PITTSBURGH — In the grand scheme of things, winning or losing a preseason football game doesn’t matter that much for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the plays and moments inside those games can certainly be impactful, for many reasons.
The Steelers got one of those moments in Saturday night’s win over the Seattle Seahawks, when blitzing rookie linebacker Mark Robinson hit Seattle quarterback Drew Lock, forcing a fumble that got the Steelers the ball with just over a minute left in a tied game.
Fellow rookie Kenny Pickett then led the offense on a game-winning scoring drive with a touchdown pass to Tyler Vaughns securing the win with three seconds left.
The win was a nice moment for the crowd at Acrisure Stadium which gave well above-average energy for a preseason contest, but fairly meaningless in the long run for the team.
Those two moments that helped the Steelers earn the win, though? Those mattered a ton.
Robinson, the team’s sixth-round pick out of Ole Miss, is trying to find a role on the team as a backup inside linebacker and special teamer. A former running back, he has just two years of playing linebacker under his belt and is something of a project for the Steelers at the position.
A few plays earlier, Robinson had been badly beaten in pass coverage by Seattle running back Deejay Dallas, who scored and let the Seahawks tie the game.
The Steelers got the ball back with plenty of time to drive down the field and score, but Pickett’s first attempt at a game-winning drive went badly. With the Steelers facing a 4th and 1 at the Seattle 45, Pickett took an 8-yard sack, giving Seattle the ball with plenty of time to score and win themselves.
It would have been a nice statistical performance for Pickett at any rate, but it would certainly have been a different feeling if the Steelers’ first-round pick finished 11 of 13 for 69 yards, one touchdown and the turnover on downs that led to the game-winning score for the other team.
Instead, after Pickett’s turnover, Robinson helped get the ball right back. He came unblocked as a blitzed to Lock’s blind side, exploded through the Seattle quarterback and knocked the ball loose.
.@Steelers #93/ Mark Robinson. When you run a physical full contact camp like Mike T does in Latrobe: you begin to see who the “hitters” are. Robinson seeks contact with one step explosion BOOM #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/J4KUWAOgow
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) August 14, 2022
Robinson credited the design of the blitz for fooling Seattle into leaving him unblocked. After that, he knew what he had to do.
“The ball must be coming out,” Robinson said. That’s exactly what happened, and that let Pickett re-write the ending to the story of his first preseason game.
“(Pickett) displayed a competitive spirit,” Tomlin said. “A lot of good things to build on from a first performance standpoint.”
But it’s worth wondering how that evaluation might have changed had the game not ended the way it did. It’s one game in a story that will take dozens to fully tell, but it’s an interesting study in how even one play in a preseason game can be important to the career of a player.
“It’s a good momentum swing for everybody involved,” Robinson said. “Getting us out of here with a win. Me showing everybody that I can make a play. We’re going to break down the film, get back to work and try to get another one next week.”