The Pittsburgh Steelers came out victorious again with a 19-9 win on Sunday, closing out the preseason undefeated. The starting offensive line had a better showing, except for a high number of the 11 Pittsburgh penalties in the game. In this article I will provide data from Pro Football Focus and takeaways from watching the film.
Let’s start with the offense:
PFF’s highest graded player was wide receiver Diontae Johnson (86) on only seven snaps, exiting the game early with an injury after making an excellent catch on a perfectly placed ball from quarterback Mitch Trubisky (78.1), the fourth best grade of the game. Fellow quarterback Kenny Pickett had the only other 80+ grade (80.4), targeting to more depths of the field but not at the rate or connection of Trubisky. The offensive line had a better performance sans penalties, and agree with guard James Daniels strong grade (79.1) that ranked third in the game. Tight end Pat Freiermuth was the other grade above 70 (75.1), with three catches along with a healthy depth of target. Three players had below 50 grades, quarterback Mason Rudolph (47) with only three passes all incomplete in limited time, guard John Leglue (44.3) struggling especially as a run blocker, and wide receiver Tyler Snead (40.7) unable to reel in either of his targets.
Pittsburgh’s offense came out for the first time at 12:31 and the game still scoreless. Running back Najee Harris started things off getting the handoff behind good collective blocking from the line including Freiermuth and fellow tight end Zach Gentry for a churning gain of three. On second and seven, Trubisky went play action, and after not liking his options downfield was flushed out of the pocket by second overall pick Aidan Hutchinson who worked around Freiermuth’s good initial block who wisely let up to avoid a potential hold call, but the scramble out of bounds went for a loss of one and a sack. Would like to see a throwaway if no one was open to avoid loss of yardage. Third and eight now, and unfortunately Trubisky is sacked for the second play in a row due to the offensive line sans tackle Chukwuma Okorafor getting pushed back on the loss of nine. Seemingly good coverage from Detroit, but noted wide receiver George Pickens open as Trubisky wanted wide receiver Gunner Olszewski on the other side. Three and out, still tied at zero.
The offense returned with 9:36 on the clock, starting with a shotgun pass on first down with the line getting pushed back overall but center Mason Cole and Okorafor particularly re-anchoring well on Trubisky’s completion to Freiermuth that was tackled quickly for five yards, and noted a touch of hesitation on the read and Johnson open on the other side. On second and five, Harris got the handoff behind guard Kevin Dotson and h-back Connor Heyward who pulled, with the former landing a block but the latter running past the linebacker who shot into the backfield and making the tackle for a loss of two. Third and seven now, and Trubisky was able to get Hutchinson to jump offsides on the hard count to set up a more manageable third and short. Third and two to be exact, good pocket overall on the pass though Okorafor got pushed back facing Hutchinson, and Trubisky has time to find Johnson deep, getting outside the corner on the left side on the impressive catch and well-placed throw just before the safety could get there. Excellent explosive play of 38 yards and conversion.
The following first down was back to Harris on the ground, with good collective blocks, particularly Cole and Daniels getting great push off the line and creating a crease on the 11-yard gain. Refreshing to see after o-line struggles overall, especially last game. Harris got another touch here, this time a first down screen pass with Dotson and Daniels got good second level blocks to create space for the 9-yard gain. On second and one in the red zone, Trubisky rolls right off the snap behind good collective blocking once again, highlighted by an Okorafor/Heyward double team pancake on Hutchinson, getting the pass to wide receiver Miles Boykin who worked through press coverage well to make the catch on his stop route for five yards and the first down.
Encouraging early and long drive continues here, but unfortunately tackle Dan Moore was penalized for holding, trying to free up Harris’ run to the outside but instead setting up first and 20. Olszewski got the jet sweep look here, behind good blocks especially from wide receiver George Pickens and Freiermuth, along with running back Jaylen Warren out in front on the gain of 12. On second and a more manageable eight yards back in the red zone, Moore was beat around the edge and called for his second hold in three plays, which negated a would be sack on Trubisky. On second and 18, Detroit brought the blitz but good late pick up in pass pro by Harris to keep Trubisky clean on his deep end zone target to Olszewski, who was unable to track/get underneath the incompletion. Third and 18 now, and another offensive line penalty, this time a false start on Dotson, very discouraging. On third and 23, Pittsburgh was content getting points in this situation, throwing short to Harris who was tackled for no gain. Encouraging long drive stalled, mainly by three offensive line penalties, Steelers up 3-0.
