The Steelers ended their preseason on a rough note Friday night, falling to the Carolina Panthers by a score of 34-9. And although it was just an exhibition game, there’s plenty of takeaways to be had from the Steelers’ fourth and final preseason game of the year.
1. Perspective is needed
The Steelers only started a small number of their regular season starters against the Panthers. This left a roster comprised largely of backups facing the Panthers’ starting squad for a good bit of the first half. So it’s no surprise that the Steelers lost the game by a large margin. This is no excuse for the many self-inflicted wounds that plagued the team throughout the game, but rather a reminder that this is no reason to think that the Steelers’ performance against the Bills will be equally bad on Week 1.
2. A reason to worry
If there is one reason to worry about the regular season based off of Friday’s game, it would be the performance of the Steelers’ offensive line. Three-fifths of the starting unit played against the Panthers’ starting defensive line in the first half, with B.J. Finney and Dan Moore replacing starters Trai Turner and Zach Banner, respectively. Despite being slightly undermanned, the offensive line still performed far below expectations, offering hardly any time to throw in pass protection and failing to provide running lanes for Benny Snell. And the second-team unit didn’t perform much better. With the regular season opener the next game on the schedule, it’s essential for the offensive line to rise to the challenge in the next few weeks — otherwise, the 2021 season could be a rough one for the Steeler offense.
3. A reason not to worry
The Steelers’ backup defensive line was much better than expected against the Panthers on Friday night. Chris Wormley was pressuring the quarterback throughout the game, and Isaiahh Loudermilk continued to show off his upside, even recording a sack. Isaiah Buggs and Carlos Davis each had a solid game as well. With Stephon Tuitt’s return timetable in question, as well as the veteran state of the Steelers’ starting defensive line, it was encouraging to see the strong depth the team has.
4. An underwhelming end to the quarterback controversy
Mason Rudolph won the backup quarterback job Friday night, and he didn’t even play. This decision was heavily implied when the coaches decided to sit him against the Panthers, and just about set in stone following Dwayne Haskins’ rough performance. That being said, Haskins is hardly all to blame for the Steelers’ offensive struggles. His offensive line didn’t offer much help, and he was without a running game as well as the team’s top two receivers — all while facing a starting NFL defense. Still, Haskins was far too inaccurate and unconfident Friday night, only managing to spark the offense in garbage time during the fourth quarter. As of right now, Mason Rudolph is the team’s unquestioned QB2.
5. Haskins vs. Dobbs
Most of this offseason’s quarterback talk has centered around to the training camp battle between Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins. But with Mason Rudolph sitting out Friday night, the spotlight was put on Dwayne Haskins versus Joshua Dobbs. Haskins’ rough showing may have opened a door for Joshua Dobbs to play his way into the third spot on the depth chart, but ultimately he didn’t separate himself much from the competition. With roster cutdowns looming, it looks like the Steelers’ final quarterback depth chart will be composed of Ben Roethlisberger, Rudolph, and Haskins. But Dobbs still offers more as a gameday inactive than Haskins, as the former has a good relationship with Ben Roethlisberger and has been a valuable asset on the sidelines throughout his career. In the end, the team will likely go with Haskins’ upside over Dobbs’ smarts, but the final cuts should certainly be interesting.
6. Jamir Jones may have played onto the final 53
Outside linebacker Jamir Jones was considered a camp body when he first signed onto the Steelers’ roster this year. By the end of the Hall of Fame Game he had put himself on the map, and midway through the preseason he had put himself into the final roster conversation. But against the Panthers he may have secured himself a spot on the final 53. He recorded a sack, but also continued his strong special teams play, recording a tackle and continually being around the ball. He’s consistently looked better than fellow outside backers Cassius Marsh and Quincy Roche this preseason (although Marsh did have a nice game against the Panthers). As developmental pass-rusher and special teams ace, Jones may be the perfect piece to fill out the Steelers’ depth at linebacker.
7. Aggressive defensive backs
It’s been a rough preseason for Steelers’ cornerbacks not named Joe Haden. Against the Panthers, coverage was once again up and down, but the defensive backs’ aggressiveness against the run was apparent. James Pierre especially stood out in run support, and Miles Killebrew once again was all over the place on defense. Mark Gilbert and Tre Norwood also stood out, and although the latter had a rough game in his first outing as the Steelers’ slot corner, he showed the necessary physicality for the role.
8. Benny Snell’s roster spot is in question
After sitting out of the Steelers’ previous three preseason games due to injury, Benny Snell got his chance to prove himself against the Panthers. He showed off his tough running style on a 17-yard run, but hardly made an impact with the rest of his carries. It was a tough break for Snell, whose lone preseason opportunity came during the offensive line’s worst outing of the season so far. Despite his experience with the team, it’s unclear where Snell stands in regard to the rest of the Steelers’ running back room, with Kalen Ballage, Anthony McFarland, Trey Edmunds, and even Jaylen Samuels having shown more this preseason.
9. The punting battle comes to an end
Jordan Berry and Pressley Harvin’s battle for the starting punting spot was one of 2021’s most interesting training camp battles. The punters were evenly matched, and both managed to a have a very impressive preseason. The battle came to an quite the finale against the Panthers, in which Berry and Harvin split the punting duties 50/50, recording four punts apiece. With the Steelers’ offense struggling, they each got plenty of opportunities. Both punters had strong games, showing off good hang time and respectable distances. Harvin may have had a misstep when Chris Boswell missed a kick that Harvin was holding for, but it looks like the blame falls solely on Boswell. In such a close competition it will be interesting who makes the final roster.
The Steelers’ final preseason game was a rough one to watch. Thankfully, the regular season is just around the corner. Make sure to share your takeaways below in the comment section, as well as if you agreed or disagreed with the ones above.
Also, don’t forget to stay tuned to Behind the Steel Curtain for all things Pittsburgh Steelers as we get closer to the 2021 regular season.