What an exciting and encouraging game for the Pittsburgh Steelers overall, getting the late turnover on defense with the game tied and rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett leading the game winning drive for the 32-25 victory! In this article I will provide data from Pro Football Focus and takeaways from watching the film.
Let’s start with the offense:
The highest PFF grade on offense, and overall, was rookie wide receiver George Pickens (91.2), well deserving based on his performance on 21 snaps. Guard John Leglue was next up at 85.3, also tying for the highest offensive snap counts, excelling mostly as a run blocker (91.7) compared to pass blocking (48.3). Wide receiver Tyler Vaughns came in at 83.7, the final player with a +80 grade. Common to the overall encouragements watching the game, PFF graded with several players having “above the line” play on the graph. All three quarterbacks being in this group is super encouraging. The lowest graded player was tackle Chaz Green (39.6), and some underwhelming performances from guards James Daniels (54.6) and Kendrick Green (51.5). Good job with the grading overall in my opinion but thought wide receiver Steven Sims could have been higher.
Pittsburgh’s offense opened the game, and right away quarterback Mitch Trubisky found Pickens on a nice hitch route for a gain of nine. On second and one, tight end Kevin Rader was the target after motioning, but the pass was high due to guard Kendrick Green allowing the quarterback hit. Third and one now, and running back Anthony McFarland gets the handoff, with a great bounce outside, then eludes a tackle for a 24-yard explosive run behind downfield blocking from Pickens. Very refreshing to see early, along with heavier personnel and motions, and Pittsburgh also benefitting from a Seattle 15-yard penalty.
McFarland got another run on the following first down, up the middle for four yards behind good blocks from center Mason Cole and tackle Chukwuma Okorafor, with Daniels ending up on the ground. On second and six, Trubisky took a deep shot to Pickens, who didn’t seem to be running full speed, out of his reach incomplete. Third and six now, Daniels struggled to pick up the correct man on the stunt by Seattle, allowing pressure on Trubisky’s over the middle completion to wide receiver Gunner Olszewski, who made a great cut for yards after catch on the 25-yard gain and conversion. In the red zone now, Trubisky slides left feeling a slight push from Okorafor’s side, who recovered to pancake the defender to the ground, and finds Olszewski uncovered in the end zone! Encouraging first drive with two explosive plays, Pittsburgh up seven.
At 8:53 the offenses second drive began with a nice throw from Trubisky to Connor Heyward, who went in motion and made a great catch above his head on the crossing route for 16 yards. Noticing motion men being targeted early. The next first down was a toss to McFarland, who did a great job avoiding defenders in the backfield (Rader and tackle Dan Moore allowing penetration) for a gain of seven, with Daniels providing a strong block and Kendrick Green getting up field to pancake a defensive back. Back to McFarland on the ground on second and three, gaining nine through a great hole created by Okorafor, Cole, and Daniels.
McFarland got his third straight carry on first down, this time for only two yards where Cole’s man pushed him toward the ball carrier for the tackle, along with Kendrick Green unable to connect at the second level. On second and eight, Daniels got caught looking inside allowing penetration to Trubisky, who did a great job avoiding the sack and scrambling for four yards. Third and four now, and Trubisky was a bit antsy here stepping up in a decent pocket seemingly, effecting his inaccurate pass forcing the punt. Lead is still seven.
Quarterback Mason Rudolph came in with 3:11 in the first quarter, unfortunately being strip sacked on his first play due to Moore being beat around the edge, though Rudolph was able to recover on the loss of ten. On second and 20, McFarland got the carry behind great collective blocking from the starting offensive line, and especially enjoyed Daniels and Cole getting to the linebackers on the second level on the gain of seven. Third and 13 though, and Rudolph took a shot to Pickens in the corner of the end zone, and while the throw may have been a tick late, it was just in time to impressively get both feet down for the great pitch and catch for the touchdown! Nice quick strike off the strong punt return despite the sack, two touchdown lead!
The offense returned with 12:45 in the second quarter, starting with a carry for running back Jaylen Warren behind a good combo block by Moore and Kendrick Green, but Connor Heyward getting beat and allowing the tackle on the gain of three. On second and seven, Moore pancaked his man on a nice Rudolph rollout to the left and throw to Olszweski for nine yards. Heyward was penalized for a false start here, unfortunate rookie growing pains. This set up first and 15, where Pittsburgh went play action, then targeted Heyward who pulled across the formation for some redemption on the catch and gain of eight. On second and seven, despite Leglue allowing pressure, Rudolph made a great throw to Pickens for a fantastic catch with excellent body control. Checking the box of putting encouraging reports on film.
The following first down was another target to Pickens deep right, but good coverage and incomplete, and Leglue was beat on the second straight play. On second and ten, Rader ran an out and made a nice catch on the pass thrown behind him on the gain of six. Third and four now, and Rudolph targeted wide receiver Miles Boykin on a stick route, making a great catch against tight coverage for another conversion.
After six consecutive passes, Warren got the carry on first down for a gain of three, with tackle Joe Haeg unable to connect on his block and center J.C. Hassenauer losing late in the rep. On second and seven, Hassenauer got beat off the snap on the pass play allowing a low hit on Rudolph (which frustratingly wasn’t called). The Seahawks were called for a different penalty that was declined due to Warren breaking two tackles on the short catch earning ten yards. Rudolph then had a dangerous throw in double coverage despite good protection to Heyward that luckily wasn’t picked. On second and ten Warren provided another healthy gain, this time a run with a good backfield cut and good blocks from Haeg and Leglue on the second level but fumbled at the end and luckily Boykin was there to secure the recovery.
McFarland came in for the next run on first down in the red zone, where Connor Heyward was pushed back by fellow rookie Boye Mafe, forcing the cutback and tackled quickly by the safety despite good blocking from the offensive line. On second and seven, Rudolph had time in the pocket and found Boykin over the middle for the catch and run for nine yards. Rudolph went right back to Boykin on first and goal on a slant in the end zone against tight coverage (debatably pass interference) that went off his hand incomplete. On second and goal, Warren got another carry and despite not much room to roam (and Green on the ground) got skinny and pushed forward on the four-yard gain. Third and goal now from the three, and another dangerous throw from Rudolph at the goal line with three defenders in the area, unfortunately limiting the long drive with several breaks going Pittsburgh’s way to a field goal. 14-point lead.
The offense returned with 2:48 left in the half, Hassenauer and Kendrick Green got pushed back on effecting Rudolph’s high pass to Heyward off his fingertip incomplete. On second and ten, lineman Trent Scott got beat bad around the edge from the right tackle spot, allowing the hit on Rudolph on the incompletion. Third and ten now, Leglue got beat and Scott allowed his man to get to Rudolph again, who was able to get the pass off in the nick of time to tight end Jace Sternberger but was tackled just short of the marker. Three and out, score remains 17-3.
Pittsburgh had one play to send it to halftime, handing the ball to Warren who continues to fight for every yard, hit at the line on the seven-yard gain. Lead cut to seven just before the break.
Kenny Pickett came in at quarterback at 10:37 in the third quarter, starting things off with a play action rollout to the open Sternberger for the catch and run behind a Boykin block for 11 yards. The following first down was a jet sweep to Steven Sims, which completely faked out Seattle’s edge defender to create ample space on the explosive 38-yard run. Third consecutive first down here, Pickett throws a quick out to the open Warren from the slot, who again fights for extra yards on the gain of seven. On second and three in the red zone, Warren got the carry this time with Haeg and lineman Chaz Green clearing just enough space for the conversion.
The following first down was a quick crosser to Sims, gaining two yards, and would have been more if he got up field after the catch. On second and eight, Pickett got the ball out quick to Warren on the wheel route with run after catch, nearly able to dive in the end zone but stepped out of bounds on the ten-yard gain. First and goal now from the three, Pickett play actions to Warren, then throws it to him at the goal line, showing great effort reaching out for the score (though risking another fumble). Pittsburgh goes for two here, with Heyward going in motion then getting the quick target on the stop route for the conversion. The lead is eight.
With 2:55 left in the third quarter, Pickett threw a slot screen to wide receiver Cody White from the seven-yard line but was covered well for a gain of only one. On second and nine, Snead ran a quick out from the slot for three yards, another example of the motion man on the receiving end. Third and six now, and running back Mateo Durant was owned on his pass block attempt, pancaked to the ground and allowing Pickett to be sacked on the loss of nine, forcing the three and out.
