Today I wanted to provide some data and takeaways from watching the Pittsburgh Steelers preseason game against the Detroit Lions. 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 Steelers offensive players snaps and grades from Pro Football Focus (PFF):
Ben Roethlisberger made his preseason debut, and I was very happy to see how good he looked in Matt Canada’s offensive scheme. Quite a bit of shotgun, motion and two play-action plays with Ben in the game and 10/16 (62%) of those plays were successful. Roethlisberger’s connection with Pat Freiermuth in the red zone was another huge positive from this game. Seeing him throw a couple of deep passes is also great, and even better to connect with Diontae Johnson for the explosive catch for 43 yards. Rudolph played well on his first drive, completing five passes in a row, four of which were successful plays. He had some accuracy issues to end the second quarter, then led a good last drive overall that unfortunately ended with Rudolph’s almost picked pass. Dwayne Haskins played the fourth quarter, made a nice play to scramble for a first down on third and short, and enjoyed his aggressiveness on two deep throws to Anthony Johnson, but unfortunately they were incomplete.
What a great performance by Pat Freiermuth. He showcased the red zone and contested catch abilities I was extremely excited about in the predraft process. Can’t wait to see how good the connection is and what kind of consistency he will provide during the regular season. He also stepped up as a run blocker in my opinion, and I also enjoyed seeing Pat and Eric Ebron pulling across the formation to block on running plays. A good example was Ebron’s block on the second drive of the game, helping to free up Najee for one of his successful runs. Zach Gentry makes the graph with his strong run and pass blocking contributions and had no targets. Not Kevin Rader’s strongest game getting a couple targets from Haskins in the fourth quarter and a weaker blocking game then Gentry in my opinion.
Now for offensive line, it was fantastic to finally see the projected starters together, it’s been a long wait. Kevin Dotson had another good performance in my notes and was the highest graded offensive lineman in the game. My favorite example was on Najee Harris’ first run of the game, he had a nice pull and block which allowed a healthy gain of eight yards. Banner was able to make his preseason debut and played well on his lower snap counts. Moving forward, I would like to see him be more dominant in the run game but good start coming off the injury from last year. Okorafor and Kendrick Green had poor starts in this game, Okorafor with the false start on the first play and getting beat on the Big Ben scramble play and Green getting pushed back or beat in the pass game and was on the ground quite a bit in my notes in the pass game. Green did however do well in the run game overall, finishing plays and high effort. For what it’s worth I did have Green for a couple shotgun snap accuracy issues in the second half. Really looking for Okorafor and Green to improve on some weaknesses and really hope they play next game. Trai Turner had a better game in my opinion, and thought he had a under the radar but good performance. Dan Moore seemed to start strong when he came in for Banner but had him getting beat more as the game progressed in my opinion. Particularly on the field goal drive before the first half ended, Moore and B.J. Finney lacked push in the run game on two short McFarland runs, sure looked like a three and out situation but the Lions fortunately bailed us out with a penalty.
Najee Harris had four carries in the game, two were successful and two went for negative yards. He did however provide spark in the pass game with Roethlisberger, providing 53 yards on two catches. I’m so excited for the regular season to start so we can see Harris on a higher number of snaps. Kalen Ballage is the top rated back according to PFF from the game, and he had another good game creating yards on his runs and receptions especially in the second quarter. Anthony McFarland had a similar game to Harris regarding successes on both of his targets in the receiving game, but only one of six rushes successful. Important context, the one success was with the starting offensive line. Speaking of important context, Jaylen Samuels lands low on the graph, but four of his seven carries were on the last drive when everyone knows it’s a run.
Smith-Schuster led the team in targets this game, and it was good to see Roethlisberger go to him on third down conversion to lead the second drive, and JuJu fighting for yards after catch as he does so well through the rest of the game. It was nice to see James Washington get involved early, and a nice successful play at the end of the second half from Rudolph. Ray-Ray McCloud had a nice play where he fought hard for yards after catch on a third and one, then two plays later took a screen for thirty yards. Diontae Johnson lands lower on the graph, but it is important to remember he provided an explosive play on his single target. Cody White provided good run blocking but wasn’t targeted in the pass game, and Anthony Johnson had zero catches on the two deep targets from Haskins I mentioned earlier.
Overall, very encouraged with the offense especially the starting unit in anticipation to the regular season. Now let’s do a similar view for the defense:
Alex Highsmith and Melvin Ingram popped of the tape live, and that did not change the more I watched the film. The rate they are winning against blockers is impressive, this group has got me so fired up for the season already and we haven’t even seen T.J. Watt yet! Jamir Jones led the team with three pressures and in on a sack with Marcus Allen providing good pressure. Quincy Roche made a nice play in the run game in the fourth quarter and flashed his pass rush, and while it wasn’t to the extent of the players above, did well overall. Cassius Marsh had a weaker run defense game, something that has been a strong suit the first half of the preseason. It will be interesting to see where that trends next game if given playing time.
