The Pittsburgh Steelers wrapped up the preseason Sunday night giving us a good look at what the starters might be capable of this regular season.
Sunday evenings win over the Detroit Lions capped off an undefeated preseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers, so bring out the hats and champaign ladies and gentlemen! Alright, maybe not. While winning is typically a celebratory event, this win seemed to bring some glaring issues to light for the Steelers starters that we will get into below. Game three wasn’t all negative however, as we saw much to be excited about as well. Be sure to check out The 2022 Steelers Weakest Link(s) for more information on how the Steelers might struggle this year.
“Holding, On the Offense.”
This phrase was repeated numerous times by the referees in the first half and quickly became an annoyance for many fans as they watched the starting offensive line commit multiple infractions and just flat out struggled. Holding, False Starts, Illegal Formation, the Steelers Offensive line had it all in what was supposed to be a tune up game to get them ready for week one in Cincinnati. Better to get it out now as opposed to when it counts I guess?
Unfortunately, I don’t think this will be the end of the Offensive Line’s unpolished play. Left Tackle Dan Moore Jr. had his hands full with just about whoever lined up opposite of him, and was called for multiple penalties including a holding call that would’ve resulted in a sack. Newly acquired Right Guard James Daniels was supposed to revitalize the offensive line room but to this point has been fairly disappointing this preseason. Daniels’ performance against the Lions was less than desirable and will need to be much better against the Bengals week one if the Steelers want to have any chance at stealing a win.
Mike Tomlin let the majority of the offensive starters play through the entire first half, a possible sign that he wasn’t satisfied with what he had seen prior to the last drive of the second quarter. With the increased amount of snaps the number one offense saw Sunday, hopefully the majority of the rust has been knocked off and the line will be ready to take on the vicious defensive line of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Devin Bush’s Struggles Continue
Devin Bush’s preseason and training camp to this point has been a forgettable one to say the least. Sunday’s game against the Lions was much of the same. A combination of missed tackles, being out of position, and just looking too slow to make a read was the story of the night for Bush.
Yes, I know he did have a big stop on fourth down to force a turnover on downs, and I would like to give him props for that play and that play alone. Aside from the tackle for loss, Bush’s demeanor and performance looked unchanged from the last several weeks of the preseason.
At this point, it wouldn’t be that far fetched to see Robert Spillane take on a much more significant role as the inside linebacker next to Myles Jack. Rookie Mark Robinson’s physicality is undeniable, and has firmly secured his spot on the 53 man roster in my opinion. I personally would love to see much more of Mark Robinson this season due to his downhill mentality. Anything at this point beats the lack of effort and timidness that we have seen from Bush the last year.
QB1 For Week One?
If there was any doubt entering the game as to who would be the starter week one, Mitch Trubisky’s two minute drill at the end of the first half definitely put those questions to rest. For now that is. Trubisky got the deep ball going early on a beautiful rainbow pass to Diontae Johnson up the sideline for 38 yards. The rest of the veterans first half was efficient and enough to stay ahead of Kenny Pickett as the starter.
With a 1:34 left in the second quarter, Mitch Trubisky commanded a quick and effective 92 yard drive ending in a touch down pass to Steven Sims. Prior to the touchdown, the former second overall pick threw a laser to George Pickens on the sideline for a gain of 22, and then hit Pat Friermuth on a back shoulder throw up the seam for 32 yards to set the Steelers up for the score going into half time. While it was still the preseason, and against some of the Lions backups, it was still great to see Mitch make the throws that he did.
Kenny Pickett got his turn in the second half and did not disappoint. His preseason was exactly what Steelers fans wanted to see prior to beginning the regular season. The rookie displayed NFL level touch on several throws during the third quarter. While he was unable to hit on a couple of them, he didn’t miss by much and it was extremely encouraging to see what the first round pick is capable of.
Regardless of how well Pickett played Sunday, starting week one was a bit of a long shot. However, his efficiency and poise must be recognized and if the Steelers offense finds themselves struggling early on in the season, transitioning to Pickett wouldn’t be that big of a surprise.
Lastly, Mason Rudolph got the short end of the stick, attempting just three passes and receiving minimal action. Pittsburgh clearly seems to know what they have in Rudolph at this point. It seems as if his chances at winning the starting job were slim to none coming into this game, and the Mason Rudolph era in Pittsburgh has concluded.
Who Gets The Last Receiver Spot(s)?
I would absolutely hate to be the guy in charge of choosing which wide receiver secured the sixth spot on the 53 man roster this week. While it is fairly obvious who the locks are, beyond them it gets pretty murky and tough to choose who stood out the most. Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and George Pickens are your clear cut starters. That part was obvious and Sunday’s game against the Lions proved again that George Pickens belongs in the starting lineup.
After the starters, it is safe to say rookie Calvin Austin III will have a spot on the team come time for roster cuts, regardless of his health status. The Steelers love what they’ve seen in him and even though he as been limited this preseason, the team loves his potential. The only question is, will his injury be bad enough to send him to the IR to start the season, opening up a spot for another receiver temporarily? Gunner Olszewski to me is also an easy bet to make the cut. His return skills alone may have done it for him but this preseason he has shown that he can be valuable as a fourth or fifth receiver and can be effective on gadget plays.
Here’s where things get challenging. Miles Boykin and Steven Sims have both made plays this preseason and have shown they are worth a roster spot. Unfortunately, the Steelers will probably not be keeping seven receivers on the active roster, unless IR status of certain players makes the week one roster look a bit odd. I believe Boykin will ultimately be getting the final hat come week one due to the fact that the Steelers have been trying to go big at the receiver position this year. Chase Claypool, George Pickens, and Miles Boykin are all above 6′ 3″ and have tremendous athletic ability. Boykin fits into that mold and can also be a viable gunner on special teams due to his high motor and speed.
Steven Sims skillset is flashy, but a bit redundant when compared to Calvin Austin III and Gunner Olszewski and that could ultimately be his downfall in making this team. I’d love to see the Steelers be able to keep him, but it just isn’t entirely realistic. If he somehow doesn’t land on a roster elsewhere, you can definitely believe he will be on the Steelers practice squad.
Honorable mention goes to Tyler Vaughns. The second year receiver has balled out each time he has been given the chance, including the game winning touchdown in preseason week one against the Seahawks. Vaughns had two catches for 24 yards in the second half of the final game against the Lions, and has given the Steelers plenty of reasons to keep him come time for the final roster cutdown.
Regardless of who the Steelers choose, the Wide Receiver room will be extremely functional and one of the deepest in the league. Pittsburgh will travel to Cincinnati week one to face off against the Bengals on September 11th.
For more Steelers content check out my most recent article: Will Former Steelers First Round Pick Be Traded?