The Pittsburgh Steelers are 2-0 in the preseason. Not that records mean anything this time of year, but winning is a good sign of the talent on your team - and there's plenty of talent to go around.
"Lessons to be learned through tonight's performance," head coach Mike Tomlin said post-game. "It's good to learn those lessons while you win, even in August. I tell those guys, "If they turn the scoreboard on, we play and play to win." It's going to be exciting to go through this process and comb through this tape and address the myriad of technical issues and problems that we created and Philadelphia created."
There were plenty of takeaways in the come-from-behind win in Philadelphia. Not only did the second-team turn a 16-7 deficit into a 24-16 win, but they also opened eyes to who deserves more playing time.
From start to finish, this game had plenty of notepad moments. When we dive back into what we saw, these 10 observations top the rest.
O-Line Chemistry is a Must Moving Forward
The Steelers played penalty-free football for most of their preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys. They also played with their second-team offensive line, who has spent more time practicing than their starters during training camp.
Against the Eagles, Pittsburgh put Chukwuma Okorafor and Trai Turner on the field, and penalties starting flying. Immediately, you could see the lack of chemistry between the group.
"Run-game holding calls, they kill drives. We had holding calls on our first two drives," Tomlin said. "The third drive, I think we had a third and very manageable—It was third and two. We had a pre-snap penalty, it went to third and seven and a half or whatever.
"We lost that possession down. Penalties were a component of our issues early-on so that's one of the many things that I'm acknowledging that we have to improve at. Offensive penalties kill drives and that's just the story of the National Football League in 2021. We're well aware that we have to be better."
Luckily, the Steelers have two more games to work their offensive line, but it must be a point of focus moving forward. Even if Zach Banner is slower moving with his progress, the rest of the group should start the next two preseason games.
Mason Rudolph Cannot Score
Rudolph has a lot of eyes on him. At times, maybe too many skeptical eyes. But against the Eagles, it became more and more clear that he doesn't give this team the best opportunity to win.
Until Rudolph leads a scoring drive in the preseason, he's not someone you want to put into a game in a tough situation. Usually, when the backup needs to go in during the regular season, it means something bad happened - those are red alert situations. Rudolph hasn't shown he's capable of handling them.
7-8 for 77 yards and a 102 QBR. That's a decent stat line for a guy who plays four series. There needs to be points on the board, though.
"Obviously, you want to get points, you want to finish drives," Rudolph said. "We talked about that. We had some penalties that put us behind the chains, but we've got to convert when we have the chance."
Tre Norwood Needs to Tackle
Norwood has impressed during training camp and in the team's opening preseason game. But against the Eagles, he looked scared to tackle.
On the Eagles' 79-yard touchdown pass to Quez Watkins, Norwood slowed up on his way to a streaking receiver. It didn't even look like he wanted to try and make a play.
This isn't questioning Norwood's effort. He's one of the smartest and most dedicated players on the field. You have to be to start two preseason games as a seventh-round pick.
He's small, though, which has been a concern since he college. He needs to prove he'll make tackles. This wasn't his best game.
Thank Goodness for Joe Schobert
The Steelers' inside linebacker core outside of Devin Bush is pretty bad. Rookie Buddy Johnson has shined throughout training camp, but the rest look average at best.
Robert Spillane can't cover. He's a decent run-stuffing inside backer, but no better of an option than Vince Williams was. It's an old school-type of linebacker. Not one that can start in today's NFL.
Ulysees Gilbert III isn't going to make this roster. At least he shouldn't.
There hasn't been a moment during the preseason where you thought, "that was a good play by Gilbert." He's looked a step behind during training camp, and two steps behind in games.
Marcus Allen is a special teams ace. He's a quality depth piece in coverage. He's not a starting inside linebacker.
Kevin Colbert was the biggest winner of Thursday night. The Steelers' defense got significantly better.
Kevin Dotson "Earned It"
Whatever Tomlin needed to see from Kevin Dotson before he earned the starting job at left guard, he saw it. Dotson was the best linemen in a Steelers' uniform on Thursday night.
Coming into the game, Dotson told us he wanted to be the reason the Steelers have a big year in rushing the football. Every time Pittsburgh had a successful run, Dotson created the whole. Every time they had a successful screen pass, Dotson was 5-yards in front of the receiver blocking someone.
