Pittsburgh Steelers football is back. So are our weekly winners/losers lists. The highs and lows of the team’s preseason opener 32-25 win against the Seattle Seahawks.
Mitch Trubisky – Trubisky led the show beautifully the first two rides of the game. Showing mobility and accuracy along the way, he found wide open gunner Olszewski to his left on the Steelers’ opening possession. Trubisky also avoided a possible sack for a short scramble. Ben Roethlisberger’s lack of mobility was obvious, but it’s nice to see a quarterback able to create with his legs in such a situation. Trubisky didn’t just keep his head above water. He has essentially cemented his regular season starting spot.
George Pickens- What fans saw Pickens do on his 26-yard TD is essentially what he’s been doing the entire camp. Pickens followed the ball and got both feet inbounds into the right back corner of the end zone to give the Steelers a 14-0 lead in the first half. Pickens showed strength in his hands and high effectiveness as a blocker, turning good runs into better ones. He has to work on his release package, but he’s a killer in those jump-ball moments.
Joe Haeg- Don’t talk too much about offensive linemen, but Haeg ran solid with the 2’s. Strong anchor in pass protection and although he faced backups, he beat Dan Moore Jr. in this match. Haeg should easily be the swing tackle of the team and a stopgap if a starter misses a game or two. I expected an old veteran like Haeg to play well and he lived up to expectations.
Arthur Maulet- Maulet, like Haeg, is quite a well-known and defined player at the moment. But he still played well. He is best against the run and when asked to play under routes, including a third downward stop diagonally across the center. He was stable off the rim against the run and blew up a couple of WR bubble screens.
Anthony McFarland- Good outing in a good summer for McFarland and oh boy, did he need one. He showed vision and burst and created when things broke. He finished the day with seven rushes for 56 yards with a lung of 24, bordering a 3rd and 1 when everything was washed out for him. Rookie Jaylen Warren ran with strength but fidgeted and McFarland should still be ahead of him on the depth map.
Tre Norwood – Norwood was strong in the red zone in this game with multiple breakups in the end zones. Big time plays in important real estate. Norwood has been used as the dime defender in training camp and his man-covering ability lands him a spot on the field this year, especially with some other injuries in that DB room.
Steven Sims- Sims is a small/quick kid and someone who needs to play in open grass. He did that on Saturday night. He kicked things off with a 38 yards punt return on the left and followed things up on a fast jet run on the right for 38 yards, creating in open field. He ended a good week of training with a solid stadium performance. A path to the 53 will be tough, but he’s gearing up to still land on the practice squad as insurance behind Gunner Olszewski.
Miles Boykin – Another receiver that came on strong and brought it to Acrisure Stadium (are you used to it yet?). Boykin only caught two passes for 17 yards, but most importantly, made a few plays on special teams. Forcing a fumble on a bad decision by the Seahawks point returnee and follow it up with a kick-coverage tackle. With Anthony Miller sidelined with a shoulder injury, Boykin was one step closer to that #6 WR spot.
Pressley Harvin III – Not often do I put players in the winner’s column who haven’t played. But Harvin joined Chris Boswell as specialists who didn’t see the field tonight. That’s definitely a good sign for Harvin’s pick spot. I thought he would have been there to see what he can do in a stadium. It didn’t help Cameron Nizialek particularly well either.
Kenny Pickett- Thought all the quarterbacks looked solid to varying degrees tonight, but Pickett was good in his NFL debut. Nothing flashy, but it didn’t have to be. I wanted him to take care of the football, look confident and controlled and be on time with his throws. He was all those things. That’s a solid foundation and something I’m happy to take home for the first time.
I wrote that paragraph above for the Steelers’ final drive, Pickett led the Steelers downfield and tied with Tyler Vaughns for the winning score. What a way to start things. I can’t ask for anything more from Pickett’s debut.
Dan Moore Jr. – After quite the show at camp, Moore had his hands full tonight. The Seahawks have handy pass rushers and Moore was defeated by rookie Boye Mafe leading to a Mason Rudolph fumble which he luckily recovered. Moore will get additional work alongside LG Kendrick Green. Hoping for a better outing next week from him in what is a critical second year.
Run defense – Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Yes, the Steelers were without their stars and playing with backups. So is Seattle. Pittsburgh’s front seven struggled to get off the blocks and join football and didn’t fill the alley well enough. Seattle had success on the ground from the second quarter, finishing the day with over 150 yards and an average of over six yards per carry. On the plus side, Steelers’ DBs were active and aggressive. Unfortunately, it led to injuries for Ahkello Witherspoon and Damontae Kazee. Hopefully both are minor, while Karl Joseph could face a season-ending injury.
Mataeo Durant – The good news is that Durant was healthy enough to play in this game. He missed the back half of this week’s set of practices with an unknown injury. And he came into play for Master Teague. But he did little with the opportunity. He was blown up and run over during a third downplay that resulted in Kenny Pickett being thrown out hard. His first carry was for a one-yard loss before giving way to Master Teague, who outperformed him. Durant threw a nice block on a Pickett scramble late in the game, I’ll admit.
Khalil Davis- I’m eating a plate of crow tonight. Was expecting a lot more from the Davis twins, Carlos and Khali, who both looked good in training camp. I paid special attention to Khalil tonight and saw him washed against the run time and again, one reason Pittsburgh lost the scrimmage up front. The entire front seven was disappointing from Mark Robinson (without his forced fumble off the rim) to Buddy Johnson and others. Davis at the very least finished on a high note with a big stick on the final play of the game.