After a good showing against the Eagles last week, the Steelers seemingly laid a giant egg as they traveled into Green Bay and were shellacked by the Packers. I don’t think they will be anywhere near this bad come the regular season, and we’ll likely see many more performances that are closer to the Eagles game.
Thus, we can still take away some conclusions through the first two preseason games. Some repeat performances deserve a raise of the brow, while others need another week to truly prove whether Week 2 was just an “off night” or not.
As such, here are eight conclusions that can be taken away from this loss.
Mason Rudolph still has a long way to go
I said last week that Rudolph had starter potential and I still firmly believe that, but he’s clearly not game ready now by any means. We saw many of the concerns from Rudolph’s college tape rear their ugly heads in Thursday night’s game.
While he showed good processing last week, this week it was the opposite. On his interception, Rudolph stared down Darrius Heyward-Bey and only went with his first read. Williams had a free and easy pick there. Rudolph has to learn to go through his progressions and do them much quicker. He was going through them at a snail’s pace, and it led to a few more sacks that shouldn’t have happened. He had some ball-placement issues when under pressure, so the pocket-presence issue is still there from last week. Anytime pressure got anywhere near him, errant passes were the only consistent thing happening.
There were some positives, though. He had a great throw in a tight window to JuJu Smith Schuster and showed lots of poise in that pocket on the play. On one play, where he stiff-armed a defender, Rudolph felt the rush and stepped up into the pocket and got out of there. That shows improved pocket presence and confirms he has it. Not everyone has that, but if he can gain more poise he’ll become much better as a whole. He reminds me of Jared Goff as a rookie, but Goff improved his poise in the pocket and made great strides last season. Rudolph thus can do the same.
Daniel McCullers is a much different player this year
The man known as “shade tree” inexplicably has had a fire lighted under him this season. Props to Karl Dunbar for that change in McCullers because he has been a monster in these first two preseason games. This game he started and was pushing the center back into the QBs and RBs multiple times. He ate up lots of space and clogged up running lanes the entire day.
However, I still have concerns with McCullers. For one, while he was doing that, he didn’t shed blocks well at all. His field vision isn’t particularly impressive and, while he ate up space, he has to learn to shed blocks and make plays for himself. Javon Hargrave has this same issue, they both need to learn to shed blocks and make plays for themselves for the sake of the linebackers.
The ILB situation is a complete disaster
Outside of Vince Williams, there is no starting caliber ILB on the team currently. I know many believe Jon Bostic had a good game last week, but I indeed did go back and watch the type, and my suspicions were confirmed. He was lost in coverage and got washed out in run plays. I will go more into detail when I release the film breakdown of his game. However, he was not particularly good this week. He was better than Matakevich, but that is not a great feat. Bostic has to be more disciplined in keeping his gaps in run defense, he can not just let himself get washed out of lanes.
I still vouch, that after watching this game, L.J. Fort is the best option for the team right now opposite of Vince Williams. If we see versus Eagles Bostic, it is likely Bostic. However, the Steelers need an athletic playmaker, and that is exactly what Fort did tonight. He still got beat in coverage and is not particularly good at that, but that athletic playmaking is what they need.
Matthew Thomas is what I would describe as an athletic lump of clay. His instincts are still very lacking as a whole and he bites on play action plays like it is his job, but his playmaking versus the run, and competent showing in coverage, warrant either a 53-man roster spot or at the very least, a practice squad spot. I’m starting to believe he will make the roster.
Matakevich had a repeat performance of last week, just much less blatant. In other words, he was a non-factor and did almost nothing to merit any consideration for the starting spot opposite of Vince Williams.
James Conner is better than ever
A great night for few players, James Conner was one of those people. He looks much leaner, as he did last week, and it means he can make more big plays than he did even at Pitt. The leaner version of Conner is not the only significant step forward that he has taken though.
Conner’s vision has improved dramatically. He is now seeing cutback lanes he did not see last year and coupled with an added burst to his game, Conner has the ability to break big gains. He has also regained his impeccable balance from his first few seasons at Pitt. Conner would just not go down tonight and his touchdown was an impressive run.
Conner and Bell are going to be a very, very fun backfield this season.
The Safeties are a concern
Morgan Burnett had a good game. Despite missing one tackle, he was very solid in coverage and run defense. He showed just why they picked him up in the run game too, when he made many sure tackles. I do have the concern of his athleticism, though. To me, he looked a bit slow, and if that is the case, and age has caught up to him, the secondary could be toast. I do not trust Sean Davis at all.
Terrell Edmunds is a different story. I thought that it was, perhaps, a solid pick in the first round. He was good in run defense, so that part of his tape has not changed. We did not get to see him much on deep passes, but he struggled on that a ton on his college tape. The real issue that he was drafted to deal with Tight Ends and yet got beat twice badly by Jimmy Graham and the 5th string TE. On the first play, Graham just turns him around, Edmunds got smoked. On the second play, he had good positioning, but he has to go up and bat that away, if he is to live up to that first round tag.
Sean Davis and Marcus Allen need to get out on the field, as they need to prove they can help the secondary and not hurt it more than it already is right now.
James Washington is a stud
No one had a better night than James Washington. He just proved every camp anecdote you have heard of and more. Washington is much more than just a deep threat, he is a receiver that will win most of the time in combat catches. He did that all tonight. That is something Martavis Bryant never did.
What is even better is Washington has great release off of the line. You saw it when he burnt a Green Bay defender deep and connected for a massive gain, but that allows him to win in routes over the middle too. Crossers are some of the favorite routes of Randy Fichtner, based off of his previous calling in the role, and Washington can excel on those.
Yet again, this might be a steal and the top three of the Steelers receiving core is sitting very, very pretty.
Ola Adeniyi has been better than Anthony Chickillo
I thought that Adeniyi would be more than productive enough to make the 53-man roster and I still stand by that. But I never expected him to play at this level so quickly. Adeniyi was a source of constant pressure throughout the game and held his edge very well in run defense. Very rarely did anything get outside of him tonight. He had a very rare over-pursuit from him, but I love that he worked his way back into the play. Great job by L.T. Walton on that play to cut off all lanes. His bend and block shedding continue to show themselves as valuable components. He was by far the best OLB tonight as a whole in the pass rush.
Anthony Chickillo, meanwhile, was a source of pressure, but he missed a sack, and missed four tackles, by my count, tonight. Two against the run, one on a would be sack, and another on special teams. His edge was battered tonight with runs that were more productive than ever. He and Coty Sensabaugh both deserve blame on that, but it was not exactly a good showing by Chickillo.
Chickillo might need to watch out, or Adeniyi could get snaps over him. The Steelers will not hesitate to use a source of pressure if they have it, and if Chickillo is not it, then Adeniyi might get more snaps, especially since he looked solid in coverage today.
Brian Allen should be the one covering Tight Ends
One of the projects from last season, Brian Allen needed to show progression so he could have not only a bigger role this season, but also a roster spot. Allen’s length proves to be a big reason why he was kept on the roster and not on the practice squad, but the progression he has shown this season is fantastic.
It is not in run defense or general coverage either. Allen did not necessarily show off well in those areas. He was beaten on an out route that went for a touchdown and did not do much of note in the run game to really be much of a positive factor there. While he did look decent in coverage for the most part, his coverage of tight ends tonight was key.
Allen locked down all tight ends he faced against the Packers and did it better than Terrell Edmunds did all game. Brian Allen should get the nod to possibly be the one who covers the tight ends. The progression in that aspect of his game, has been key and he should get a shot to prove himself as a viable player there.