It’s time fur sum football! Please enjoy the stock report responsibly.
Stock up: Young receivers!
Let the record reflect that preseason football is delusive, inherently boring, and generally unwatchable and that sitting through an entire preseason game — like many of us probably just did — is the kind of masochistic activity that should require a safe-word and a post-game cigarette. Let the record also reflect that, oftentimes, any events that transpire during a preseason game don’t portend a significant (or even tangible) paradigm-shift in the natural order of things. For example, Baker Mayfield and Tyrod Taylor are still basically doomed, and no amount of pageantry or positivity in the preseason is gonna change that, you know?
Be that as it may, the Steelers have some really exciting receivers on their roster! JuJu Smith-Schuster, whose goodness is already well-established, outmanned Rasul Butler for an underthrown Landry Jones pass and then took the daggum rock the whole way to the house for a 71-yard tuddy.
JuJu Smith-Schuster touchdown!pic.twitter.com/TjDMIJdmwB— Sports Notes (@SportsNotes23) August 9, 2018
James Washington, whose goodness is, thus far, less established than Smith-Schuster’s but still palpable, caught two passes for 44 yards, including a very sexy 35-yard contested catch near the sideline on a 3rd-and-8 in the second half. Look at this nonsense.
Nice catch by James Washington on a free play: pic.twitter.com/ZJCfpLK7rP— Cian (@Cianaf) August 10, 2018
Look at how Washington boxes-out Avonte Maddox—who, as a member of the University of Pittsburgh’s secondary, watched in terror as Washington amassed 420 receiving yards in two starts against Pitt as a member of the Oklahoma State Cowboys—right until the ball reaches it’s highest point, at which time he breaks away and snags the ball right the heck out of the air. That’s some expert-level awareness. YA CAN’T TEACH IT. You also can’t glean too much from a single play, but it’s clear that Washington possesses the ability and — equally importantly — the knowhow to make an outsized impact on the Steelers’ offense in his rookie campaign — that is, of course, assuming he manages to fend off world-beating football catcher Damoun Patterson.
Joshua Dobbs trouve Damoun Patterson pour un TD, et le WR nous sort un backflip pour célébrer ! pic.twitter.com/oejdUGXiYF— NFL France (@FirstDownFR) August 10, 2018
(Please forgive the exceedingly random sources of these tweets; the big-wig bureaucrats at the league office have apparently forbade the linkage of embedded media. Sad!)
This ruled! The catch was great and legitimately difficult and he should be commended for getting both feet in-bounds, but his celebration really elevated the whole thing. It was so neat. Including the above-linked 29-yard touchdown catch, Patterson caught six passes for 77 yards, all the while showcasing his ability to beat single coverage, run concise routes, and make contested catches in high-traffic areas. To be sure, he did most of his damage against guys who will be working at Nordstrom in four weeks, but Patterson at least looked the part of a complete receiver. And it should be noted that the Steelers have plenty of depth receivers to play around with, so the fact that Patterson was a foremost component of the offense against Philadelphia shows that Mike Tomlin et al. are going to provide free rein for Patterson to claim a roster spot. Plus, it’s not like it would be groundbreaking if the Steelers did manage to unearth another star receiver.
Stock down-ish: Middle linebackers
I don’t wanna imbue this whole thing with negativity right out of the gate, but the middle linebacker situation isn’t off to a strong start. Vince Williams is a fantastic middle linebacker but probably doesn’t possess the sideline-to-sideline briskness to realistically be consistently reliable in coverage. Jon Bostic made a couple of impressive, instinctual plays, shooting open gaps al la Ryan Shazier to snuff out a pair of runs, but he also missed a couple of tackles. That Tyler Matakevich could legitimately be starting at middle linebacker in Week 1 should terrify you. Early in the second quarter, Matakevich had a completely unabated free run at Nate Sudfeld, Philadelphia’s third-string quarterback. In response, Sudfeld, who is, you know, not James Harden, shuffled his feet awkwardly, which apparently caused the part of Matakevich’s brain that tells his legs and feet what to do to vaporize. Instead of getting an easy sack, Matakevich fell harmlessly forward, his ankles glued to the turf. Matakevich is a nice special-teams player, but he should not be starting meaningful football games for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
But I’ll chalk up any deficiencies to Keith Butler, um, conducting some “schematic experimentation.”