Several strong performances from the interior defenders, and it was great seeing Cameron Heyward and Tyson Alualu in their first preseason action, I especially enjoyed the play where Alualu got the batted pass and Heyward getting pressure on the second defensive drive. Carlos Davis and Isaiah Buggs made my notes for getting a good push up front in the third quarter, and they are ranked at the top of the position group on the graph. Chris Wormley was less of a factor this game and lacked pass rush production compared to last game. Isaiahh Loudermilk has had ups and downs so far this preseason, but I enjoyed a batted pass from him late in the fourth quarter. In the third quarter though, the Lions had a fourth and one play and Loudermilk is aggressively pushing the blocker but is unaware of where the ballcarrier is. He was also penalized for roughing the passer, so looking for how he responds next game.
Devin Bush and Joe Schobert land with nearly identical results on the graph, Bush having a stronger coverage game while Schobert was better in the run game. I am very excited to see Joe get more time with his teammates and very optimistic about the long-term success of the position group for the regular season and so glad the Steelers made the move to get him. Robert Spillane had good run stops in the third and fourth quarter, but he struggled overall. He was also beat in coverage in the third quarter. After his first run stop, the next play he dove and missed in pursuit of David Blough along with misses from Henry Mondeaux and James Peirre. Two plays later Marcus Allen dove and missed Blough as well, and both scrambles went for 13 yards. I did have Allen getting pressure towards the end of the quarter, but was in coverage on the Lions touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Minkah Fitzpatrick made his preseason debut, and I’ve missed his reaction ability in the secondary. He particularly had a good close on the play where Lions receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown beat Cameron Sutton off the line and Minkah got there to put pressure on the catch. I really enjoyed Terrell Edmunds game. He was effective as a pass rusher, starting with the second defensive possession and effecting the timing/accuracy of the throw. He had good recognition of a pass play on the first drive of the second quarter, going for a loss of two and setting up a third and long. Edmunds had another blitz to start the third quarter (another incompletion). Tre Norwood had a better game, better in coverage especially and coming up to make a tackle on a run play. He did put his head down on the tackle, so form is still something to work on. Miles Killebrew was lower on the graph this week, and he led the team in tackles but most were on successful plays for the Lions. Donovan Stiner and Lamont Wade came in for the last seven defensive plays and have Stiner in my notes getting beat in coverage on the second play and Wade missing a tackle then Stiner ended up making the tackle.
Joe Haden joined many other Steelers making their debut, and he was the top graded corner according to PFF. He nearly had an interception on a good read and react and was only in the game for the first drive. Cameron Sutton started the game with him then played mostly nickel cornerback with James Pierre and Justin Layne the outside corners. On the second drive Sutton was able to pursue a short pass out of bounds well, but was beat in coverage on the third drive. Layne had a good coverage play in the second quarter, and a nice pass breakup at the start of the third quarter. On the same drive Pierre made my notes for needing to tackle the catch stronger two plays later. Pierre and Layne also missed tackle opportunities in the third quarter, so some things to watch for moving forward. Shakur Brown had a good stop on a short pass to end the third quarter, but unfortunately racked up two penalties that foreshadow some good. Lafayette Pitts was beat in coverage on a 22-yard play to start the Lions last drive and Mark Gilbert was beat in coverage on the fourth and 2 before the Lions touchdown at the end of the game.
Overall, very encouraged with the defense especially the starting front seven and safeties in anticipation to the regular season. Now let’s do a similar view for the special teams: (NOTE: The descriptions on the graph are important!)
Using the datapoints on the graph we get a nice view of total preseason snaps, grades, and snaps in the Lions game to see who was used most recently as well. Tre Norwood, Anthony Johnson, and Jamir Jones top the list in preseason grades, Jones and Norwood also lead in preseason snaps. Pressley Harvin was the first to punt and his only punt was a 50 yarder that was also inside the 20-yard line and the return only gained three yards where Derek Watt and Jamir Jones joined to make the tackle. Harvin was the holder on four plays, Jordan Berry twice and both did well. Mathew Sexton highlighted the punt return game with his explosive return in the third quarter, with good blocking from Shakur Brown and Kalen Ballage in my notes. The onside kick by the Lions is an important play to note, Quincy Roche needs to be more ready to recover the ball along with Mark Gilbert, and Marcus Baugh has a chance but can’t recover it either.
STEELERS VS. LIONS SNAPS AND PRESEASON TOTAL SNAPS (100+ BOLDED)
|PLAYER||POS||GAME 3 OFF SNAPS||GAME 3 DEF SNAPS||GAME 3 ST SNAPS||PRESEASON TOTAL SNAPS|
Norwood is still leading the way in total snaps (150) followed by Dan Moore and James Pierre. I really hope you enjoyed the Lions game as much as I did! What were your favorite parts of the game? How are you feeling after seeing most of the Steelers’ starters play? Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments!