Takeaways from the Steelers’ preseason finale against the Falcons

The 2023 NFL preseason is officially in the books for the Pittsburgh Steelers following their 24-0 win over the Atlanta Falcons on the road Thursday night. There will be a lot of people who will read this and say, “Yeah, but the Falcons didn’t play any first-teamers, but the Steelers did.” I’m not sure that really matters in an exhibition game considering the Steelers wanted to evaluate what all available, healthy personnel who were allowed to dress had to offer in the final “warm-up” game ahead of the 2023 NFL regular season.

There are some things to take away from this game that actually have meaning, especially when it comes to the players who did see the field.

Embed from Getty Images

First-team looks ready to truly compete on offense and defense

On offense, quarterback Kenny Pickett continued to show how much he has improved his game as he led two offensive series to open the game that resulted in touchdowns. For those who are counting, that makes the first-team offense’s numbers five-of-five (perfect) for putting the ball in the end zone when they were on the field during the entirety of the preseason. By the time Pickett was pulled off of the field in Thursday night’s game he had completed four-of-four passes for 86 yards; he was 13-15 during the preseason for 1,99 yards and two passing touchdowns for a perfect passer rating of 158.3 as reported by Dale Lolley of Steelers.com. I’d be interested in finding out if that isn’t an NFL record for a preseason quarterback, but preseason stats aren’t official and it may not be easy to verify.

“I think it’s proof that the hard work we put in paid off in the preseason.” – Kenny Pickett

The three Steelers touchdowns came from running backs. Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren were truly a one-two strike as they both scored in the first two offensive series. When the second unit came in, Anthony McFarland found the end zone to put the Steelers up 21-0.

As for the first-team defense, T.J. Watt grabbed a sack and Elandon Roberts stuffed a run play for a four-yard loss. Later in the game, Roberts earned a sack by bursting through a gap straight at an unprotected Logan Woodside. It wasn’t that others didn’t make plays; they did. They completely shut down Atlanta.

The first-half statistics alone reflected how dominating Pittsburgh was in the game, especially with their first-team players on the field. The Steelers logged 253 yards of offense to the Falcons’ 55 in the first half alone and took a 128-yard to 5-yard advantage in just the ground game.

Even special teams were stellar. So, there’s little to not be excited about when the first regular season roster is announced and fans prepare for the Steelers’ season-opener against the San Francisco 49ers on September 10.

Embed from Getty Images

The backups didn’t look bad, either

It’s hard to label certain players as “backups” per se, but in this game, it was mainly the second team and then players looking to solidify a roster spot that the label applies to. When Atlanta finally mounted its first successful, sustained offensive drive, linebacker Mark Robinson and rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr. met with Carlos Washington in the middle; the result was a forced fumble that safety Kenny Robinson was able to grab and keep the Falcons out of the end zone.

Nick Herbig, Quincy Roche, and Toby Ndukwe all recorded sacks, with rookie Herbig walking away as the team’s leader during the preseason with 3.5. Roche was able to strip the ball loose as he took down Atlanta’s quarterback and the Steelers recovered that loose ball, as well.

“Anytime a defense can get a shutout, that’s always rewarding because that’s something you always shoot for, keeping guys out of the end zone, and that’s what we were able to do.” – Patrick Peterson

McFarland was the workhorse on offense with both Mitchell Trubisky and Mason Rudolph at quarterback. He carried the ball for 55 yards and a touchdown on just ten carries; his longest went for 31 yards. McFarland seems to have solidified his spot as RB3 in the Steelers’ offense and offers a different dynamic to that squad in place of Harris and Warren, and he’s played very well during the entire preseason.

Interestingly, the Steelers actually got Connor Heyward involved in not only the passing game but also as a rusher in this third preseason game. It may be an indication of how they plan to utilize his athleticism moving forward.

Embed from Getty Images

Final thoughts

The Steelers exited the preseason without any serious injuries to their first-team players, and really didn’t suffer real setbacks injury-wise across the board. That definitely helps as this team prepares for regular-season play. That means my cohort Will Moffitt can stop talking about the blue tent for a while.

Tomlin said, “I just think it’s difficult to box without sparring,” when he was asked ahead of the game about his decision to go ahead and play first-team players in this exhibition. By exiting the preseason with a perfect 3-0 record, I think it’s safe to say that the sparring has made this team a true boxing contender that will be hunting for knockouts throughout the season.


Suggested articles from our sponsors