Quick Yinzing: Reactions from the Steelers’ final preseason game against the Panthers
Welcome to “Quick Yinzing”, a fast reaction article where a member of the SCU staff gives their initial post-game impressions without digging into any films, major stats, or other deep analysis. It’s as real as that car ride home or sobering down at the bar following the game.
Thursday night in Carolina was the final rehearsal for guys wearing the black and gold for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Every year, the final NFL preseason game is always a tad bittersweet due to the fact that there will be players that won’t be wearing a jersey due to cuts before the 2019-20 regular season kicks off. In the final game, there were players who definitely made a case for keeping them around. Let’s take a look at who stayed on the radar.
Quarterback non-controversy solved?
Joshua Dobbs did get the start under center against the Panthers. It wasn’t a spectacular outing. The offense went three-and-out on their first series. With the way the Steelers defense was playing, however, Dobbs’ evaluation really didn’t last that long before Mason Rudolph was sent into the game. Dobbs’ preseason ended with zero touchdowns and his biggest plays of the night were with his legs.
Rudolph clearly took control of this game despite Devlin Hodges getting what looked to be the last snaps in a Steelers jersey (barring a major issue or placement on the practice squad). Rudolph was under pressure for most of his time in the game but still managed to get Benny Snell and Eli Rogers on quick passes before hooking up with Diontae Johnson. Backed up due to three holding penalties in a row, Rudolph was forced to wait until the next offensive series to get back to work. He took the Steelers offense down the field and fired two nice passes to Johnny Holton, one of which was a touchdown to put the Steelers ahead.
Hodges’ game wasn’t the best on this night, but he might have shown enough during the preseason to land on a roster. It’s just not a certainty it’s in Pittsburgh.
With little to no rushing from the Steelers to speak of, the game turned into a contest of arms and scrambling ability for the Pittsburgh quarterbacks. The guy at the top when it was all said and done was Rudolph. He finished his preseason with four touchdowns and looks ready to back up Ben Roethlisberger. Whether the Steelers hang onto Dobbs for his run-ability when hurried out of the pocket or take a gamble on Hodges sticking around will be a major storyline to watch for this coming week.
Who will grab the No. 4 WR slot?
Holton had the biggest night of all the receivers. Granted, James Washington was given a few snaps but smartly pulled from the game as it became clear that the Carolina defense was ready to dial-up as much pressure as Pittsburgh was, especially up front. This is a positional group that has been challenged this preseason and it should be interesting to see who will stick on the roster. It seems clear that behind JuJu Smith-Schuster and Donte Moncrief, Washington is their No. 3 WR at this point. Holton may have made enough of an impact, however, to see his name on a locker during the regular season. Ryan Switzer, Eli Rogers, Diontae Johnson all made themselves known, even if they weren’t involved in big plays. Everyone else may be on the outside looking in.
The real story of the game was “D”
The Steelers came to play on defense, even though a reported 24 players did not dress for this game (and that was almost everyone whose name Steelers fans were most familiar with). It began with Ulysees Gilbert blocking the field goal attempt at the end of the Panthers’ first offensive series. It picked up speed as Jayrone Elliott stripped the ball out of Will Grier’s hand and scooped it up on the bounce to roll for 88 yards and a touchdown to give the Steelers a 7-0 lead. Throw in sacks by Sutton Smith, Isaiah Buggs, Robert Spillane, then add an interception by Cam Sutton and another by Marcelis Branch, and the Steelers looked like they were locked in and locked on tight.
Unfortunately, with the Steelers offense stalling out in the final quarter, it meant that guys trying to grab a spot on special teams (coverage units) or depth position remained in the game and were gassed. Carolina was able to take advantage in the final minutes of the game due, in part, to two roughing penalties and then some miscommunication among Pittsburgh defenders.
A lot of people didn’t want to see Devin Bush in this game at all. The snaps he did play showed why he’s going to be key to the Steelers defense during the regular season. He is fluid. He can play sideline to sideline. And he’s quick enough to shut down plays even if he’s asked to drop into coverage. Bush still is not perfectly polished, but he appears to be ready to keep shining moving forward.
Finally, if Tuzar Skipper doesn’t earn a spot somewhere with this Steelers team it will be a crying shame. The guy was literally making plays all over the field and deserves at the least a spot on the practice squad. At the least (although it would be advantageous for Pittsburgh just to give him a spot in the linebacker rotation on the 53-man roster).
The Steelers didn’t win the game. If fans were hoping for a perfect preseason, they didn’t get it. Kicker Matthew Wright missed a field goal and an extra point attempt, so whether there will be any further controversy as to whether Chris Boswell earns the placekicking spot or not remains to be seen. Overall, Pittsburgh has shown throughout the preseason that there is some concern to be had over the productivity from Benny Snell, Jr. moving forward, but he’ll get time to work behind James Conner and Jaylen Samuels that should improve his game. The biggest takeaway from the preseason finale is that the Steelers look ready to compete in 2019-20 and play big, hard, and fast. On to the season!