PHILADELPHIA — The Steelers went into Philadelphia trying to play clean football. While they did not necessarily do that, committing a couple crucial first-half penalties and falling into a big hole before coming back for a victory. Even in victory, the Steelers have things to takeaway from this game, and more importantly, build upon as training camp rounds into the station. Who comes out of the game as a winner and who are the losers?
Winner: Dwayne Haskins
No question about it, Haskins was the best quarterback out there Thursday night. He made a few impressive plays where he worked through progressions and reads. In particular, his Cover 2 hole shot to Rico Bussey and the throw of the seam to Cody White were impressive. For a few reasons, those stood out more than any other play, including the touchdown pass to Anthony Johnson.
For one, Haskins had to work through multiple reads and go off-script as a result of those plays. It required advanced above-the-neck processing to make such plays. Haskins is obviously still working past some obvious blemishes, including a near interception. However, his play was above the line on Thursday, and far more impressive than the tape that starter Mason Rudolph put out there.
Loser: Starting Offensive Line
It is hard to understate how brutal watching the Steelers offensive line can be at times. Chukwuma Okorafor did not have a strong start after missing the first game with an injury. There were some reps when it was all there, but against good players like Josh Sweat, Okorafor could not seem to keep up and he also had a false start. Rashaad Coward nearly got Rudolph killed after being taken to school by Javon Hargrave. Joe Haeg was beaten badly by Milton Williams. Both were near to a non-presence in the running game. Trai Turner looked somewhat stiff and upright and took a holding penalty. He may need to stay in a phone booth to work in the future. Even Kendrick Green struggled after having a good camp.
“Just building continuity,” Turner said. “I was glad to be out there, glad to be with the guys and just build. Building some chemistry, building some trust. It’s an unsung thing knowing where I’ll be and knowing where they will be when I don’t know them exactly. Just kind of feeling each other’s footsteps and footwork. It’s good to get that in a game setting.”
Kevin Dotson and Dan Moore Jr. are the exceptions to this rule. Both played well tonight and cleared some lanes, even if some of it was against second- and third-stringers. It is clear that Dotson has to get back in the lineup. He looks like the best lineman on this team. Meanwhile, Moore looks way more prepared than a fourth-round rookie really should, and more than he did at the start of the summer.
Winner: Anthony McFarland
McFarland has shown some much-needed positive signs in 2021 thus far. That stands for both in camp and the preseason, but it’s important to note that McFarland has been working on his patience. A few times on Thursday night, that patience showed up. McFarland’s burst and athleticism have always been eye-popping. That will never be a question.
However, what always has been and will be is in his question is his vision. That appears to be much rectified this season. McFarland showed up more prepared to have the game slow down for him. On his touchdown run, McFarland broke a tackle and bounced outside to get to the end zone. That is exactly the type of play McFarland can exceed with. If he keeps it up, McFarland could secure his stats as the the second running back.
“Obviously, practice is always gonna be different than a game, but in a game, as I get the ball more and more, I just learn how to be comfortable,” McFarland said. “Just being patient, not being so jittery; taking it one play at a time.”
Loser: Inside Linebackers
Let’s keep this one real. Sure, Robert Spillane is fine in the running game. Actually, he is pretty good at doing that. However, he never had the blitzing acumen that Vince Williams brought to the table or the coverage skills of a Devin Bush.
Spillane was beaten multiple times in coverage on Thursday, and that was around the news breaking that the team is acquiring inside backer Joe Schobert from the Jacksonville Jaguars. Spillane does not have the same type of juice that Schobert can bring to the table in the linebacker room. Either way, it’s sliced, Spillane was a huge loser tonight.
Bush was not in a much better spot, either. While he is the obvious starter, Bush was toasted twice in his limited action on the field by Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz.
Ulysees Gilbert III was also beaten badly. Multiple bad coverage reps and a few odd angles were the lowlights for Gilbert, who could be playing himself off the roster. Outside of that, there is not much to write home about from anyone else. It was a rough night to be an inside linebacker.
Winner: Jamir Jones
This young man has put together a phenomenal few practices and now two straight impressive games. It does not mean he will make the roster, but Jamir Jones has put his name out there enough to either get claimed or easily earn himself a spot on the Steelers practice squad. With another sack, a few pressures, including one that forced an interception, and two special teams tackles, Jones has put himself on the radar.
The Steelers may have to keep five outside linebackers in order to fit Jones on the roster. That may look a bit murky as it stands, but Jones is, at the very least, doing every single thing he can to potentially get that spot on the team. Whether it comes to fruition will depend on his continued progress.
Loser: Terrell Edmunds
Terrell Edmunds had his struggles in his first preseason action of 2021. Getting dusted by Tyree Jackson was his lowest point. Luckily for him, it was an awful throw by Flacco who threw the ball short of the long-framed Jackson. Edmunds struggled to consistently fit the run against the Eagles’ offensive line. On Quez Watkins’ touchdown, Edmunds filtered Watkins inside when there was no inside help on the play instead of attacking down the alley. There were a series of rocky plays for him, and he has to be better in the regular season.
Winner: Rico Bussey
There were a few wide receivers that stood out on Thursday. Still, Bussey may have been the best of them. He showed tough hands even through contact or tight coverage. Somewhat even more impressive, Bussey was able to threaten Philadelphia vertically, and they had to shift towards Bussey for the rest of the night as a result. When a player can have that type of impact and prove he has the ability to make the tough plays, he is earning himself a potential spot on the practice squad.
Loser: Josh Dobbs
In the limited time he was on the field, Josh Dobbs looked worse than he has all summer. There was an interception on a blatant stare-down of Cody White, thrown to three white shirts, and even the completions were somewhat erratic. Dobbs forced Anthony Johnson to layout for a ball that should have been right on the money if he had thrown a proper ball to the outside shoulder on a sail route. That was trying to make something happen that was not there. Overall, it was a day that Dobbs frankly did not need, and the strong performance by Haskins didn’t help the veteran’s cause for making the 53-man roster.