Welcome back football. For the first time in eight months, the Pittsburgh Steelers returned to action and what better test than the Super Bowl champion Philedelphia Eagles. Though while just preseason, both teams were hungry for football, with the Eagles answering back the Steelers blow for blow for majority of the first half. But thanks to a competitive quarterback group and an opportunistic defense, the Steelers emerged victorious 31-14.
The trio of Landry Jones, Josh Dobbs and rookie Mason Rudolph all came in looking to make a claim as the team’s primary backup and with their competitiveness driving one another, the offense recorded 31 points. Jones and the offense came out looking a tad vanilla but looked to the always ‘lit’ and energetic JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 71-yard touchdown and the team’s first touchdown of the game. In a brief appearance, Jones finished 4/4 for 83 yards before handing the keys over to Dobbs.
Dobbs, the real wild card in the backup quarterback group, initially showed his worth, leading a 11 play, 75-yard drive to put the Steelers up 15-8 midway through the second quarter. A few errand passes and costly interception led to the Eagles responding with their own big play, a 63-yard touchdown pass to Eagles receiver Shelton Gibson, who burned Steelers cornerback DeShaun Phillips on route to the endzone. Dobbs would rebound, leading an efficient two-minute scoring drive with a laser throw to Damoun Patterson, who toe tapped and backflipped his way onto the scoreboard, giving the Steelers a 22-15 lead heading into halftime. That would also be the end of Dobbs, who finished 9/13 with one touchdown and one interception.
Patterson also translated his strong training camp onto the field, finishing with 6 receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown. James Conner shined out of the backfield, finishing with 4 carries for 25 yards.
Jones and Dobbs may have carried the first half but all eyes were on Rudolph as he commanded the offense for all of the second half. Rudolph showed promise and maturity, commanding the pocket, going 7/12 for 101 yards leading to nine second half points. Rudolph found his former college team mate James Washington on a few occasions, one being an impressive catch in which Washington climbed the ladder over Avonte Maddox. Washington finished with two catches for 44 yards.
The Steelers defense may not have been perfect but they were definitely hungry for takeaways. Coty Sensabaugh, fighting for a spot on the roster was the first to make a big impact, intercepting the Eagles’ Nate Sudfeld on the Eagles’ first drive. A short while later, it would be another member of the secondary, Cam Sutton who would come away with an interception, taking advantage of an errant route and throw. Though the Steelers would allow Sudfeld to throw for 140 yards and complete 10/14 passes, the secondary made the most of their opportunities.
While the secondary got the first two turnovers, the linebacking core would respond with their third. With the absences of Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt, the opportunity for a young pass rusher to step up was available. Wearing the number of #92, Ola Adeniyi did his best James Harrison impression, ripping by the Eagles offensive line and stripping quarterback Joe Callahan of the football. The fumble was recovered by another aspiring pass rusher, Keion Adams, who missed all of last season fell on the football, leading to a field goal and a 25-14 Steelers lead.
One area, the defense did struggle in was finishing, as the Steelers missed a handful of crucial tackles during the first half. One in particular, by Sensabaugh led to the Eagles first score. Though the team settled down later, holding the Eagles and Callahan to just 91 passing yards in the second half, most of which coming in garbage time.
The Steelers opened their 2018 preseason by not only winning the battle of Pennsylvania but also defeating the defending Super Bowl champions. Next up is the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, next Thursday at 8 p.m. EST.