The Steelers have now played two of their three scheduled preseason games prior to the start of the 2022 NFL season, and have emerged victorious in both contests. However, the level of satisfaction for Steelers Nation after each victory couldn't be more different.
The most disturbing part of the Steelers overall sloppy performance was the experience levels of the individual players who were missing their assignments.
They were not undrafted free agents fighting for their NFL future. The majority of the mishaps were by experienced personnel that the Steelers are counting on going into the regular season.
Thankfully, the Steelers have a couple weeks worth of practices, plus their final preseason game next Sunday, to workout the kinks and clean up the mess. The situation is about to get serious. It's no longer about draft position or salary cap hit. It's about who can get the job done on the field between the white lines. Who wants it the most, and what are they willing to do to achieve success.
Stock Up: Quarterbacks
Truthfully, all three of the quarterbacks competing for the vacant starting spot have performed well through both preseason games. There have been the occasional struggles, but that has been a byproduct of the struggling offensive line, more so than an indictment of any of the three candidates performances or capabilities.
Mitchell Trubisky failed to lead a touchdown drive against the Jaguars, after doing so on the initial drive of the game the week prior against the Seahawks. He showcased his strength and mobility on multiple occasions to extend plays when his protection quickly broke down. Although Trubisky was able to scramble for positive yardage in one particularly impressive Houdini act that invoked memories of a young Big Ben, he failed to keep his head up and eyes downfield, therefore missing a couple of wide open receivers on the play. It's already apparent that the mobility of the quarterbacks is going to be desperately needed this season.
Kenny Pickett looked like the best quarterback on the roster against the Jaguars. His pre-snap reads, progressions, and anticipation were superior to his counterparts. His accuracy and velocity have been on point all preseason, and his calm and cool demeanor has been contagious. Pickett does an excellent job on off schedule plays outside the pocket, keeping his eyes downfield as he extends the play. His anticipation throw over the linebackers up the seam to Pat Freiermuth was a thing of beauty, the best throw of night. The only quality Pickett lacks in the QB competition is experience, but his play demands consideration. Once can be an accident, twice is the start of a trend. Pickett is trending in the right direction.
As Mike Tomlin pointed out after the game, Mason Rudolph looked like a man among boys running the third string. He didn't have the time, or the skill position talent, to work deep down the field, which may be his best attribute. Therefore, he took what was available, and carved up the Jaguars defense underneath, eventually leading the Steelers game winning touchdown drive. Say what you want, but he looked like the most experienced guy on the field, because he was. He wasn't spectacular; partially because he was working with bottom of the roster talent, but he was efficient and successful. He did what he could with what he had to work with.
Stock Down: Offensive line
Now I am starting to get concerned. Last week the Steelers offensive line struggled at times in pass protection, but they were very effective run blocking. But that was against the Seahawks. We all knew coming into the game Saturday that the Jaguars would be a much tougher test, and that prophecy proved prophetic.
The Steelers offensive line was manhandled from the start, proving insufficient in both offensive phases. They lack any sort of cohesion or chemistry at the moment. Multiple players seemingly take turns totally blowing their assignments. Veterans with proven experience are making junior varsity errors. My biggest concern is it's the same issues as last year with a different cast of characters.
The Kendrick Green experiment at guard is going about like I expected. Dan Moore is anchoring better, but still getting beat too often against speed. Kevin Dotson is already dealing with injuries once again. James Daniels past production suggests he shouldn't be making the mistakes we have witnessed in back to back contests. Actually, only Mason Cole and Chukwuma Okorafor have performed anywhere close to a acceptable standard consistently in both games.
Like the Steelers, I am not one prone to panic, but I am more than a bit concerned at the moment. I feel sure that the Steelers hierarchy shares that concern, and the offensive line will be reserved special attention in the coming weeks. It's time to settle on guys who are willing and able to get the job done, or try and get someone who can.
Stock Up: DeMarvin Leal & Mark Robinson
Apparently DeMarvin Leal has no interest in having a sit and learn, low pressure rookie season. Because the third round draft pick is proving quite disruptive every time he gets on the field. Leal's motor leads to constant movement in a nonstop attack mode. His long arms and strong hands allow him to quickly gain leverage and penetrate rush lanes. Leal revealed a pass rushing spin move Saturday night that had to have made Steelers standout spinner Alex Highsmith smile with approval. The Jaquars third string offensive line had zero chance at stopping Leal. Now it's time to get the young man some snaps against better competition.
Mark Robinson had a breakout performance against the Jaquars Saturday night. One week after his trademark aggressiveness was noticeably hampered by indecisiveness during his professional debut against the Seahawks, Robinson looked large and in charge against the Jaguars. He instinctively found and filled the running lanes quickly, arriving with bad intentions. Even through his occasional struggles against the Seahawks last week, Robinson managed to achieve the defensive play of the game with his fourth quarter strip sack. He had the best hit of the game against the Jaguars, knocking a receiver flying three yards in the wrong direction immediately after a reception on a short crossing route. It was the type of crushing blow we faithful fans haven't witnessed since our beloved Ryan Shazier roamed the middle of the defense for the Steelers.
I have been accused of trying to make the Mark Robinson situation happen, which is only partially accurate. Robinson is making his NFL dreams a reality all by himself, while I am trying to make sure everyone takes notice. Not trying to say I told you so, but...