The offense returned with great red zone field position following the interception with 14:06 in the second quarter, starting with a Harris run behind pulling blocks from Daniels and Cole, but the latter being pushed back cutting off the running lane, and despite making a few guys miss goes for a loss of two. On second and 12 both Moore and Okorafor allowed penetration on Trubisky’s throw to wide receiver Steven Sims, running the out route from bunch formation and making the catch, but tackled quickly on the five-yard gain. Third and seven now, and Trubisky targeted Pickens on the intermediate post route despite Cole being pushed back and nearly allowing a batted pass, but it was broken up noting the pass was a bit behind, and if laid out ahead of the receiver, perhaps would’ve went for six. Instead, can only capitalize with the field goal off the turnover. Pittsburgh leads 6-0.
With 10:16 in the second quarter, the offense returned following the turnover on downs with a screen pass to the motion man Pickens, caught well behind the line and did well to make it back to the line for no gain. On second and ten, Warren got the carry and had to turn on the jets to get to the outside due to Okorafor getting beat, along with Cole ending up on the ground, then a good pulling block from Freiermuth to aid the five-yard gain. Third and five now, really enjoyed the pass pro effort from Warren who aggressively chipped Okorafor’s man to the ground, with Trubisky’s pass intended for Freiermuth well covered and nearly intercepted over the middle. Pittsburgh had an illegal formation penalty that was declined on the play, setting up another field goal. Would obviously like to see more drives ending in the end zone, but take the points and the lead increase to nine.
With 5:17 left in the half, Trubisky came out throwing off play action to Pickens, who shimmied the corner to get open on the quick slant along with breaking his tackle for additional yards on the gain of 13. The following first down was another penalty, this time a false start on Harris. The following first and 15 was another pass, but Cole got beat allowing the hit on Trubisky’s nice deep target to Pickens down the left sideline, able to get a hand on it with good boundary awareness to keep both feet inbounds but unable to reel it in. On second and 15, Olszewski got another jet sweep with Harris and Freiermuth out in front, but the former losing his block late allowing the tackle for only one yard. Third and 14 now, and with Detroit playing the situation with off coverage, Trubisky surveys with plenty of time but has to check it down to Harris who attempts the hurdle and only able to gain two yards. Short drive, Pittsburgh lead still nine.
The offense got one more shot before halftime with 1:34 on the clock and Detroit was penalized for illegal use of hands, and wanted to note despite being pushed back initially, Okorafor showed a strong reset of his anchor to hold strong and keep Trubisky clean. The following first down Sims was wide open on his short route against zone coverage, able to gain nine yards but noted hesitation and should get upfield with no one in front of him. On second and one, Sims was the target again, drawing a pass interference call to set up first down.
First down once again, and despite Dotson allowing some penetration, Trubisky gets the pass off to Freiermuth on the out route and a couple additional yards for the eight-yard gain. On second and two, Okorafor allowed the hurry and ended up holding his man for the penalty, setting up second and 12. This was a nice route by h-back Connor Heyward, breaking smoothly on his in route for separation and the catch for six yards. Third and six now, and Moore got pushed back on Trubisky’s throw down the left sideline to Pickens again, this time reeling in the great back shoulder throw with good body control on the explosive 22-yard catch. The following first down had a nice pancake from Okorafor, on a pretty throw and catch by Trubisky to Freiermuth deep down the right hash for a consecutive explosive play and back shoulder throw, for 32 yards this time. First and goal now with 16 seconds left, and Trubisky triggers quickly to Sims who got a step early on the corner winning his slant route for the easy touchdown! Very encouraging drive to close the half with some high-level throws, Pittsburgh 16-0.
