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Dudes & Duds: Moore Rewards Tomlin’s Faith, CB Issues Persist




Derrick Bell is off this week after welcoming his son Nolan to the world, so you’re stuck with me for Dudes and Duds this week. Not to worry. As always, the Pittsburgh Steelers gave us plenty to talk about.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — The big point of discussion surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers leading up to the team’s Week 7 game against the Los Angeles Rams was why in the world head coach Mike Tomlin was going back to Dan Moore at left tackle.

Moore had played well enough in the first three games of the season, but was hardly inspiring more confidence than he had in the past. That past performance convinced the Steelers that they needed to trade up in the first round to get Georgia tackle Broderick Jones in this year’s draft.

When Moore suffered a knee injury in Week 4 against the Houston Texans, Jones came in and flashed some of the promise that made him a top pick. In Week 5 against the Baltimore Ravens, he turned in an excellent game against veteran edge rusher Jadaveon Clowney, allowing just one pressure.

But with Moore back from his injury over the bye, Tomlin decided to go back to Moore and leave the rookie on the bench against the Rams.

His plan was skewered by most, with fans and pundits alike thinking that Tomlin should have let his first-round pick show his worth.

Instead, Moore might have had his best game of the season.

Now it’s important to note that the Rams’ defense is essentially just Aaron Donald and a bunch of nobodies, but Moore handled those nobodies. When the Steelers were having success running the ball for what seemed like the first time in ages, almost all of the runs were coming to the left behind Moore and Isaac Seumalo.

Moore isn’t a great left tackle, but he didn’t need to be for the Steelers to rough up the Rams, and there aren’t a lot of great edge rushers coming until the Steelers visit the Browns in a month. I don’t know whether Moore’s strong play will continue, but it certainly seems for now that Tomlin was not wrong to lean on his vet.

Dud: Levi Wallace

The Rams presented a difficult assignment for the Steelers cornerbacks, with three basically interchangeable wide receivers and an offensive coordinator with a deep bag of tricks to get them open. The Steelers managed to limit Cooper Kupp and Tutu Atwell for most of the game, but didn’t really have an answer for Puka Nacua. At some level, that’s OK, and while Nacua’s yards after the catch were a problem, the Steelers could have lived with most of his receptions.

Atwell had just one catch, but it was a huge one — a 31-yard touchdown just before the second half. Wallace was in coverage and was right with Atwell when Matt Stafford heaved up a desperation pass well short of his receiver. Wallace never reacted to the ball, Atwell did and what had been good coverage turned into a way-too-easy backbreaking touchdown.

Joey Porter Jr. has been coming on and at some point is going to earn a full share of reps at outside cornerback. In the second half against the Rams, it was mostly Wallace’s reps that he was taking.

Dudes: George Pickens and Diontae Johnson together

We’ve seen good things from George Pickens all season, but that went to another level with Diontae Johnson back on the field. With defenses unable to double-cover Pickens, he went off for 107 yards on five catches and Johnson was a very productive five for 79 on only six targets.

“You can’t double George as much as you’d like,” Pickett said. “I think that’s what we saw today. It was a lot more singled up, giving him chances on slants and down the field and moved him inside in that four-minute and got him down the seam. Then Diontae is doing his thing with his route running and his run after catch was huge today. He should have had more. We had another penalty that got called back. Both those guys played lights out today.”

Duds: George Pickens and Diontae Johnson separately

The Steelers wide receivers took three personal foul penalties, with Pickens collecting a flag for blindside blocking that negated a huge Johnson catch and run, and then a taunting foul that wiped out one of his own first downs. Johnson was called for taunting Ahkello Witherspoon after he was called for defensive pass interference.

Pickens’ blocking foul cost the team 27 yards and a first down. His taunt cost them 15 yards, and Johnson’s taunt cost them 10 yards and a first down. That’s 52 yards of negativity that doesn’t

Dude: Chris Boswell

It wasn’t necessarily a huge day for Chris Boswell, who contributed one 53-yard field goal and three extra points to the victory. But it’s not hard to notice how easy the Steelers have it in the kicking game while watching Brett Maher miss two field goals and an extra point — the entire margin of victory for Pittsburgh.

Dude: Minkah Fitzpatrick

Cooper Kupp was basically a non-factor out of the slot for much of the game, with Minkah Fitzpatrick doing double duty as a sometimes-slot-corner and sometimes deep safety, but putting in a lot of work in minimizing the Rams’ All-Pro. Kupp had just two catches for 29 yards on seven targets and more than one of his missed catches came with No. 39 bearing down on him.

Dud: Darnell Washington

The big tight end came into the NFL with a ton of promise to be a big tight end that was not just a blocker. But thrust into duty earlier than expected because of Pat Freiermuth’s injury, he hasn’t yet lived up to that billing and was largely replaced by Connor Heyward on Sunday. Washington still has plenty of potential, but he’s not yet the player that he was promised to be.

Dudes: Steelers DLs Adams, Benton, Ogunjobi

The thought coming into the game was that the Rams, without Kyren Williams and already a bit pass-happy, might make themselves one-dimensional. Instead, they handed the ball to Darrell Henderson and Royce Freeman 30 times. The Steelers probably aren’t happy with the 4.4 yards per carry average for L.A., but they were able to tighten up when it mattered. They also got a bunch of penetration plays and quarterback hits that put Stafford and company in uncomfortable down and distances.

Dud: Patrick Peterson in man coverage

It wasn’t all bad for the old warhorse, who played some slot and some safety in addition to starting at outside corner, but the image of him running five yards behind a crossing Puka Nacua, looking hopelessly winded with no chance of catching him is the first time I’ve thought to myself “maybe he just doesn’t have it anymore.” His instincts can still serve him well in zone coverage, but man-to-man against top receivers could be a tough sell the rest of the way.