The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field Saturday night when they hosted the Detroit Lions in the second official week of NFL preseason action. The Steelers were winners in the contest, but that doesn’t mean every player had a good performance.
With it being the preseason, many of the players who are being criticized are not even going to be employed by the Steelers organization come September, but the judgement process must go on. Players who play well can be considered ‘Winners’, while those who left a lot to be desired can be called ‘Losers’. It may sound harsh, but it is the crux of this exercise.
Let’s check in to see who fell on which side of the ledger after the first game of the preseason...
Stat Line: 8/10, 137 yards, 13.7 average, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 0 Sacks, 158.3 Rating
Everyone was waiting to see what Roethlisberger would look like in Matt Canada’s offense. Would Ben look as if he were comfortable? Will Roethlisberger be willing to go under center? What about his arm strength? Does he have enough mobility to elude pressure behind that offensive line? It might have been a small sample size, but I think the answer to all the questions listed are a resounding ‘Yes’. That preseason debut was about as good as it gets for a 39 year-old quarterback entering Year 18 in the league. Now fans have to wait until September 12th to see more, most likely.
Stat Line: 2 receptions, 19 yards, 9.5 average, 2 TDs, 11 yard long, 3 targets
Freiermuth was rather quiet in his NFL debut last Thursday night vs. the Philadelphia Eagles, but maybe he was saving the fireworks for the home crowd? Freiermuth might not have had jaw-dropping statistics, but his two touchdown receptions were things of beauty. If Freiermuth’s main role is as a red-zone target in 2021, I think he’ll do just fine, and so will the Steelers’ offense.
Stat Line: 2 receptions, 53 yards, 26.5 average, 46 yard long, 3 targets / 4 carries, 10 yards, 2.5 average, 8 yard long
I was excited to see Harris run behind the projected offensive line, and while his rushing statistics were mundane, every time he touched the ball you found yourself on the edge of your seat. It didn’t always equate to a big play, but you have the feeling he can take any play the distance. Harris is a playmaker, plain and simple. The Steelers haven’t had one of those at the running back position since Le’Veon Bell donned the black and gold. Harris is going to be good, really good.
Stat Line: 13/18, 138 yards, 7.7 average, 0 TDs, 0 INTs, 0 Sacks, 94.2 Rating
I am sure I will catch a ton of heat for putting Rudolph in the winner column, but I was impressed with his play vs. the Lions. Sure, he wasn’t going against starters, and he failed in the red-zone, but Rudolph looked different out there. He was calm and delivered several beautiful passes to move the offense. If you want to criticize his pass which should have been intercepted, that’s fine. If you want to criticize the team’s ability to get into the end-zone, remember, there are 10 other players out there who all have to do a job. I thought Rudolph played well, and I think he solidified the QB2 spot on the Steelers’ depth chart.
Stat Line: 1 sack surrendered, 323 yards passing, 78 yards rushing, 20 first half points
It was the first time this preseason we’ve seen Chuks Okorafor, Kevin Dotson, Kendrick Green, Trai Turner and Zach Banner on the field together for live game action. It wasn’t always pretty, but they got the job done when necessary. Okorafor’s false start on the first play from scrimmage was less than ideal, but the line seemed to settle in and make plays when needed. For the first time in a long time you saw some serious push at the line of scrimmage. It wasn’t perfect, but should calm some concerns about this unit, as they should only get better together.
Stat Line: 1 brutal dropped pass on 3rd down
I realize Eric Ebron finished with a team leading 4 catches for 59 yards. I also know PFF had him graded as one of the best offensive players for the Steelers. I know he had a critical block on Najee Harris’ 46-yard catch and run. But I can’t get over the drop on the 3rd down on the opening drive. That drop was absolutely brutal, and one fans got to see all too often in 2020. Let’s hope it was just a blip on the radar.
4th Quarter Defense
Stat Line: 20 points surrendered
Some will say, “It’s the backups!” Well, that defense still had the likes of Robert Spillane, Marcus Allen, and plenty others with viable experience on the field. They surrendered 20 points in one frame, and that was just a tough way to see the game end. With such domination on both sides of the ball, it is tough to see the defense, even just the backups, turn into a turnstile like that.
Stat Line: 2 huge penalties in the 4th quarter
I like Brown’s play on special teams, and I think he could actually have a spot on the roster due to his play in that area. However, on Saturday night his play on the defensive side of the ball was less than ideal. Brown had two critical penalties, which gave the Lions a new set of downs, in the second half which are inexcusable. Maybe this was his “Hey rookie, welcome to the NFL” moment. If not, he’ll find himself looking for a job in a few weeks.
If you want a more detailed look at the above list, check out my “Let’s Ride” podcast where I outline each Winner and Loser, and MORE!