Pittsburgh’s offense opened the second half with a handoff to Warren with a good block from Gentry, but a linebacker came free to meet him in the backfield for a one-yard loss. On second and 11, quarterback Kenny Pickett triggered quickly off play action, completing his first pass to Olszewski on a slant with yards after catch on the 14-yard gain. The following first down was another Warren run, behind a pulling block from Leglue but was unable to get movement on his block along with Heyward, limiting the gain to one yard. On second and nine, Pickett pitched forward to Sims on the jet sweep, with another poor block attempt by Heyward ending up on the ground, and Olszewski losing his block late to allow the tackle on the three-yard gain. Third and six now, and another Pittsburgh offensive line holding call, this one declined on guard Kendrick Green who was blocked to the ground holding his man on the way down, forcing Pickett to rollout and throwing high over Sims’ head incomplete. Short drive, score remains the same.
With 9:55 in the third quarter, Pickett was able to get off the screen pass despite tackle Trent Scott being beat around the edge, with running back Anthony McFarland making the catch and run for seven with a good Gentry block down field, and second level blocks from Kendrick Green (connected on his late) and Leglue, who missed his which allowed the tackle. On second and three McFarland got another touch, this time a toss with Gentry and Scott pulling in front along with good effort by Olszewski, each aiding in the run having just enough room to move the chains. The following first down was a pass from Pickens to Boykin, who showed strong hands on the slant and gain of seven. On second and three, straight ahead handoff with a reverse fake that followed, with Gentry missing a pulling block and Scott not finding work despite a free linebacker who hit running back Benny Snell, breaking the tackle and churning for extra yards on the gain of eight.
Another first down for the offense, going back to Snell on the ground with a toss this time, running behind Heyward and tackle Chaz Green’s pulling blocks, but not landing them strongly and limiting the gain to three yards. On second and seven, Pickett goes play action and targets Boykin down the left sideline, a nice back shoulder throw and great adjustment for the explosive gain of 29 yards. The following first down in the red zone was a quick roll to the right, with Pickett finding Olszewski on the quick out for two yards, and center J.C. Hassenauer allowing penetration. On second and eight, Snell was stuffed on the run for a loss of two due to Chaz Green and Hassenauer getting beat, but enjoyed downfield blocking from Kendrick Green and Boykin. Third and ten now, and Kendrick Green got beat off the line on his pass set but recovered late as Pickett began to scramble right looking to throw, and targeting Olszewski on the sideline in the endzone but broken up incomplete. This led to a field goal that was blocked, leaving the score at 16-3.
The offense returned with 3:25 left in the quarter, starting with a Warren run but Leglue’s man slipped past him for the easy tackle of only one yard. On second and nine, Pickett threw another back shoulder throw, this time to wide receiver Tyler Vaughns who made the grab and a couple extra yards on the gain of 17. The following first down was another carry to Warren, able to get a successful five yards on the play. On second and five, back to the ground with McFarland this time, but unfortunately Kendrick Green’s pulling block doesn’t connect, allowing the tackle for only two yards. Third and three now, and Pickett displayed good accuracy to wide receiver Cody White on his stop route, making the catch against physical coverage for the six-yard gain and conversion. On first down, Pickett found Vaughns on an in route, then displaying the toughness after the catch, though it didn’t lead to extra yards here on the gain of seven.
The drive continued to start the fourth quarter, on second and three Snell got the carry behind a good initial push from Hassenauer, but his man worked back into the play along with Scott and Leglue allowing the hole to close quickly for only one yard. Third and two now, staying on the ground where Kendrick Green and tight end Kevin Rader ended up, but refreshingly affective spin move by the power runner Snell to find an opening for seven yards around a good seal block by Snead. The following first down was a good throw by Pickett over the defender to Vaughns, who got a hand on it but unable to make the grab against tight coverage. On second and ten, McFarland blocked the blitzer just enough (along with Scott getting beat) for Pickett to get the pass off, deep to Snead to the left, but despite the valiant diving effort, goes off his fingertips incomplete. Third and ten now, and Pickett gets the quick pass to Heyward behind the line but tackled immediately for a loss of two, along with Kendrick Green on the ground. Encouraging throws from Pickett, though we got spoiled by his higher completion rate, especially last game. Get the field goal though, Steelers 19-3.
Pittsburgh’s final offensive possession came with 7:06 left, a run by Warren with Rader and Vaughns losing their blocks and the latter allowing the tackle for only two yards. On second and eight, Warren had even less room to run with Leglue, tight end Jace Sternberger, and Rader missing blocks on a loss of two. Third and ten now, and quarterback Mason Rudolph dropped back for his first pass, down the right sideline to Vaughns, and Detroit was penalized for pass interference with the defender not getting his head around.
This set up first down, where Rudolph triggered quick to Snead on the slant that fell behind the receiver incomplete. On second and ten, Rudolph dropped back again, this time McFarland got beat in pass pro allowing pressure and the defender hitting his arm on the throw forcing the low incompletion to White. Third and ten now, and despite Chaz Green being beat around the edge allowing penetration, Rudolph threw a pretty deep seam pass to Sternberger, who was able to get a hand on it but unable to complete the catch. Pretty play with everything but the finish, forces a punt, lead still 16. Encouraged overall with the starters, sans penalties particularly from the offensive line.
Now for the defense:
PFF’s highest graded player on either side of the ball was safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (89.9) who had a great showing in multiple facets of the game. He was able to be utilized in a variety of was thanks to the strong play from newly acquired safety Elijah Riley (89) on a healthy snap count. The other 80+ grade came from edge rusher Delontae Scott (84.9), providing a good pass rush late in the game. Six other players had 70+ grades, including cornerback Linden Stephens (75.4), linebacker Myles Jack (74.7), defensive lineman Cameron Heyward (71.6), edge rusher T.J. Watt (71), cornerback Levi Wallace (70.9), and cornerback Carlins Platel (70). Encouraging to see, and agree with the strong grades especially from the starters. On the flip side, several non-starters struggled, with many vying for their roster spots. There was large list of 11 players with below 50 grades, including but not limited to cornerback James Pierre, safety Tre Norwood, defensive lineman Donovan Jeter and Carlos Davis, linebackers Robert Spillane and Devin Bush, edge rusher Ron’Dell Carter and Hamilcar Rashed, and the lowest grade on either side of the ball given to defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi (29.8), which seemed low.
Pittsburgh’s defense came onto the field first, sending Jack on the blitz on the first down empty set pass, where the tight end ran a pivot route to get free and make the catch against man coverage from Bush who made the tackle but gain of 15. The following first down was unfortunately an early offsides penalty on Ogunjobi, setting up first and five. The Steelers got lucky on this play action screen pass that was dropped, where Rashed got turned around leaving ample room to run. On second and five, the Lions ran for the first time and good job by Heyward and Ogunjobi to get off their blocks to combine for the tackle, along with Fitzpatrick staying clean and in on the play as well. Third and three now, and Watt made a great play darting off the line to easily get around the right tackle and chasing down the ballcarrier for a loss of five. Still scoreless.
The defense returned with 10:29 in the first quarter to a run play, where defensive lineman Tyson Alualu showed strength getting outside the block but took himself past run lane, good run fits overall including safety Terrell Edmunds enjoyably throwing a tight end to the ground, and Jack with the quick diagnosis and gap fill but unable to make the play behind the line, though Ogunjobi worked well down the line to make the stop for only one yard. On second and nine, Watt made his presence felt pushing his man near the quarterback off play action cuing a quick trigger pass that that Heyward thankfully batted down considering the receiver had separation and first down yardage on cornerback Cameron Sutton in off coverage. Third and nine now, Rashed got good penetration off the edge but was blocked past the quarterback, who threw to the sticks in traffic, good coverage from Sutton and safety Tre Norwood on the overthrow. Pittsburgh declined the Detroit formation penalty leading to the three and out and punt. Still tied up.
With 3:22 left in the first quarter and a three-point lead, the defense returned to a running play where linebacker Derrek Tuszka and Fitzpatrick set the edge well, with the former combining with Heyward for the strong stop of only two yards. On second and eight, Pittsburgh seemingly had good coverage across the board, with the quarterback having plenty of time and their left tackle was called for holding on Rashed. This set up second and 18, a swing pass behind the line to the running back where cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon reacted well and made a solid tackle to only allow a one-yard gain. Third and 17 now, and Detroit goes delay handoff from shotgun, with a gapping hole between Heyward and defensive lineman Chris Wormley, and with the second level playing the long pass situation leaves a ton of room, along with Bush unable to get off a tight end block downfield, Witherspoon being blocked out, and finally Norwood making the shoestring tackle on the gut-wrenching explosive run of 27 and long third down conversion.
