Thank goodness preseason football is over and done with.
Thursday, 25-19 loss to the Carolina Panthers was a rough game to watch, but it was a chance to see some members of the Pittsburgh Steelers try and fight for a roster spot.
Guys like Devin Bush, Johnny Holton, Mason Rudolph, and Jayrone Elliott flashed throughout the night, but aside from that trio it was mostly a lackluster evening overall.
Let’s get into grades so that we can move on to football that counts.
QB — C
Rudolph threw a beautiful 31-yard touchdown to Holton late in the first half that had great touch and placement. The second-year Oklahoma State product looks very comfortable and confident in the offense once again.
I like the velocity and placement Rudolph has on all of his throws. He’s really taken a step forward in Year 2, and I saw that right away on some of his out routes to guys like Diontae Johnson and even Benny Snell Jr. out of the backfield.
Rudolph did underthrow Holton on his 44-yard catch, causing Holton to slip and catch the ball, but it was nice to see Rudolph push the ball down the field once again.
Prior to Rudolph’s strong night, Joshua Dobbs had an up-and-down night. Dobbs didn’t have much time to showcase his arm, finishing just 3-for-5 for 21 yards, but he showed off his legs again, avoiding a number of pressures to at least by time, or scramble for whatever yardage he could grab.
It’s hard to do much when pressure is right in your face as soon as the ball arrives from under center.
Devlin Hodges found that out the hard way Thursday night.
Hodges got stuck behind the 4th string offensive line and rarely had time to do much of anything offensively. Hodges did throw late on an out route, leading to an interception, but aside from that he was under duress all game long. It’s hard to take much of anything away from Hodges’ performance since he was running for his life most of the time.
RB — D-
What an atrocious showing by the Steelers’ running backs.
Snell looks slow and unexplosive, which is concerning. However, he’s going to be RB3 this year and will probably lose 15-20 pounds this offseason and will be just fine. He was a great running back in the SEC for a reason, and that will eventually play itself out in the NFL.
Aside from his inability to create much of anything on the ground against the Panthers, Snell played very well as a pass blocker and really showed out as a receiver. He has soft hands and is very good protecting his signal caller, so in a pinch he can make it work in the regular season.
Travon McMillan and Trey Edmunds were just as uninspiring, although Edmunds’ stats look much worse because the offensive line got blown up in front of him on two carries, leading to major negative yardage.
WR — B
Despite the quarterbacks overall struggles on the night, Pittsburgh’s wide receivers played well against the Panthers, especially Holton. The speedster really made a case for making the 53-man roster with two long catches, including a 31-yard touchdown from Rudolph right before the half.
He’s a deep threat with great special teams abilities. It feels like he has a roster spot carved out.
James Washington struggled a bit against Carolina, finishing with just one catch for 5 yards on five targets. He didn’t create a ton of separation down the field and failed to come up with a 50/50 ball.
I liked what I saw from Diontae Johnson on the out route. He got in and out of his break crisply and cleanly. I’m hoping for good things from the rookie in the regular season.
Brandon Reilly made a nice play on the ball along the sideline, while Diontae Spencer and Trey Griffey made a couple of plays while trying to push for a roster spot.
TE — C-
Just like against the Tennessee Titans, the tight ends were mostly non-existent against the Panthers.
Zach Gentry was the lone tight end to haul in a pass, recording one catch for one yard in the loss, while Christian Scotland-Williamson was targeted once.
The blocking from Scotland-Williamson left a lot to be desired. He looked slow pulling across the formation, and didn’t have the physicality needed to really move the defender.
OL — F
The offensive line left much to be desired on Thursday night. This could be an unfair grade and maybe a bit harsh, but it was a downright terrible performance from the men up front.
Zach Banner was mostly fine on the night in one of the lone bright spots for the Steelers’ offensive line, while guys like Jerald Hawkins, JC Hassenhauer, Derwin Gray, and Damian Prince really struggled to hold up in pass protection, or even help out in the running game.
The offensive line as a whole allowed three sacks and seven quarterback hits on the night, with countless other pressures allowed to the Panthers.
Additionally, the Steelers rushed for 1.3 yards per carry. That’s simply not going to get it done.
DL — B-
Nobody of significance played up front for the Steelers, but I came away feeling really good about the overall depth of the defensive line for Pittsburgh.
I am a big, big fan of Henry Mondeaux and I hope he sticks on the practice squad this year. He has a great motor, underrated pass rush skills, and finds himself around the football quite a bit.
Isaiah Buggs flashed repeatedly in extended action, recording four tackles and half a sack in the loss. He’s got some serious skills along the defensive line that can really help the Steelers keep guys like Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, and Javon Hargrave fresh throughout the season.
LB — A
Thursday’s game against the Panthers was a continuation of a dominant performance from the Steelers’ linebackers.
Tuzar Skipper should have cemented his roster spot with another tremendous performance against the Panthers, recording a team-high 8 tackles and 2 sacks, including a pair of tackles on special teams. He has to make the roster.
Christian Kuntz had a strong showing as well, making a case for a practice squad spot, recording 5 tackles, a sack and 2 tackles for loss, while Robert Spillane also played really, really well with 6 tackles and a sack on the night, running of a Panthers running back to sack the quarterback on a blitz.
Devin Bush flashed his sideline-to-sideline speed repeatedly in the first half, while Jayron Elliott blew up on the night in his first extended action as a Steeler, recording 5 tackles, a strip sack and an 88-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
Elliott’s touchdown looked a lot like Matthew Thomas’ touchdown against the Panthers in Week 4 last year in the preseason.
DB — B-
Justin Layne was targeted heavily once again before leaving the game with an injury, and he had a shaky night. Layne was slow to flip his hips and run in press coverage, and got his head around late on the touchdown from Will Grier to Aldrick Robinson, exposing some of Layne’s biggest flaws.
I liked what I saw from Cameron Sutton, including an interception in zone coverage playing underneath on a route along the sideline that he sat one and picked off easily.
I thought Trevon Mathis, Dravon Askew-Henry, and Marcelis Branch really flashed at times as well. It will be interesting to see whom the Steelers keep on the practice squad at defensive back, because they have plenty of options.
Jhavonte Dean had a really rough night in his Steelers debut, missing a few tackles and getting called for at least one penalty on the night.
Special Teams — C+
Matthew Wright was the kicker of record on the night and hit two field goals in the loss, but he also missed a field goal and an extra point in Pittsburgh, putting in a poor performance in his final showcase for other teams in the league.
I loved what I saw from Ian Berryman on the night, as the undrafted punter averaged 46 yards a punt and downed two punts inside the 20-yard line. He has a big leg and showed some promise, but I just can’t see it being enough to beat out Jordan Berry in the end, as Berry punted three times, averaged 46 yards a punt and dropped one inside the 20-yard line.
Diontae Spencer didn’t get a chance to showcase his return abilities on punts in this one, but Diontae Johnson and Eli Rogers did, highlighting what could be expected in Week 1 against the Patriots.
Both left a lot to be desired on the night in that department.