The Pittsburgh Steelers enter this season with it likely being the last hurrah for Le’Veon Bell and perhaps the last year of that proverbial Super Bowl window everyone likes to talk about. When you break down this roster, it’s very possible it could be the most talented one in the NFL, or at least one of the most talented.
When we look at what can take this team over the top, the obvious picks are its top players, but the progression of still-developing players is a whole different deal. Thus, this second preseason game is an opportunity for returning players or rookies, to show they can have a big immediate impact on the team.
Here are three players who must step up Thursday night.
There might not be any player that needs to show more on Thursday than Bud Dupree. Returning from a concussion suffered during training camp, Dupree enters a year where he must make strides as a pass rusher if he’s to live up to his first-round pedigree.
The question remains whether Dupree will ever be anything more than an average player. Good in coverage and a modest run-defender, Dupree has impacts in games, but cannot pass rush for the life of him. In fact, it’s questionable whether Dupree is even in the right scheme. While he does have the athletic presence to be a pass-rusher, Dupree doesn’t have any of the marquee check marks to be a true presence in the league at EDGE. There’s no effective hand usage, no bend, and he seems unable to convert his athletic ability into power. Honestly, how many times have you seen Dupree turn the corner? Hardly ever. Most of his sacks come off of missed blocks by the opposing team. With the skill set Dupree has, he very well might be better suited as a 4-3 ILB.
But Dupree has to show he’s finally ready to have an impact in the pass rush. He was drafted to generate pressure and has yet to show he can do so. His counterpart T.J. Watt was already more productive than Dupree was a season ago, and Watt wasn’t even overly productive in his own right. So, it would be nice to see some pass rush from Dupree, as well as some progression in his overall game.
Matakevich had one the roughest games against the Eagles, and he has to show he’s part of the solution, not the problem. He had a nice forced fumble, but his instincts and quickness showed how limited he was. Therefore, his play needs to be more disciplined against the Packers.
I could put this tag under any ILB not named Vince Williams, because they all need to step up as well, but given Matakevich’s performance against the Eagles, he’s in a position now where he needs to show why he even merits a backup role. He was the worst-performing ILB in the game as a whole. L.J. Fort and Matthew Thomas had better games and very well might push Matakevich into the role of strictly a special-teams ace.
So, we need to see Matakevich not only make the plays necessary in run defense, but also show some semblance of coverage instincts in his game. No one outside of Fort really showed much in coverage against the Eagles, and even he had some head-scratching moments. If Matakevich wants to show why he should earn snaps over anyone, he has to step up and have a much better game. But that doesn’t seem too likely based on past performances.
Again, with the weakest of the crowd, Anthony Chickillo had a mediocre performance against the Philadelphia Eagles. Granted, he was facing Jason Peters, but in run-defense he still looked slow in space and undisciplined, often getting washed away in plays and allowing the edge to break wide open. In that respect, Ola Adeniyi and Keion Adams both had better games.
Chickillo was modest in coverage, as were Adams and Adeniyi, so there’s not much to expect from any of them. If Chickillo has a repeat performance in coverage, but a much better performance in run-defense and also applies some pressure in the pass rush, he’ll bolster his stock on the team as a whole.
Chickillo has to show he can at least be the best backup on the team, as both Adeniyi and Adams had good showings against the Eagles. We likely will see Bud Dupree and Chickillo as the first-string OLBs this week, so it’ll be imperative for both to perform at a high level. Adeniyi and Adams will likely get some first- and second-team reps as well. If Adams and Adeniyi continue to outperform Chickillo, Chickillo could see himself fall down the depth chart and not have much of an impact at all this season.