The following first down was another run, this time Fitzpatrick doing a great job penetrating and getting to the ballcarrier in the backfield along with Witherspoon coming clean to finish the combined stop for only two yards. On second and eight, Ogunjobi got good penetration on this pass to the wide receiver who ran an out of the jam at the line of scrimmage, getting space on Sutton for a nine-yard gain to end the quarter.
The drive continued with Pittsburgh bringing Fitzpatrick and Jack on the blitz, with the running back picking up the former in pass pro, but the latter forcing the quarterback to step up into the Fitzpatrick sack and loss of five. On second and 15, Heyward quickly got his second batted pass of the game, with Jack in coverage. Third and 15 now, Watt got around the tackle and nearly to the quarterback on his throw down field, with the ball going straight to Sutton in zone for the interception and great 45-yard double explosive runback all the way to the 19-yard line. Overall good drive sans the big run, lead is three.
With 12:26 in the second quarter, the defense returned with a six-point lead. First up was a pass play short to the running back, making the bobbling catch with Jack in coverage, who gave separation but closed well to make the tackle for only one yard. On second and nine, Detroit went run where Ogunjobi was a tick late getting off his block, but cornerback Levi Wallace had a nice read and react play from his deep alignment to make the strong tackle for another one yard stop on consecutive plays. Third and eight now, and Wormley got good penetration but pushed past the quarterback, who scrambled with room in front, and great recognition by Sutton to come up with the tackle just short of the sticks. The Lions decided to go for it on fourth and one, and great play from the inside linebackers, both Bush and Jack staying clean with good gap integrity to combine for the tackle and for gain. Hopefully something we see more in season. Encouraging stand here, especially against the run, lead still six.
The defense returned with 8:38 left in the second quarter, good interior penetration from a Watt spin move and Bush twisting inside on the blitz, but the pass is complete with Edmunds in slot coverage with the receiver running the in route but able to stay in tight trail to make the tackle of seven yards. On second and three, there was another big run but was called back on a holding penalty on Bush, who got good penetration in the backfield (Sutton pancaked downfield). This set up second and 12, where Watt got a good push along with Leal, affecting the off-target pass and Fitzpatrick making the hit in coverage to ensure the incompletion. Third and 12 now, and an unfortunate coverage miscommunication between Sutton and Norwood leaving a receiver wide open on the money down, going for 18 yards where Fitzpatrick made the tackle.
The drive continues with a botched center/quarterback exchange, which was recovered quickly and able to get the pass off with good burst/penetration from Wormley, but the completion was made on a deep comeback route that created separation on Witherspoon for an explosive 24-yard gain. The following first down Ogunjobi had great penetration against a double team, cuing the scramble where edge rusher Delontae Scott jumped on the pump fake and was able to get him down for the sack and seven-yard loss. On second and 17, good push on the dropback from Rashed, along with Wormley getting his hands up following a twist to affect the incomplete pass with Sutton and Wallace in coverage. Third and 17 now, and Pittsburgh nearly got interception number two, via Edmunds undercutting the route but through his hands incomplete. Of course, the stop is good but would’ve been great to see him finish to show improvement on lack of ball production so far in his career.
2:44 left in the half, the Lions come out running with Spillane shooting into the backfield to set the edge but Tuszka getting washed to the inside, and Fitzpatrick coming up with the hit and ripped the ball out at the end for the forced fumble, but Detroit recovers on the gain of ten yards. The following first down was a nice play by Ogunjobi to work off his blocker who got a good initial punch to get to the runner, along with Tuszka working down the line well to combine for the tackle of only two yards.