The offensive line needs to start building chemistry. It's time to put Dotson in the starting five and begin preparing for the regular season.
Anthony McFarland is RB No. 2, But Needs Work
McFarland has earned the second-string running back job in Benny Snell Jr.'s absence. He adds more explosiveness than Snell and has a much better fit in Matt Canada's versatile offense.
He nearly lost the football twice, though. It was lucky one fumble bounced into his hands, and the other was called down before the ball left his hands. He won't always be that lucky.
McFarland is playing physical reps for the first time in his career, so it's a learning curve. Last season, he was the skinny runner with electric speed. Now, he's an actual running back.
Running backs coach Eddie Faulkner has some drill up his sleeve to work on ball protection.
"Ant came in highly conditioned," Tomlin said. "Last year, he missed some work during the team-development process because of his lack of readiness, which is very common for a young guy. He's been very available this year, and I think that's just aiding in his growth and development, and I think it's producing the play that you're looking at."
Time for Dwayne Haskins to Start
Dwayne Haskins said he planned on making this a quarterback competition. Mission accomplished.
Haskins has earned the No. 2 job thus far, but nothing should be guaranteed at this point. It's only the second preseason game. There's plenty of time for things to change, for positions to be won and lost.
All we know right now is that Haskins should be the starting quarterback at some point during the preseason. He's done more than enough to show he has, at least, as much potential as Rudolph. It's time to see how he can play with the first team.
"As a competitor, of course, you want to get with the guys who make plays," Haskins said on playing with the first team. "I do a great job of listening to Ben and having conversations with the starting receivers and getting to know what they like and how they see the field. If that happens I just want to be ready for it.
"If I get the opportunity, I want to make the most of it."
While Rudolph continues to struggle finding the endzone, Haskins led three touchdown drives. The first time, he went 5-5 for 42 yards, leading Pittsburgh to their first score of the game. Then, he came into the second half and found Anthony Johnson on a 3rd and 10 for a 22-yard touchdown.
The third drive put the Steelers in front for the first time all night. They never looked back.
Haskins also shows awareness. Much more than Rudolph. He moves out of the pocket, creates space for his wideouts by drawing defenders and reads his progressions well.
Tomlin confirmed the team plans to play Ben Roethlisberger against the Lions next week. So, maybe Haskins doesn't get to start, but he should be the first quarterback off the bench.
Time to Start Talking About Jamir Jones
Every once in a while, an undrafted free agent slips through the cracks. Many thought it was Shakur Brown coming into the summer. It might be Jamir Jones.
Jones added a sack to his resume for the second-straight game. He bounced to the inside, found Joe Flacco moving up the pocket and took him down. Then, in the third quarter, he came from behind, hit Nick Mullens and forced a pass that was intercepted by Justin Layne.
"It's a big blessing," Jones said on his preseason performance. "Last year around this time, I was sitting at home just waiting for a call. I just stayed at it, just put my trust in God and myself and my abilities, and knew that one day this time would come. Just kept working, put my head down, and I was ready."
Who do the Steelers cut for Jones? With sixth-round pick Quincy Roche impressing at training camp, the answer might have to be Cassius Marsh. That leaves the only veteran experience off the bench being Melvin Ingram. Not ideal, but it might be worth it.
Punting Competition Isn't Over Yet
Pressley Harvin III won the punting job last week, but Jordan Berry reminded us all that nothing's over until it's over. No one is singing just yet.
Berry didn't force a fumble off a punt, but he came out and showed exactly why this is a position battle. Two of his four punts landed inside the 20-yard line. One landed on the two-yard line.
Berry didn't punt in the second half, which was surprising after how this game started. He did enough to keep this competition alive, though.
Rico Bussey Makes His Case
Haskins' favorite target was Bussey in the win over the Eagles. It was another impressive night for the man wearing Antonio Brown's old number. Something that's becoming a norm for Bussey.
"He should've caught the touchdown in the redzone," Haskins said. "So, I got on him about making a play and he made a play for me."
The undrafted wideout from Hawaii caught four passes for 45 yards, leading the team in receptions and yards.
The Steelers don't need any more wide receivers, but that fifth roster spot isn't guaranteed for anyone. Bussey is climbing the ladder and might find himself wearing No. 84 during the regular season.
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