Today I wanted to provide some data and takeaways from watching the Eagles game. Of course this is just one game, but will help us to see the trajectory of the players as the preseason plays out. With that in mind here is a graph of the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive players snaps and grades from Pro Football Focus (PFF):
Let’s start with the offensive line, what a game for Kevin Dotson. With all the talk about him not playing with the first team this week, he really put on a great performance to make up for the missed time this preseason. I especially enjoyed the drive with 6:04 left in the second quarter, eight successful plays in a row, then pass interference on the Eagles to set us up at the one-yard line followed by McFarland finding the end zone on the next play. So, nine successful plays and accepting a penalty was the entire drive! Dotson led the way in my notes as far as clearing space in the middle on this drive and early in the third quarter, and even though it’s preseason it is so refreshing to see so many rush success notes for the Steelers compared to the end of the 2020 season. Kendrick Green and Joe Haeg regressed in my opinion this game, a particular example was the third play of the second quarter (3rd & 7). Green is pushed back into the quarterback allowing a sack and Haeg is knocked down on the play as well by a guy I highlighted in my draft outlook for the Eagles before the game: third round pick Milton Williams, and we saw him play defensive end as I had hoped. I will also be watching Okorafor’s trajectory between now and the regular season, we really need to see if he can step up his quality of play. I agree with the PFF grades for the lineman at the top right of the graph, Hassenauer and Moore especially. I did have Moore for two missed blocks in the third quarter but overall strong performance.
Pat Freiermuth was able to play as I had hoped for but had issues throughout the game run blocking and only one catch (at least it was successful). Hopefully he can take some of the lessons he learned from his first NFL game along with coaches working with him in practice, I am optimistic Pat will trend the right direction the next two games and into the season. Zach Gentry showed up for three good run blocks in the second half in my notes. He and Kevin Rader both had two catches, but Rader had the 15-yard catch thrown a little low by Haskins (but away from the defense) and made a nice grab.
Speaking of Dwayne Haskins, he and Mason Rudolph both had strong games. Haskins got more playing time, so he gets the nod as the winner of the game for me. This is a great conversation to be having about our number two quarterback battle, and I’m glad we get to see it unfold the next two preseason games. Joshua Dobbs went 5/6 on his passes to end the game, but I noted accuracy issues on two of those five passes. His other pass was the interception, a poor decision to throw it in a crowd of players. Training camp reports have been positive, but his path to the 53-man roster is sure looking grim.
Not too much to note on the wide receivers, I did enjoy the deep completions to the right from Rudolph to Diontae Johnson. I want to see it more consistently, but he does seem to be focusing on the catch more on his short targets as well. This is something I will keep my eye on next game. Cody White and Rico Bussey showed up on the successful drive I mentioned earlier (6:04 left in second quarter), White providing two successes (three more in second half) and Bussey one success (plus he was targeted on the Eagles penalty). Also seemed like Haskins and Isaiah McKoy had some communication/connection issues for what it’s worth.
Najee Harris had another good game, and while he didn’t log as many snaps he provided two successful runs and a successful short catch with YAC as I had hoped for. The hurdles are impressive, and no matter where you stand on if he should or shouldn’t be doing it, this guy has special skills. Anthony McFarland and Jaylen Samuels took advantage of some good run blocking from the offensive line overall, according to my notes 14 successful runs between those two players. I also noted that Samuels could have read the hole for more yardage on a one yard gain and his run that was stopped for a loss of two was more on poor blocking (Rader, Moore). Newly acquired Pete Guerriero was the running back the PFF grades favored, but since he only played on the last drive, this should be taken with a grain of salt in my opinion. He had 3/5 successful rushes, but the other two were no gain and loss of one.
Overall, very encouraged for the offense line so far in the preseason as a whole. Pass blocking will be on my radar for the rest of the preseason, but the run game showing up like we heard about this offseason is encouraging so far. Are you optimistic this will continue the remainder of the preseason and into the regular season?
