The following cursed image is brought to you by the Pittsburgh Steelers, courtesy of their 34-51 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night; viewer discretion is advised:
Those are Green Bay’s passing statistics, and the fella at the top of that chart is the very same DeShone Kizer who, during his rookie season in 2017, committed 31 turnovers while guiding the Cleveland Browns to an 0-16 record. Is the fact that Kizer torched Pittsburgh’s secondary in a preseason game quite as distressing as, say, putting mayonnaise between two Pop-Tarts or watching Sonic the Hedgehog pornography? Probably not, but it’s uncomfortably close.
In last week’s edition of the Stock Report, I said this:
“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.”
I’ll maintain that the preseason, for the most part, tells us nothing. But Thursday night’s contest definitely was neither boring nor unwatchable, as it featured a pair of defensive touchdowns, a bunch of big plays, and a handful of impressive individual performances. So if you turned the game off in favor of Property Brothers or Madden — which I briefly considered doing after watching Mason Rudolph haplessly worm-dog his way through the first half — your stock is down. Way to go. At least you weren’t tired for work. Let’s check on everyone else:
Stock up: Guys named James
James Conner only carried the ball five times, but managed to amass nearly 60 yards and a touchdown, which resulted from a particularly nifty 26-yard foray on which he showcased the kind of patience, ball-carrier vision, speed, and tackle-breaking ability befitting a bona fide, starting running back (naturally, Conner’s performance precipitated a vast bevy of “Le’Veon Bell successor” takes, but that’s neither here nor there at the moment). James Washington, meanwhile, looked somewhat like a pint-sized Terrell Owens, snagging five passes for 114 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Unlike Conner, who’s not likely to factor into Pittsburgh’s offensive game plan so long as Bell remains healthy, Washington could wind up being one of the Steelers’ most significant role players, especially if he continues to run good routes, make contested catches, and smoke defensive backs one-on-one.
Stock up: Bud Dupree
Dupree managed only one sack against the Packers, but he spent a decent chunk of his evening in the general vicinity of Green Bay’s quarterbacks, generating a handful of hurries and pressures, several of which came while he was matched up with David Bakhtiari, one of the best left tackles in the entire NFL. It’s too early to say how much fruit — if any — Dupree’s switch to left outside linebacker will bear this season, but I think it’s fair to say he’s off to a promising start. He’ll definitely be someone to keep an eye on during Pittsburgh’s next two preseason games.
Stock down: Defensive role players
Look, I guess if you had the inclination to do so, you could summarily dismiss Thursday’s substandard defensive performance as the result of shoddy game-planning or depleted personnel (a handful of starters didn’t play, including Mike Hilton, Cameron Heyward, Joe Haden, and T.J. Watt) — or even simply it being the preseason. But the Steelers allowed the Packers’ offense to score 27 points in the first half. Yikes! And it wasn’t like Rodgers, Kizer, and Hundley were burning a bunch of scrubs. Artie Burns played. Morgan Burnett and Terrell Edmunds both played. Vince Williams, Jon Bostic, and Stephon Tuitt all played. So I think it’s fair to be concerned about the state of the defense at this point.
Thus far, bad tackling remains perhaps the foremost prevailing hallmark of these Steelers, but they’ve also been flatly inept in defending the middle of the field. Opposing tight ends have had virtually no issues finding expansive swathes of open turf, and their quarterbacks have had no issues finding them. We’ve yet to see an unheralded “Mike Hilton” type of player step in who looks even close to something resembling a functional NFL player, but there are still two games left, so we’ll see what happens.
The Dobbs/Rudolph Scale
Rudolph and Dobbs began their respective evenings by immediately throwing pick-6 interceptions, but where Rudolph’s performance only got worse from there (he fumbled again, bringing his preseason total to three, and completed just five of 12 passes for 47 yards), Dobbs balled out, completing 12 of 18 passes for 192 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He was clearly the better quarterback Thursday night, which complicates things considerably.
There’s no getting around the fact that Rudolph will undoubtedly be on the Steelers’ roster this season. The Steelers maintain their scouting department put a first-round grade on Rudolph in the run-up to the 2018 NFL Draft, so even if his game is trash moving forward, he’ll be on the roster. Dobbs wasn’t — and probably still isn’t — as highly regarded as Rudolph, but if he balls out against against Tennessee and/or Carolina, he too will be worthy of a spot on the final 53. Keeping two quarterback “projects” is just fine, but the Steelers already have a superstar and a capable backup (he says, ducking tomatoes). Right now, it wouldn’t surprise me if Pittsburgh ultimately kept four quarterbacks on the active roster, even if doing so means making another position group marginally weaker.