Stock up: The quarterbacks
Landry Jones completed all four of his passing attempts for 83 yards and a touchdown (great!), Josh Dobbs threw a really bad interception but also a really good touchdown (good!), and Mason Rudolph, in his very first NFL action, took a pair of sacks and nearly lost two fumbles (not good!) but threw for 101 yards on 12 attempts (not bad!). I’d guess that Landry Jones’ glorious reign as the No. 2 quarterback will endure through 2018, so figuring out the No. 3 quarterback is gonna be the storyline to watch for the remainder of the preseason.
In lieu of the proprietary Ben Roethlisberger Retirement Index, I’d like to introduce the Dobbs-Rudolph Scale:
Dobbs———————————Too Close To Call——————————-Rudolph
Very empirical. Anyway, after one preseason game, I think this is too close to call, so we’re setting the arrow right in the middle.
Here’s a spicy take: if Dobbs balls out and “wins” the No. 3 job, the Steelers should trade him. Not long ago, the Patriots managed to get Philip Dorsett (a terrible receiver, but a former first-round pick nonetheless) from the Colts for former third-stringer Jacoby Brissett. If the Steelers could get a similar return for Dobbs, they absolutely should do so.
Stock up-ish: Most of the running backs
The Steelers have compiled an interesting stable of secondary running backs, headed for the moment by former Pitt standout James Conner, who looked pretty solid running the ball Thursday night but was little more than a speed-bump on a play in which Michael Jenkins nearly assassinated Landry Jones. Jaylen Samuels was considerably less effective than Conner (Samuels had seven yards on six carries, which, yikes), but did play in a variety of positions throughout Thursday’s game. This indicates that the Steelers are, at the very least, interested in deploying Samuels in the same jack-of-all-trades role that he played in college. Stevan Ridley, whose performance against Cleveland in the 2017 season finale alone should warrant him roster consideration, was ineffective running the ball (10 carries for 14 yards) but snagged three passes out of the backfield for 45 yards, and the resulting snaky, carefully-calculated forays showcased just show effective and dangerous he can be in the open field.
Of course, these performances will be rendered moot once the regular season starts and Le’Veon Bell rejoins the backfield, but they’re certainly entertaining in the meantime.
Stock down: THE RULES
Sidney Jones was flagged for targeting, which is, under the NFL’s revised “helmet policy,” an ejectionable offense. It wasn’t a dirty or intentional or malicious hit, and Jones, along with his teammates, the coaches, the play-by-play guys, the fans in the stadium, and several members of the Steelers’ offense, seemed to be genuinely confused by the ruling on the field. Listen — I fully support any measures that make football “safer,” no matter how nebulous the benefits conferred by said measure may be. But this new targeting thing is absolutely going to turn viewers off. If the league thought its arcane “catch rule” was horrible and contentious and poorly designed, just wait until the targeting rule metastasizes into some similarly byzantine and impossible-to-interpret thing and leads to a bogus ejection or directly influences the outcome of an important game. People will riot in the streets.
Stock down: Randy Fichtner
New offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, who replaced cargo shorts-wearing turbo clown Todd Haley, either has a very angry happy face or was furious that Juju Smith-Schuster had the gall to celebrate a touchdown. If it’s the latter thing, Fichtner needs to chill out in a hurry. If Fichtner’s endgame is to implement some sort of authoritarian “hand the ball back to the referees and scamper back to the sideline” directive, he’s coaching the wrong team.