Second and eight at the two-minute warning, and great win by Heyward to beat his man and get in the quarterback’s face on the pass, and good tight man coverage from Spillane on the five yard out by the tight end to force the incompletion. Third and eight now, and Norwood was beat on a vertical route over the middle, but excellent read and react from Fitzpatrick to get there just in time for the physical pass breakup and force the punt. Big play to keep Detroit scoreless going into halftime, Steelers 9-0.
The defense came back for one last play following the offenses touchdown just before halftime, with Detroit taking a knee. Steelers up 16-0 at the half.
Next opportunity came at 12:40 in the third quarter, with Detroit beginning with a run where Rashed worked around the edge well, Tuszka working through his block, and linebacker Mark Robinson staying clean, but all three missing an opportunity in the backfield, allowing the rusher to get free with safety Damontae Kazee coming up with the solid hit and Spillane in on the tackle, but a nine-yard gain. On second and one, Robinson reacted to the play action and appeared to read the running back staying in pass pro so came on the blitz, leaving the late screen pass wide open, with Spillane chasing but unable to make the diving tackle, and Kazee finally forcing the hurdle attempt to get him out of bounds, but huge 32-yard gain.
The following first down was a deep pass attempt that fell incomplete, thanks to good coverage from Pierre, with newly acquired safety Elijah Riley getting his fingertip on it off the deflection, and noted defensive tackle Henry Mondeaux has gotten his hands up on a few passes nearly batting them. On second and ten, good run fits here with Leal and Tuszka working off their blocks well to combine for the tackle on the gain of three. Third and seven now, and Pittsburgh had two penalties on the play, offsides on Rashed and defensive pass interference that was accepted on Pierre, who was falling down and tackled the receiver well before the ball was there. The next first down was a run where defensive lineman Carlos Davis was washed out and Mondeaux took a poor angle, Pierre being drug for extra yards and shrugged off by the rusher, with Robinson and Riley combining for the tackle after a gain of eight. On second and two, Tuszka came free off the edge on a play action roll out to get the batted pass, falling incomplete. Third and two now, and this time Leal gets a hand up to bat the pass. Defensive line providing big plays without getting to the quarterback, closing out a discouraging drive overall to a field goal. 16-3 Pittsburgh.
With 4:56 in the third quarter, the defense returned to a run with Mondeaux ending up on the ground, and Robinson doing well to get free of his blocker but missing the angle on the back, and Pierre and Riley eventually combining for the tackle but a gain of ten. The following first down was a play action pass, with good late penetration by Leal, and the back wide open getting the target and Norwood making the tackle at seven yards. On second and three, Mondeaux got the quarterback hit on his release that was low and behind the receiver falling incomplete with Spillane in coverage. Third and three now, and Mondeaux had another good play pushing his man back, prompting the quarterback scramble, allowing Leal who was initially double teamed to work off in pursuit and get the quarterback hit, forcing another incompletion. Encouraging pass rush to close the drive after quiet moments to start the second half, forcing the punt.
The defense returned with 12:59 left in the game, unfortunately giving up a long run of 15 yards right away with Carter sealed, Carlos Davis pushed back, and linebacker Buddy Johnson taking a poor angle with Riley eventually making the tackle. The following first down was a low pass on an out route falling incomplete with Norwood in coverage. On second and ten, Detroit was penalized for holding which was accepted, and despite this Robinson worked through the block impressively on the would be combined tackle with Pierre. This set up second and 20, where Detroit frustratingly gained most of the needed yardage on the pass over Robinson’s head in zone coverage for the 19-yard gain. Third and short now, and the pass went for the conversion on a slant, gaining separation on Norwood in coverage.
The following first down was back to the run, with Carlos Davis and Norwood being blocked to the ground, with Robinson and Johnson both working off lineman’s blocks to combine for the tackle of five yards. On second and five, another long run unfortunately of 17 yards where Carlos Davis and Carter were blocked to create a lane, edge rusher James Vaughters missing an opportunity coming free, with Johnson missing his angle/opportunity along with Norwood and Riley, then Layne finally making the tackle. The next first down was a good play by defensive lineman Donovan Jeter, making the stop for only one yard despite Carter being sealed and defensive lineman Khalil Davis blocked to the ground. On second and nine now in the red zone, Jeter and Vaughters both got penetration, with the former going for the bat while the latter got close to the quarterback on the short throw where Layne got caught up in traffic against the crosser allowing the catch, but accelerating to push him out on the six-yard gain. Third and three now, Carter won around the edge to get near the quarterback on his pass just past the sticks, with Robinson losing his footing on the running backs out cut, allowing the six-yard catch and first down with Layne coming up to make the tackle.