Now let’s do a similar view and outlook for the defense:
Let’s start with the off-ball linebackers, Devin Bush had a similar game to Freiermuth in regard to making their preseason debuts without the desired results. Not concerned, just seems more like shaking off rust/getting back to play speed but will definitely worth keeping an eye on next week. We also got news of Joe Schobert reported trade on the same day as the game, which is very exciting. After seeing another week of poor grades/performances from Robert Spillane and Ulysees Gilbert, it makes this move look even smarter. One player I mentioned last article I wanted to focus on was Buddy Johnson. He did not get many defensive opportunities this game due to the way the game played out (the Steelers offense controlled time of possession) but I did have him down for a nice run fill/pursuit play while also having an inverse result, over pursuing and allowing himself to be blocked out of the play. I still want to learn more about his coverage in the preseason, but the Schobert news means Johnson likely won’t get the snaps he got in the Hall of Fame game again, so I will shift my focus more to his special teams snaps moving forward. I also had Marcus Allen down for a good running back pass recognition and two plays later another good coverage play.
Isaiahh Loudermilk was a player I wanted to see more consistent push into backfield/toward the ball carrier, and he showed some good things in that regard. Especially on the split sack with Quincy Roche, Isaiahh split a double team nicely to get to the quarterback. He also had a good run stop just before the Lafayette Pitts interception to give the Steelers the ball back to end the game. Alex Highsmith, Chris Wormley, and Jamir Jones lead the Steelers with 2 pressures each, and I enjoyed Melvin Ingram’s debut, it will be interesting to see when the T.J. Watt contract gets done, if it takes longer to get done that may allow Ingram more time with the ones in our next game where the starters will get more time.
The defensive backs had another good game, starting with James Pierre with a couple good plays in coverage. Arthur Maulet made some tackles, but several of those were successful plays for the Eagles which is important context. Justin Layne had a better showing with a strong end to the first half. After getting beat on a post route he followed that with two good coverage plays. Then on the first defensive possession of the second half he had a good run fit on the edge and on the next play made the interception and 11-yard return. I touched on it earlier, but Lafayette Pitts had the second interception for the Steelers in the game. Terrell Edmunds made his preseason debut but didn’t really jump out to me. The Eagles were doing a lot of short pass game and screens so that played a factor. Tre Norwood got the most snaps on defense but was quiet for most of the game. I did see an aggressive tackle coming downfield as I hoped for in my last article, on a run play in the second quarter. Although the play went for ten yards, he ran aggressively and confidently on the tackle. The main negative play for Edmunds and Norwood was on the Eagles 79-yard touchdown by Watkins. Edmunds was blocked out of the play (good block to be fair) and Norwood took a poor angle and then the receiver was gone.
Which defensive performance did you enjoy the most? Which players are you looking forward to seeing the most next week, when most players are expected to play?
Special teams graphs will come later in the preseason because many players have the exact same PFF snaps and grades with this small of a sample size, causing a messy graph. I will provide snap counts for this week in this table:
Last week there were three players that had a PFF special teams grade of 85 or higher. This week, the highest grade was Jamir Jones (77.9). Jordan Berry had a good night, but Harvin had the stellar performance in the Hall of Fame game, so this is a battle that continues to be intriguing. Pressley did not get the opportunity to punt, his three snaps were as a holder. I also noted Marcus Allen and Jamir Jones playing well on kick coverage.
STEELERS VS. EAGLES SNAPS AND PRESEASON TOTAL SNAPS
|PLAYER||POS||GAME 2 OFF SNAPS||GAME 2 DEF SNAPS||GAME 2 ST SNAPS||PRESEASON TOTAL SNAPS|
Norwood is leading the team in total snaps by far and is the only player above 100 snaps (108). Jamir Jones is second in total snap counts with 92. I really hope you enjoyed the Eagles game as much as I did! Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments!