Two preseason games in the book, two victories for the Steelers on the ledger, thanks to two fourth quarter game winning drives. Although the Steelers managed to win both contests, the manner in which they accomplished the feat was quite different.
In preseason Week 1 against the Seattle Seahawks, the Steelers offense looked explosive, but the defense struggled to stop the run and keep points off the scoreboard. In preseason Week 2 vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Steelers offense struggled mightily to run the football or protect their quarterback, but the defense made significant strides in the right direction. Now the Steelers just need to put a complete game together this Sunday against the Detroit Lions at the friendly confines of Acrisure Stadium in their preseason finale.
Let's take a quick glance at how the Steelers rookies performed last Saturday night against the Jaguars.
Mike Tomlin wanted to see Kenny Pickett in action against some varsity competition Saturday against the Jaguars, and he definitely got his wish. The Jaguars starting front seven dominated the first half of the game. Mitchell Trubisky started the game, and found himself running for his life every time he dropped back to pass. Trubisky was visibly frustrated, and for good reason. Definitely not the ideal circumstances to bring your rookie signal caller into, but the situation never appeared to be too big for Pickett. Pickett's swagger and coolness under heavy fire can't be denied. He displayed poise, confidence, and elite level anticipation in his limited action. Pickett was so assertive in his decision making, allowing him to quickly get the ball out faster than multiple unblocked rushers could reach him, that he never needed to showcase his excellent mobility. His ability to process what he sees accurately and rapidly is next level. The QB competition isn't over.
After the game had concluded, I read multiple tweets and comments about how George Pickens had come crashing back down to earth, one week after splitting the stratosphere. Those same individuals claimed that Pickens hype train had jumped the rails. That is both inaccurate and completely unfair to the uber-talented rookie receiver. The truth is Pickens is insanely talented, but he can't throw the ball to himself. Fortunately for Pickens, the Steelers have no less than three talented quarterbacks capable of getting him the football. Unfortunately for those talented signal callers, the offensive line failed to show up for work Saturday against the Jaguars. The Jacksonville defense didn't stop Pickens, but the Steelers offensive line sure did.
I already wrote about DeMarvin Leal's impressive performance against the Jaguars in my Steelers Stock Report article earlier this week, so I will try and keep this breakdown as brief as possible. The bottom line is Leal totally outclassed and dominated the Jaguars third string offensive line. He was a man among boys, too talented to handle. His motor runs hot, and his pursuit is non-stop. Leal is more polished than originally advertised, both against the run and pass. Now he just needs to show what he can do against a uptick in talent.
Calvin Austin III
Sadly, Austin missed his second game of the preseason. That is the bad news. However, there is encouraging news on the horizon. Austin reportedly said his foot is feeling great and he is just waiting for the Steelers to give him clearance to get back out there, starting with the practice field this week. Barring a setback, we are getting closer to seeing his elite speed and big play potential on the playing field for the first time. Not a moment too soon.
Like Pickens, Connor Heyward's second act was negatively impacted by the Steelers offensive line's subpar performance against the Jaguars. Heyward had two memorable opportunities to make a big play, but both harassed throws his way were off the mark. An underthrown deep ball, and a overthrown two-point conversion attempt on a quick slant toward the back of the end zone. Better protection could have resulted in more accurate throws, resulting in a big game for Cam's little brother. He was that close.
Robinson was another Steelers standout I acknowledged with a heaping helping of praise in my Stock Report article, so this may sound slightly repetitive. Robinson looks like the second best inside linebacker on the roster, after established veteran Myles Jack. Robinson is a surprisingly well-rounded interior backer for a rookie, considering his extremely limited collegiate experience at the position. That leads me to believe that he is a natural, blessed with superior athleticism and instincts. Robinson's biggest perceived weakness during the pre-draft process was his pass coverage ability. He has been better than advertised in that regard, moving effortlessly as he shadows backs out of the backfield. He even seems to be getting more comfortable dropping into zone, where his mobility is a real asset. Robinson seldom takes a false step, and anticipates rush lanes like the running back he used to be. His intensity is infectious.
Good bye and good luck, young man! There really isn't anything else to say, as Oladokun was released on Tuesday before he ever had a chance to take a snap in a game.
As debilitating as the Steelers offensive line struggles were for the rookie pass catchers on this list, it was even worse for Warren and the running backs. The Steelers runners had no holes to hit, or lanes to exploit. Sometimes the running back lacks the vision and patience to locate available rushing lanes. That was definitely not the issue for the Steelers backs on Saturday. They had nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Warren actually had one of the few positive yardage runs for a Steelers running back on the night. He was able to showcase his strong hands, run after the catch determination, and contact balance through his passing game usage. His snap count was predominantly limited to the first half, suggesting the coaches already know what they got in the youngster. He displayed improved ball security, which had been a reoccurring issue.