The Steelers closed their preseason with a convincing win over the Atlanta Falcons to go undefeated in the preseason, who benched most of their starters. What can we take away from the final game Pittsburgh played before their first regular season against the San Francisco 49ers?
Kenny Pickett, Offense is Ready
Simply put, the Steelers offense did everything Mike Tomlin could have asked for and then some. Kenny Pickett went 13 of 15 in the preseason on five drives for five touchdowns overall. The Steelers’ offense looked sterling the entire preseason, but the most impressive thing is that they won in multiple ways. Pickett diced teams up through the air both underneath, in the middle of the field, and to the sideline. Moreover, the run game proved they could be efficient behind a new, improved offensive line.
Pittsburgh excelled on first down, challenging third down situations, and in the red zone. Matt Canada should be pleased with how these guys look out there. For Pickett, the game looks slower. His pocket movement is poised and decisive. The progressions he moves through have a purpose with the coverage in mind. His eyes show that he is manipulating safeties to create holes in the coverages based on the look from pre-snap to post-snap. Some of the throws he has made are high-difficulty, tight-window throws. It is just the preseason, but the Steelers offense looks legitimate and improved.
Armon Watts Shows Out
The Steelers will have tough decisions along the defensive line, but I’m not sure that one will be Armon Watts. The depth defensive line is a great rotation of players with different strengths, yet most of them do not have the pass rush juice or upside Watts brings. He is a little wild and can be up and down, but Watts has an above-the-line burst on his first step and an array of pass-rush moves that work off his above-average pad level throughout his play.
Certainly, there will be a hard decision to be made by the Steelers, and they will lose an NFL-caliber player. Yet, the more he plays, the less I believe it will be Watts who continues to prove he has a unique trait, his pass rush ability, that should keep him on the final roster.
Offensive Line Shows Encouraging Signs
The Steelers’ offensive line continues to show signs of growth across the board. For one, Isaac Seumalo looks like a true cornerstone for this team. I talked with Kevin Dotson on Tuesday about Seumalo, and he is viewed as almost the Wiseman of the group who has seen all the NFL has to offer. Though quiet, he is a high-level player on the field and a quiet leader who proves what he brings by example. Right tackle Chuks Okorafor came out ready to block with a vengeance. On Jaylen Warren’s touchdown run, he violently kicked out the edge rusher on his touchdown run. Overall, Okorafor looked great.
On the other side, down with the second string, Dylan Cook continues his climb up the Steelers depth chart. He worked with the second team again but got reps at left guard. That means he has now played in three varsity spots in the preseason. Broderick Jones had his best game of the preseason. The rookie has improved each game, and his run blocking in this game looked fantastic. Jones’ run blocking looked similar to what was on his Georgia tape. He mauled guys throughout the game. Even Kendrick Green looked fine with the ones at guard. Overall, it was a solid game for the offensive line.
Remember the whole running back debate from earlier this week? It is all so pointless and one that is superficial at the surface. Harris and Warren proved on Thursday that they are on heck of a duo. Harris proved an efficient player in the air and on the ground in his five touches, ripping off two gains of 10 or more yards. His touchdown run highlighted his toughness near the goal line. Warren showcased his leg drive and power after he trucked a Falcons defensive back on his way to the end zone.
Anthony McFarland deserves a mention here, too. He did everything he could from the start of training camp to now to earn his roster spot. McFarland’s speed is a special trait, but he never ran with this much decisiveness and toughness between the tackles. He looks like a solid RB3 who can contribute as a receiver and a versatile football runner. The Steelers will not need to go outside the organization to add another running back. They have all the guys they need.
Elandon Roberts Balls Out
The entire Steelers inside linebacker corps seems to be overturned positively. But Thursday shined a light on the downhill run stopper that is Elandon Roberts. Roberts made multiple stops in the backfield and even got a sack after green-dogging a play. There is little that Roberts did not do at a high level in the best part of his game.
He may never be an elite coverage linebacker, but Cole Holcomb and Kwon Alexander help him with that. Roberts brings the downhill thumper label to the room and embraces his strengths and anyone in the room. A game against a run-heavy team such as the Falcons is where Roberts will shine throughout the season.