learn to use his hands more. He looks more aggressive than he was at Western Michigan, but he still doesn’t punch, but catches instead.
In run-blocking, Okorafor is still raw, but he was driving people out off the edge. He needs to learn to gain leverage easier. He still plays far too high and sometimes ducks his head, which now will likely get him flagged. But he showed the quickness it took to get to the second level, which is always a great sign for the guy who was touted as a “project.” Regardless, it seems like Swing Tackle shouldn’t be a grave concern — only a light one at this juncture.
Josh Dobbs is inconsistent and Mason Rudolph has real starter potential
These two backup quarterbacks were under scrutiny. The Steelers knew what they had in Landry Jones and he performed like Landry Jones. But the future was what fans were really paying attention to.
Dobbs showed his impressive arm talent in Philly. He threw a few ropes when he hit Damoun Patterson for the touchdown, and had some bullets in between defenders. He had those flashes, and they were impressive, but his ball placement is still questionable. His processing of the play also hasn’t significantly improved by any means. The interception he threw was a big mess. First, he stared down Patterson and then attempted a touch pass with Douglas over the top. This is a classic example of bad processing and not going through your reads. Dobbs must improve on that during these next three games to make the roster.
Rudolph showcased progress compared to his college tape. His processing has gotten substantially better as a whole. He went through all his reads and never made any mind-numbing decisions. He has great timing with his receivers on routes and makes those precise throws. He looked good. His pocket presence is the biggest issue I have with him. Many times, he would put his head down and not see defenders. He showed some poise by stepping up into the pocket, but he has to become more aware of what’s happening around him. That should be his main area for improvement during the preseason and I hope to see that develop. Overall, a good first game for the “heir.”