By: Adam Nachamie
The biggest question mark of the Pittsburgh Steelers is who will be the starting quarterback in week one and all three of the options showed out in their first opportunity of the 2022 season. Mitchell Trubisky started the game while Mason Rudolph came in second and Kenny Pickett played last. All three of them played well showing command of the offense and scoring a touchdown on their first drive keeping all of them in contention for the starting spot. Trubisky looked the most confident of the three. On his first drive, he led a 90-yard 7-play touchdown drive. He finished the night 4/7 with 63 yards and one touchdown on his two drives. Mason Rudolph was 9/15 with 93 yards and one touchdown. His massive highlight was a great 26-yard throw to George Pickens who made a highlight tip-toe catch in the back right corner of the end zone. Rudolph played the rest of the half as Pickett played the entire second half. After struggling at camp Pickett came to play completing 13 of 15 attempts with 95 yds and two touchdowns while adding three rushes for 16 yards showing off his scrambling skills. Pickett did take two sacks in which he tried to do too much, but one felt like a questionable play call going play action on 4th and short away from the heavy side of the offensive line that was stacked on the right side. It was good to see the Steelers call some play-action plays as they rarely ever called them in recent years with Roethlisberger as their starter. He had the best grade and rating of the three quarterbacks while also throwing the game-winning touchdown to Tyler Vaughns with just three seconds remaining. It doesn’t seem likely he will start week one, but this game showed Steeler fans they should be excited for Pickett as they might have found their franchise quarterback. The job seems like Trubisky’s to lose before week one of the NFL season.
After having very limited success with any running back getting snaps not named Najee Harris three running backs stood out. Anthony McFarland started the game and looked incredible. His major weakness in recent years was not taking what the defense usually gave him always wanting to get to the outside and make a big gain. He seemed to take everything the defense would give him and ended with 56 yards on 7 attempts averaging 8 yards per carry. Jaylen Warren is an undrafted rookie out of Oklahoma State who looked very promising. He had six carries for 34 yards averaging 5.7 yards per carry while adding 30 yards and a touchdown in the receiving game. He showed his incredible ability to break tackles, but did have a fumble when he tried to do too much which was luckily recovered by teammate Miles Boykin. he also had a great tackle on special teams that was noticed. Master Teague was the third running back who looked good as the Ohio State Alumni had 6 carries for 31 yards averaging 5.2 yards per carry and ran hard every time he touched the ball. It seems Master Teague still has an uphill climb to make the roster with McFarland and Warren performing well, but if he continues to showcase his skillset the Steelers might not have a choice but to keep all three of the running backs. As McFarland and Warren impressed in their special team roles it is definitely a possibility to keep all four on the active roster.
With Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool not playing and locked in as the top two wide receivers on the team it gave other players the chance to shine and prove they deserve their roster spots. George Pickens looked great and is fully expected to be the third starting QB week 1. Off-season signing Gunner Olszewski was the other standout as he hauled in three passes for 47 yards and got wide open for a touchdown. He seems like he is going to play the role that Ray-Ray McCloud played last year and will see plenty of field time. Tyler Vaughns caught the game-winning touchdown breaking a tackle and then diving for the endzone. Rookie Connor Heyward and Jace Sternberger both brought in two targets for 24 and 20 yards as Kevin Rader mainly blocked. One of those three tight ends is most likely going to be cut with Pat Freiermuth locked in as the starter and Zach Gentry seemingly locked in as the blocking tight end. Steven sims showed his explosiveness by having a great punt return as well as a 38-yard run. Anthony Miller and Calvin Austin III were two receivers who didn’t play due to injury but are expected to make the roster.
George Pickens deserves his own section due to all the hype around him. After making highlight catches nearly every single day at training camp Pickens did not disappoint in his first NFL game having a highlight grab in the back right corner of the end zone. He is looking like a future Pro Bowler and could be one of the best wide receivers in all of football in a couple of years. The Steelers continue to show their talents of drafting great wide receivers as they struck gold with their second-round pick with the receiver from Georgia. For any fantasy owner, his average draft pick is an absolute steal and I am taking him in nearly every single draft I can.
The young offensive line definitely looked improved playing much more aggressively. They looked much better blocking for the run than they did all of last year but still struggled in pass protection. The Steelers combined for 185 rushing yards which would be the second most they have had in a regular season game since 2017. James Daniels struggled in his debut getting beat four times in his 10 pass-blocking snaps and two of them allowed pressures on the quarterback. Overall the offensive line was unarguably improved compared to last year and will definitely be an important piece to watch in the next two preseason games to see if they can keep up this level of play. if they can Najee Harris seems destined for an incredible season.
Without their star players, and most expected starters barely seeing the field, the Steeler’s defense seemed to struggle against the lackluster Seattle offense. They allowed 339 yards and 28 points but did force a massive turnover that helped them win the game. With Seattle having a quarterback duel of two bottom-tier starting players as well as Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf both not playing it felt like an overall negative performance for the defense. There were several players who stood out on the defensive side, but also players who stood out in a very negative manner as well. While I have had very high hopes for Devin Bush and expected him to be a starter for them this year he looked slow on the field in his limited snaps and got outplayed by Robert Spillane and Mark Robinson. This defense will look much better in the regular season when their stars are playing, but look for improvements to be made in the next two preseason games as people are going to be fighting for their roster spots.
The Three Defensive Standouts
Safety Tre Norwood looked like by far the best player on the defensive side of the football playing like a star player while also playing the most snaps of anyone on the Steelers defense. He had two huge pass breakups and didn’t allow any reception yards in his territory. it felt like he was exactly where the ball was every time he needed to be and was all over the field. He is proving he deserves more playing time and if he continues playing as he did against Seattle it will be impossible not to give it to him. Arthur Maulet was by far the best cornerback on the Steelers against Seattle and was the second-best player overall on the defensive unit. The slot cornerback not only displayed his great coverage skills but also his physicality with 5 tackles one being a tackle for loss as he sprinted past a receiver who tried to block him to stop the designed dump-off behind the line. Steelers are very commanding of their slot cornerback and need them to be physical in order for their scheme to work. Maulet is set to start in the slot this year and can hopefully continue to play as well as he did against Seattle. While no one else played nearly as well as Norwood and Maulet, rookie linebacker Mark Robinson had a defensive sack that caused a forced fumble that gave Pittsburgh the ball back in order to allow their offensive to have a game-winning drive. This is important to note as there is an inside linebacker starting spot open and making a huge play in crunch time is always noticed. Other defensive players who played well while recording more than ten snaps: Ahkello Witherspoon, Levi Wallace, James Pierre, and Cam Sutton. Standouts who played less than 10 snaps were Myles Jack, Donovan Jeter, and Khalil Davis.
The Fans Show Their Feelings
When Mason Rudolph was the second quarterback to take the field the fans instantly booed. It felt pretty disrespectful for the fans to boo their potential starting quarterback before even playing a snap. While he has struggled during the regular season in the past he looked good against Seattle and even had a case to be called the best quarterback of the three that day, but he also has an argument to be called the worst quarterback of the day as all three played well. While there are still some supporters of Rudolph being the starting quarterback it was apparent the fans in attendance want Pickett over Rudolph as the crowd went absolutely crazy when he came into the game. This is going to be an interesting quarterback battle the rest of preseason and the reactions from the fans should be taken note of for the next two preseason games for each quarterback, especially in week three of the preseason when they are back at Acrisure Stadium to take on the Detroit Lions.