I do not recall ever being so excited to watch a preseason game. Mike Tomlin warned that several players would not play including Ben Roethlisberger among a lengthy list of other veterans. But that’s not what drives my interest in preseason games. I want to see the new players. Perhaps see some who are involved in camp battles compete in game conditions. Dwayne Haskins received a lot of hype going into the game. He wants to be the number two quarterback with Mason Rudolph in his way.
How would Najee Harris look on his first few snaps as a Pittsburgh Steelers. Could an offensive line show the aggressive attitude promised by position coach Adrian Klemm? How was the secondary going to look? I want to see if Pressley Harvin could consistently boom punts in game conditions.
I set my alarm for 2:30 am since Djibouti is seven hours ahead of the American easy coast. Bollocks. No video feed here but I could listen to Steelers Nation Radio and contribute to the Steelers Depot Live discussion. Here we go!
The Steelers Forecast
The Steelers Depot gives us specific things we should look for during games. In the preseason, the focus is different than regular season games, but it is always great to have a guide:
Clayton Eckhert provided an outlook to the game based on the 2021 draft picks for both the Steelers and Cowboys. Kendrick Green landed at the top of the rookies he most wanted to see in action. Unfortunately, Pat Freiermuth’s should injury kept him out of the game.
Matthew Marczi described what we should watch for in the game. He highlighted Najee Harris. “Harris will be the one player more than any other that people will be watching tonight. … how is he able to create yardage on his own.” He pointed out the backup quarterback battle and of course the offensive line. On defense, there is Alex Highsmith and with Joe Haden out who would step up in the secondary? If you haven’t read it already, it is an interesting read to compare with what transpired on the field tonight.
Dave Bryan identified eight non-rookie Steelers to watch closely during the game. Who shined and who lost some luster? You can compare this to Alex Kozora’s analysis of the game’s winners and losers posted immediately following the final whistle.
I was frustrated not being able to watch.
But the Steelers Nation Radio (SNR) crew kept me well informed as did all the Steelers Depot commenters on the live thread. Bill Hillgrove gave a measured play by play. Craig Wolfley credibly covered the color analyst position previously held by his good friend and now Hall of Honor Steeler Tunch Ilkin. Max Starks did not banter but gave good details from the sideline. He really liked the push of the offensive line as the game wore on. I think Adrian Klemm is impacting the team in a positive way.
Najee Harris ran the ball seven times for 22 yards. Not much but he made positive yardage early in the game. Then Mike Tomlin wisely sat him down for the day. Kalen Ballage made a short first down, a bane last season. Not sure how serious Benny Snell’s injury is but his roster spot may be in jeopardy if he does not heal up soon. Anthony McFarland had one good run but then seemed to become tentative. Trying to make something big instead of taking what was given. Jaylen Samuels … I’ll stop there.
Neither Mason Rudolph nor Dwayne Haskins overly impressed me. Though, Rudolph launched a pass downfield that Chase Claypool collected for a 45-yard gain. Ironically, Rudolph had over twice as many yards per pass attempt than Haskins. A reversal from training camp. The 45-yard completion to Claypool a big contributor, but without taking the risk of going downfield then little reward. Another ironic twist, it was Josh Dobbs with the touchdown pass.
I’m not sure what to think about the defense. The Cowboys offense marched down the field after Rudolph’s muffed snap. Dallas first and goal but an Alex Highsmith sack and Tre Norwood’s Ike Taylor impersonation held Dallas to three points.
Donovan Stiner intercepted the ball, and the secondary was going for turnovers. Dallas went for a fourth and 15 play that Dallas completed with Justin Layne in coverage, but he punched the ball out causing another turnover. What’s the takeaway, Layne giving up the completion or finishing the play by forcing the fumble? Antoine Brooks in on a tackle. Ulysees Gilbert missing a tackle. Cassius Marsh made some plays including a strip sack that Dallas recovered. Heard both good and bad on Spillane. Concerns about coverage yet he was moving well. Quincy Roche git himself a sack. But still when Dallas stuck on their half yard line, they break through for a long run up the middle. It’s worrisome even in a preseason game. Lock it down Mr. Butler.
Three notes on special teams.
Kevin Colbert may have ripped Sam Sloman’s page out of his rolodex. He did make a 48-yard field goal later in the game but was wide right on another attempt and a point after touchdown.
Nice to see a long punt return by Matt Sexton. Will Tomlin give him more return opportunities?
Pressley Harvin stepped it up. He averaged 45.8 yards on his four punts but three inside the twenty including a beauty that bounded and held at the one-yard line. Good hang time and consistent.
The first half live discussion contains 798 comments. Pent-up demand just to see some Steelers football. Respondents came close to the 1000 regular season game discussion standard.
El Sweet Lee (A Jam Up Guy) had the top comment of the thread: “First half takeaways: I might buy a punter’s jersey.” Jason W’s observation was also popular, “Boz is safe”
We are optimistic about the running game with A Jam Up Guy asking, “A running back that runs…forward? What sorcery is this?”
There was a lively debate on the game’s live thread regarding Rudolph & Haskins.
Many agreed with Bryan who opined “I definitely like Mason more than the average poster here, but I do think it’s time to see some Haskins, we more or less know what Rudolph is, we don’t know much about what Haskins is going to be” Frankly, I hope neither has to play in a regular season game in 2021 unless it is to finish a game in the victory formation or maybe start a game because the Steelers have clinched a seed in the playoffs.
Steelers Depot respondents made 679 comments in the second half discussion.
Thomas Hmmmm was impressed with one of the quarterbacks. “Rudolph just won the #2 spot. He looked over the whole field and stayed composed as the pocket broke down…”
Oops! My apologies folks. The above comment from the first preseason game in 2019!
As for 2021, RJMcReady touched folks’ nostalgia with, “John Facenda’s voice will never go out of style,” which must have been from the halftime coverage. It was great to hear about all the Steelers inducted into the Hall of Fame this week including Bill Cowher visiting with Mike Tomlin.
Number27 collected some likes on his first half observations: “First half thoughts: “Mason is better than most give credit for. Gentry is a huge dude now. Buggs looks 15lbs. heavier and stronger. OLine better than I thought. Pierre is going to be starting sooner than later (started a little slow but is right there every play). Oh, ya that punter rocks.”
DirtDawg1964 detected commenters applying double standards: “Haskins checks down and it’s ‘wow, love how he is making his progressions’. Rudolph does it and it’s Checkdown Charlie!”
Tom – Steelers All the Way impressed with the enthusiasm on the board, “I just gotta say that for a website to actually have a second half conversation piece for the very first preseason game is awesome! Just shows how much you guys and gals LOVE the Steelers! Thank you!!”
It’s just a preseason game but loving it. These games give us a glimpse of how the 2021 edition of the Pittsburgh Steelers Tomlin and Colbert will put together. Even though meaningless in terms of the final standings, it evoked a lot of compassion among the fans. And for the players who are not locked into a roster spot, it is anything but meaningless. It is their livelihood on the line.
Thankfully, not much news on the injury front. Kalen Ballage injured his lower body. Chase Claypool scared us but just got the wind knocked out of his body. We’ll learn more at Saturday’s practice. Plus, there are two open roster spots to fill.
Can’t wait for preseason game two, how about you?
Your Music Selection
I always like to offer a music selection. It’s preseason but Steelers fans still need to step it up for the regular season. Here is Step It Up by DJ Francis.