First and goal now, and the run defense shows up thanks to a strong win inside by Carlos Davis to tackle the one-yard gain. On second and goal, cornerback Carlins Platel had a good coverage play working against the slot receiver in a rub situation and staying clean and in phase on the target to the sideline in the end zone incomplete. Third and goal now, and it appeared Carlos Davis got a piece of the ball for a bat, along with good recognition and man coverage from Johnson on the Texas route from the running back, though he debatably got there a bit early on the pass breakup and could’ve been flagged, along with Robinson nearly able to make a play on the tip for an interception but falls incomplete. Detroit is going for it down by 16 from the seven-yard line, and the pass goes to an open receiver on the goal line, but thankfully dropped with Platel allowing space in coverage. Encouraging outcome despite frustrating big plays, turnover on downs.
With 5:19 left in the game, Detroit started with a run down by 16, with a great win inside the left tackle by Khalil Davis, penetrating the backfield virtually unscathed to make the tackle for a loss of three. On second and 13, Johnson was in coverage on a crossing route but got there a bit early, drawing the flag this time and setting up a fresh set of downs. Another pass, this target a short stop route in front of Norwood who missed a tackle, and Robinson there to make the tackle on the seven-yard gain. On second and three, Detroit was penalized for a false start, setting up second and eight. Another pass here, with Scott getting a good push but Carlos Davis ending up on the ground, and Johnson was a bit late reacting to the crossing route allowing the short catch but big yards after up the sideline along with Norwood blocked downfield but getting the play out of bounds.
The following first down, Leal did a great job diagnosing the handoff, ripping to the outside and throwing his man to the ground but unable to make the tackle, though Scott won inside his block shortly after to clean up with the tackle for the four-yard loss. On second and 14, quick throw on the stop rout here between Norwood and Robinson in zone coverage, with the latter making the tackle for only five yards. Third and nine now, and another zone coverage allowing the shallow crosser to run free for the catch, with Platel coming up to make the tackle on the gain of four. Fourth and five, and Detroit is hit with a false start on the crucial down. This set up fourth and ten, Vaughters spun inside, colliding with Jeter but ultimately getting pressure, forcing the step up and causing the quarterback to stumble forward and throw an underhanded dump off pass, complete with yards after catch, eluding Layne’s angle and Johnson finally making the tackle on the 15-yard gain. Unfortunate conversion allowed, drive continues.
First and ten at the two-minute warning, Vaughters and Khalil Davis got penetration on the deep target to the end zone with Stephens staying on top of the overthrow and incompletion. On second and ten, Vaughters got a good push on the short completion with Johnson beat on the route but making the tackle on the gain of three. Third and seven now, Leal and Vaughters each lost their footing on their pass rush, and the throw was low on the step up incomplete, with Stephens the closest man in coverage. Another fourth down for the defense, and a big roughing the passer here on Carlos Davis, though the pass went for a first down as well against coverage from Platel. Way too many penalties, can’t close the game out on another fourth down conversion allowed.
The drive continued with 1:16 left and in the red zone, an incompletion on an out route that was thrown a bit ahead with Layne in coverage. On second and ten, another short catch with a good tackle from Platel for only two yards. Third and eight now, and good tight coverage from Platel here at the goal line to break up the high pass falling incomplete. Fourth and eight with 45 seconds left, and Pittsburgh appears to get a good stop thanks to a great pass breakup from Riley, but another untimely penalty on Pittsburgh, this time Rashed on a facemask, allowing a third fourth down conversion setting up first and goal. I know it’s the backups, but unacceptable. Rashed applied pressure on the next pass that was floated to the receiver on the sideline, but second straight pass breakup from Riley making his presence known. On second and goal, Johnson and Layne came up to hit the quarterback on the scramble, but he flipped the pass just in time to the end zone for the touchdown against Riley in coverage. Rough stretch to watch, but good coverage on the two-point attempt by cornerback Chris Steele to break up the quick out incomplete. The lead is cut to ten.
