The Pittsburgh Steelers were able to defeat the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles, in Thursday’s preseason opener 31-14.
Leading 22-14 at halftime, the Steelers were able to shut out the Eagles in the second half. Taking into consideration that this was the first game of the year for both teams, the level of play was fairly decent. The game itself was up and down, due to multiple turnovers, but for a preseason game, it was nothing unexpected.
Before we dive into week one takeaways, let’s take a look at the injury front. Many players including Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Cam Heyward, among others were held out of the opener. While game reps are important, multiple veterans did not play for precautionary reasons. At this stage of the season avoiding injuries is always a primary concern. Prior to the game, the only major injury was a knee injury to left guard Ramon Foster. Due to the injury, Foster did not play and will likely be out until at least the start of the regular season.
During the game, the Steelers only real injury was to backup offensive lineman B.J. Finney. Mike Tomlin classified Finney’s quad contusion as “not significant” as he headed to the locker room at halftime. While the injury seems at the moment to be minor, missing Finney for an extended period of time may be troublesome for the Steelers offense. If Ramon Foster is unable to be ready for the regular season opener, Finney would likely be in line to start at left guard. Other than that, the Steelers were able to leave Philadelphia relatively unscathed.
As for the actual gameplay, there were a few takeaways I noticed. My five takeaways are listed below:
- Running Back Battle
- Quarterback Play
- Wide Receiver Battle
- State of the Steel Curtain
- The Wizard of Boz
The Running Back Battle
The Steelers starting running back job surely belongs to Le’Veon Bell who did not play Thursday night because he has yet to sign his franchise tender for the season. Bell is expected to miss the entire preseason, however, he seems to be indicating that he will be ready for the regular season much like last year.
Due to limited time with the team last preseason, Bell started slow. Because of this, a greater number of running back snaps appear to be available to start the regular season.
The primary running backs showcased in the opener were James Connor, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Stephen Ridley and rookie Jaylen Samuels. While Connor was not in the game for long, he was still able to get five touches for 34 total yards. Connor looked to be in great shape and he ran very well behind a portion of the starting offensive line. On one play in the first quarter, he was able to showcase his strength and quickness as he scampered through the line and ran over safety De’Vante Bausby.
Toussaint was able to compile 29 yards on seven carries, including a touchdown and a two-point conversion. Much like James Connor, Toussaint looked very quick. His patience was also highlighted during his lone touchdown run.
As for Ridley and Samuels, their nights were not as great. While both players ran hard, they were unable to find much running room. Both of these backs worked with a full backup offensive line, so limited room to work with may explain their below average numbers. Furthermore, Ridley was impressive in the passing game. He grabbed three of his four targets for 45 yards. His pass catching abilities were put on full display during Josh Dobbs’ pre-halftime two-minute drill.
In the absence of Big Ben, all three backup quarterbacks played well. In limited work, starter Landry Jones was a perfect four for four, totaling 101 yards. A majority of his yards came on the game’s first score, a 71 yard TD to JuJu Smith-Schuster. Even without the big play, Jones looked like Ben’s backup quarterback heading into the season.
Both, Dobbs and Rudolph, were sharp in their respective season debuts as well. Coach Tomlin noted Rudolph “did a solid job in all areas.” While Josh Dobbs also played well in his time under center. Dobbs put together a great drive to end the half, capping it off with a pinpoint pass to Damoun Patterson in the back of the end zone for a 29-yard score. After Dobbs’ final drive, the reigns were handed to Rudolph in the second half. While much of the second half was “garbage time,” Rudolph was able to throw for over 100 yards.
Wide Receiver Battle
An interesting development to start the game was who was in and out of the lineup. Veterans Justin Hunter and Darrius Heyward-Bey were seen lining up along with JuJu to start the game. To me, it was shocking not to see more of rookie James Washington with the first team offense. Washington looks to be poised to replace Martavis Bryant’s role in the Steeler offense.
Besides JuJu’s long TD, the lone bright spots in the receiving core were James Washington and Damoun Patterson. Washington hauled in two reception for 44 yards and was able to make an impressive, athletic catch in the third quarter along the sideline. Patterson had a busy night. With an astounding ten targets, the youngster made six catches for 77 yards and a TD. Washington and Patterson were the only two receivers to see 3 or more targets during the game.
State of the Steel Curtain
The starting Steeler defense looked pedestrian at best. Facing the Eagles third-string quarterback, they did not play as well as I expected. However, nearly the entire front five starters (Heyward, Tuitt, Watt, and Dupree) did not play. Considering this it’s impressive the secondary was able to come up with two interceptions. As the preseason goes on, I can see this defense starting to round into a solid group. The acquisition of Morgan Burnett and Jon Bostic will hopefully pay off for the Steelers moving forward.
Jon Bostic, as mentioned, was the starting ILB alongside Vince Williams during this year’s opener. I expected Tyler Matakevich to start, however, neither had a spectacular game. I would look to see Bostic remain the starter unless he or Matakevich begin to trend in another direction.
One of the story-lines for this young defense is the deep secondary. The depth was apparent throughout the game as both rookies and veterans were able to make plays against the Eagles. The additions of veterans and rookies have really solidified a traditionally shaky Steelers secondary. With each game, this group should march steadily towards finding their groove.
The Wizard of Boz
My final takeaway from the first week of the preseason was Mr. Clutch himself, Chris Boswell. Boswell connected on all three of his field goal attempts and both of his PATs. Boswell has been excellent for the Steelers since he has joined the team and it was nice to see him get off to another great start.
Week one was a success for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Hopefully, they can continue to mold their young and inexperienced players to make another deep playoff run.
Their next game will take place on Thursday, August 16th as they take on the Green Bay Packers at Lambo Field.
Scott Duda is a featured blogger for SportsTalkLive. Find more from SportsTalkLive on Twitter and Facebook.