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Instant analysis: Steelers’ offense shines, rookies dominate in preseason opener vs Bucs

The Steelers looked as good as fans could have hoped in dominating win over Buccaneers to open the preseason.

NFL: Preseason-Pittsburgh Steelers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

It was a dominant performance from the Steelers in their preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Kenny Pickett and the starting offense led a drive that culminated in a George Pickens 33 yard touchdown, and that set the tone for the evening as Pittsburgh won the game by the score of 27-17.

In a season with so much expectations, this was as good a start as the Steelers could have asked for, and is perhaps a sign of things to come this fall. Here are my takeaways from Pittsburgh’s win over the Buccaneers, and what could be built off their performance.

The offense looked dominant

Yinzers nationwide rejoiced on the Steelers’ first drive. The aforementioned touchdown pass to George Pickens was an exclamation point on what was a great drive led by Kenny Pickett. He hit Diontae Johnson three times on the drive for 32 yards, two of which were lasers to the sideline and resulted in good yardage. The rapport between Johnson and Pickett has been noticeable all camp, and seeing it come to fruition was enough to cause fans to have a borderline out-of-body experience. Pickett ended his day going 6-of-7 for 70 yards and the touchdown pass- take a bow, big lad.

The second-string unit looked fantastic, as well. Mitch Trubisky didn’t do anything of note, but Mason Rudolph took the field with the approach of “F**k it, we ball” and spent his time on the field launching missiles downfield. Rudolph finished 7-of-12 for 132, 67 of which came on a bomb to Calvin Austin for six. Speaking of Austin, what a showing in his debut. His first touch was a jet sweep from Trubisky that picked up 17, and his night was capped with the aforementioned touchdown reception.

All-time preseason hero Anthony McFarland got in on the action, too, scampering for a 14 yard touchdown and all but cementing his spot as the team’s third running back. It was a euphoric way for the Steelers’ offense to begin the preseason and left me craving a Camel Crush to soak in the bliss.

Welcome to Pittsburgh, Kwon Alexander

That man can hit.

Kwon Alexander wasted no time making a statement with his play. His nose for the ball was evident, as he was stopping plays dead near the line of scrimmage. His closing speed combined with his power were also on display as he laid a huge hit on Chase Edmonds after he caught a pass in the flat. Although the hit was called a penalty for unnecessary roughness, the closing speed and play recognition were more than enough to get excited about.

The former Pro Bowler finished his day with two tackles and a tackle for loss. This is the kind of linebacker the Steelers have been searching for since Ryan Shazier. His presence, along with that of Elandon Roberts and Cole Holecomb, will make for a really solid unit in the middle of the defense.

The defensive rookies showed out

While Joey Porter Jr. was a late scratch due to a minor injury, we were served a healthy dose of Nick Herbig and Keeanu Benton, and sweet Lord in Heaven did they deliver. Benton was blowing up runs and getting off blocks all night, while Herbig racked up 1.5 sacks and showcased his incredible first step off the edge.

Forget Blue Chew, seeing those two rookies go nuts would be enough to get any man ready to perform. The depth the Steelers have in the front seven is the most they’ve had in quite some time, maybe as far back as the mid-2000s teams that won two Super Bowls. I’d also be remised if I didn’t mention defensive back Trenton Thompson intercepted a pass after joining the team nine days ago. Young guys stepping up and showing their worth is what you want to see in the preseason, and the pups came to play in Tampa Bay.