The defense came back immediately following the Lions onside recovery, taking a deep shot toward the end zone, but good coverage and break up from Stephens on the incompletion. On second and ten, Jeter missed a sack opportunity along with Khalil Davis, allowing the quarterback scramble but only a gain of four sliding down with Norwood there to force it. Third and six now, and as the quarterback holds on to it waiting for something to happen, Carlos Davis gets through his blocker to come up with the sack to close the game. Encouraging game from the starters, whole different ball game for the backups in the second half overall.
Last let’s look at special teams:
PFF’s highest graded special teamer for week three was Robinson (83.1), also tying with several players for the highest snap count in this phase of the game. Two other players graded in the 70 range, Kicker Chris Boswell (72.3 kicking grade) and Cody White (73.4) on a smaller snap count of six. The lowest grades of the week came from Connor Heyward (37.7), with Rashed (29.9) and McFarland (29.7) having particularly low grades.
Boswell sent the opening kickoff to the one-yard line, where Norwood got off his block but unable to make a play, Boykin was a bit wide on his angle, Stephens was blocked well, and Kazee eventually making the strong tackle on the 28-yard return. Olszewski returned the first punt from the nine-yard line, able to get around the first man that Layne allowed to run free, gaining 12 yards on the return. Punter Pressley Harvin got his first opportunity early in the game, a 41-yarder where the returner had room in front but ran straight toward Boykin who worked up field and cutoff the left side of the field early, and Tuszka taking advantage of the situation to make the tackle for no gain. Boswell kicked a 45-yard field goal to put Pittsburgh on the scoreboard first with 3:25 left in the first quarter. His following kickoff only went to the five-yard line, where there were offsetting penalties on McFarland for a facemask and holding on Detroit, placing the ball on the 20-yard line.
Boswell made his second attempt early in the second quarter from 34 yards out following the interception to give Pittsburgh a 6-0 lead. His following kickoff went to the four-yard line with Warren and Robinson flying in towards the returner and the latter making the solid hit/tackle at the 16 on the 12-yard return. Boswell made his third field goal mid-second quarter from 38 yards out to increase the lead to nine. The following kickoff went to the end zone but was returned for a long gain, but Detroit was penalized for holding setting them back near their own goal line. Harvin punted with 2:52 left before halftime, a 50-yarder that went out of bounds at the 19-yard line. Sims got a punt return opportunity just before halftime, backpedaling to field the booming 57 yarder at the 12, but went for a loss running sideline to sideline trying to make something happen.
Harvin’s next punt came at 12:47 in the third quarter, a 43 yarder that was fair caught at the 15. McFarland got a kick return at 10:01, returning the short kickoff to the 31-yard line behind good blocks from White, Carter, and Steele. Boswell had his next field goal attempt blocked, able to slip between Kendrick Green and Leal’s blocks. Vaughns got a punt return opportunity late in the third quarter, fair catching it at the 20.
Harvin punted with 5:31 left in the game, a long 56 yarder that went to the 20-yard line, with good coverage from Riley and Robinson along with the combined tackle from Warren and long snapper Christian Kuntz. With 30 left in the game, Detroit went for the onside kick where Tuszka seemed hesitant, waiting to block which allowed his man momentum to get to the recovery before Sternberger, Lions ball.
Here are the highest graded special teamers throughout the preseason: Boykin (90.3) on 28 snaps, Rader (83.9) on 46 snaps, safety Donovan Stiner (80.4) on 29 snaps. Players with 70+ grades are Snell, Robinson, Spillane, and Buddy Johnson. Harvin’s punt grade was 64.5 and Chris Boswell’s field goal grade was 62.3. Players with below 50 grades on special teams were running back Max Borghi, Stephens, Vaughters, White, Rashed, with McFarland (29.7) and Kendrick Green (28.6) having particularly low grades.
STEELERS VS. LIONS PRESEASON GAME 3 SNAPS & TOTAL PRESEASON SNAPS
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