The Steelers snagged a preseason victory over the Atlanta Falcons to finish their three games before welcoming the San Francisco 49ers in September for their Week 1 clash. However, who came out of the game looking better or worse for themselves?
Winner: First Team Offense
Yet again, just like last week, the entire first-team offense deserves the distinction to be a winner—two drives, including a 92-yard drive, and two touchdowns. Really, how can anyone complain about this group? Kenny Pickett delivered strikes down both sidelines to showcase his improved ball placement from a year ago.
Diontae Johnson smoked a cornerback off the line of scrimmage to get wide open. George Pickens made another freak catch down the sideline. The offensive line opened holes for the running backs and protected Pickett well. Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren ran with a purpose for two touchdowns. Where are the negatives? Well, there are none.
Loser: James Pierre
This is not the preseason that James Pierre envisioned. He cuts his teeth as a gunner and backup cornerback, but it seems too often that receivers just run open against him. It was lots of catch and tackle for Pierre, whose inconsistencies are concerning should the Steelers deal with an injury at outside cornerback. Maybe they surprise everyone and go outside the organization to acquire somebody, but for now, Pierre is a vital part of the depth they are banking on. They need him to play better if he gets the chance. The good news is that he has in the past.
Winner: Elandon Roberts
The thumper of the Steelers inside linebackers room got his chance to play against a run-heavy team and delivered in spades. Roberts flew over the football field. He green dogged downhill for a sack on a heads-up play that only a veteran would make. There were several big hits he pulled off throughout the night. But in the largest showcase of his ability yet, Roberts rose to the challenge and proved that he is the most valuable in the room. No one is a better run defender than Roberts in that room. That is where he makes his hay.
Loser: Backup WRs
No one stood out positively for the Steelers on offense outside the top four wide receivers. Dez Fitzpatrick deserves a shout for excellent special teams, but no one else made plays. Aron Cruickshank seemed to get open several times but never brought down any deep balls thrown his way. Whether that was due to errant passes or bad ball tracking remains to be seen. Regardless, no one pushed themselves over the line for those final wide receiver spots. Miles Boykin and Gunner Olszewski are undoubtedly the top players on that list when final roster cutdowns come.
Winner: Kenny Robinson
Kenny Robinson made a solid case for himself in one final push at the Steelers roster. The training camp standout pulled down a loose fumble, but he seemed all over the field. Robinson made several tackles and played on punt and kickoff units in special teams. He might not make the final team, but the final push by Robinson reminded the Steelers of where he was at the start of training camp and the push he made when others suffered injuries. At the very least, Robinson has secured himself a spot on the practice squad, but the tape should be plenty intriguing to 31 other teams if the Steelers do not think he did enough to make the final roster.
Loser: B.T. Potter
It seems like reaching down the bar when the backup kicker is on the loser’s list, but Potter never had much chance to beat out Chris Boswell from the outset. He missed a field goal in relief of Chris Boswell. That will not fly nor endear him to other teams looking for kickers. Potter was out there auditioning for other teams, but those misses and shaky kicks against Tampa Bay will raise some concern about him despite his impressive resume at Clemson.
Winner: Connor Heyward
Heyward played all over the football field on Thursday and played well wherever asked by the Steelers. He proved he has the power and a little wiggle to be in the backfield as an actual running back. Heyward runs crisp enough routes to stick himself out wide or in line. Then, his mobility and blocking in space give him an appealing option to be an H-Back. I have said it before, but Heyward is not any position label you may throw on him; he is a fantasy football flex. He plays so many spots and brings terrific value across the team.
Loser: Backups RBs (not Anthony McFarland)
The Steelers running backs, at this point, are competing for a practice squad spot, with Anthony McFarland solidifying his spot on the 53-man roster as the RB3. However, none of the depth running backs proved that they had an ironclad grip on that spot. The team may look to add to that room from the outside. For a group that was supposed to push McFarland, there was very little pushing for anyone to do with McFarland balling out and the others falling down the totem pole.
Winner: Edge Rushers
You can throw the whole edge rusher room in this one for the Steelers. Wow, what a performance by the entire group. Quincy Roche broke out for his best day at training camp or in a game. David Perales flashed his hot motor and pressured the quarterback several times. Toby Ndukwe got some shots in there, too. The top four on this depth chart are rock solid; each had standout reps. All in all, right now, it might just be the best room on the entire team. Unfortunately for the Steelers, some players will likely get poached from this group.