5 observations (not QBs!) from the Steelers win over the Seahawks
Well, at least two of those guys – George Pickens stole Rudolph’s thunder, while Pickett stole fellow game-winning WR Tyler Vaughn’s.
However, there’s a lot more going on this offseason, through training camp, and now the Steelers first preseason game, than simply who will be under center for Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Talking about the quarterbacks is low-hanging fruit right now, but there are other stories that Steelers Nation should keep an eye on. Here’s a few of those, cherrypicked from their recent “victory” over the Seattle Seahawks.
Anthony McFarland has a place on this team
I’m often as guilty as anyone for forgetting about veteran players on the team and jumping to the shiny new toys.
McFarland led all backs with 7 carries for 56 yards, as well as 8.0 yards per carry.
For the former 2020 fourth round pick, this game was vindication in his fight to retain a roster spot, as rookies Jaylen Warren and Mataeo Durant have been breathing down 26’s neck all season.
McFarland showed signs of another back who wore 26 not long ago, quickly changing direction and finding lanes to run. It’s a short sample for an often-injured player who has had difficulty showcasing his talents in the previous offseasons, and will go a long way in helping his stock rise as a player who should, at the least, remain on the roster as a change-of-pace back.
Jaylen Warren’s path to the 53
The undrafted rookie “phenom” of this training camp, Warren was also heavily featured in Saturday’s game, carrying the ball 6 times for 34 yards, a 5.7 average per-carry.
Warren even caught 4 of 5 passes for 30 yards, while also scoring from one of those receptions. He came right back on the field for kick return coverage duties and made the tackle on that play as well.
His path to beating out McFarland or Snell for a spot on the 53-man roster, however, took a ding when he fumbled the football during the game.
The play was noticed by Mike Tomlin, who made his mantra of ball protection evident in his postgame press conference.
Warren has shown the ability to pass protect well, and adding special teams skills to his resume is another feather in his cap toward making the team – but putting the ball on the ground will see him dismissed as quickly as his 15 minutes came to fruition.
Was the offensive line good or bad?
Tweeting during the game, I made note of how new offensive line coach Pat Meyer has the Steelers playing a bullying run game. I then made light of how the pass protection was not so hot too.
While the Steelers offense ran for a combined 185 yards on the ground, they also allowed each of the three quarterbacks to be put in danger.
It started with Mitchell Trubisky keeping a ball tight to his hip and escaping a would-be strip-sack in the first quarter, which followed through to LT Dan Moore Jr. being ineffective on Mason Rudolph’s first play in the game – where the QB was stripped and recovered his own fumble, only to be tossed to the ground seconds later.
Rookie QB Kenny Pickett, albeit more mobile than Rudolph, was sacked twice – once near his own goal line (avoiding a safety) and another on a 4th-and-1 where Seattle’s Boye Mafe blew up a rollout pass attempt to take down the Pitt product.
While the Steelers brass valued mobility in their search to replace Ben Roethlisberger, they also value being able to throw from the pocket, and not have to freelance every pass play. The o-line will need to step up and be better, as this showing against typically vanilla defenses (especially one without all of its starters suited up) wasn’t a good one.
Karl Joseph‘s unfortunate injury
Joseph left Saturday’s game after playing a single special teams snap.
He was seen afterward on crutches and in a walking boot – hardly a good sign for a former first round pick who was making in-rounds to cracking the main roster in 2022.
His setback will make the Steelers decision on whom to keep in their secondary a bit easier, as there was a logjam of depth among the safety group in particular. Still, you hate to see something like this happen for a player who had already overcome so much adversity since entering the league with such fanfare.
The clock could be ticking for…
A number of players on the roster bubble missed action this weekend. Others, who should have a secure roster spot, may no longer be as cozy, with their replacements showing that the incumbents could be expendable.
Among those whose seats got warmer following Saturday’s game are Benny Snell, who is competing with McFarland and Warren for the primary backup spot to Najee Harris and Anthony Miller, who could force the Steelers to keep six wide receivers this fall.
Kevin Dotson, who has been listed as a co-starter with Kendrick Green at left guard, needs to get on the field. Injuries have set him back far enough in his career and his starting spot is all but safe.
At inside linebacker, Marcus Allen missed the game too. With second-year pro Buddy Johnson and rookie Marcus Robinson seeing ample playing time, Allen could become an afterthought as a reserve linebacker and special teamer.
Lastly, I’m starting to feel nervous for 35-year-old Tyson Alualu, who missed almost all of the 2021 season and started this year’s camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list.
Alualu too was missing in action Saturday, as a number of backup defensive linemen make their case for what has traditionally been six open spots on the depth chart. Those spots are easily occupied by Cameron Heyward, Larry Ogunjobi, Chris Wormley, and rookie DeMarvin Leal. Second-year pro Isaiahh Loudermilk should seize one of the two remaining spots, which then would be up for grabs among Montravious Adams, Carlos Davis, and Khalil Davis.
Long-time practice squad and bottom roster fill-in Henry Mondeaux could also have a say in what appears to be a crowded area for an aging Alualu, who is still returning from injury.