With 13:26 left and a tie game, Pickett made a nice sideline throw to White for a good catch of ten yards despite Scott being pushed back. The following first down was a jet sweep to Snead, who broke a tackle in the backfield for a positive gain of two yards. On second and eight, Snead got the ball again, this time on a great diving catch, but was short of the marker due to the slightly off target pass from Pickett. Third and one now, and Pittsburgh goes for the short yardage run, but Chaz Green missed his block allowing the tackle on Durant behind the line for a loss of one. Unfortunate short drive needing points, instead a punt with the game still tied.
The offense returned with 5:59 left and the game still tied, getting things going with running back Master Teague on the ground for three yards, with an initial hole between Chaz Green and Sternberger that closed quickly. On second and seven, Hassenauer and Chaz Green got a good push for Teague’s next rush of five yards. On third and one, Pittsburgh went with the third consecutive run with Teague, with good collective blocking (especially Haeg, Leglue, and Rader) for a nice nine-yard gain and conversion.
On the following first down, newly acquired wide receiver Christian Blake ran a five yard out gaining seven on the play. On second and three, Teague got more work with a good five-yard carry with another good block from Leglue. The following first down was another target to Blake, of the back shoulder variety downfield that he didn’t locate, and possible pass interference on the play. On second and ten, Vaughns caught the out route, fighting for a couple extra yards on the gain of eight. Third and two now, and Pickett shows good situational awareness feeling the pressure from Haeg being pushed back, escaping to scramble for four yards and crucial conversion.
Continuing at the two-minute warning, Teague got more work on the ground with a healthy nine-yard run, with a good block from Leglue. On second and one, Haeg and Leglue allowed penetration in their gap, rushing Pickett’s throw to Blake which fell incomplete. Third and one now, Teague got the carry again in this situation, but Sternberger and Chaz Green were beat off the line and the play was stopped for no gain. Going for it on fourth and one with the game tied and time running out, Pickett runs a play action rollout, but Mafe is there showing his speed to get to Pickett for the sack! Really needed points here, unfortunate.
The Steelers were very fortunate to get another chance with the great defensive turnover. Pickett drops back but Haussenauer allows pressure, with Pickett scrambling for four yards and getting out of bounds around a good block from Teague. On second and six, Durant got the carry for five, with great collective blocking. Third and one now, and the line stepped up once again, this time in pass protection, giving Pickett time to find White on the catch and good fight for the needed yards on the huge conversion. On first down, Haeg and Chaz Green were both beat around the edge, but great composure by Pickett again, making a great play to elude the rush and pick up eight. Second and two now, and Pickett finds Vaughns on the out route on the right side, who sheds the tackle from the defensive back with room to roam in front, and dives into the end zone for the game winner! What and exciting end to preseason game one!
Now for the defense:
The highest PFF grade on offense was defensive lineman Donovan Jeter (90.5) on six snaps, followed by a strong performance by safety Tre Norwood (82.8), who also led the team in defensive snaps with 47. Linebacker Miles Jack also had a good debut in the black and gold with an 81.4 grade on eight snaps, showing some encouraging things especially in the run game. Also encouraging to see all the secondary players in the 65+ range, including Ahekello Witherspoon, Levi Wallace, James Pierre, Cameron Sutton, Arthur Maulet, and Terrell Edmunds. The other players at the linebacker position were much lower, with Mark Robinson toping that list. He had a great pass rush grade (91.2) considering his strip sack, but much lower in run defense, tackling, and coverage. Linebackers Robert Spillane (45.5), Buddy Johnson (42.8), and Devin Bush (34.2) left much to be desired, with Carlos Davis (31.7) and Chris Wormley (30.1) at the bottom of the grades, and thought fellow defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux could’ve been a bit higher.
The Steelers defense came on with 12:10 in the first quarter up by seven, allowing a seven-yard run right away with defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux and Wormley being pushed back. On second and three Mondeaux provided slight pressure on his loop rush, cuing quarterback Geno Smith’s rollout to buy time for the receiver to redirect his route and make the catch for 17 yards, with cornerback Arthur Maulet in coverage.
The following first down was a wide receiver jet sweep where cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon did a great job staying free from the blocker on the good tackle for a loss of one. On second and 11, Seattle went for a screen pass where safety Damontae Kazee had good positioning but lacked tackling strength and needed cornerback Cameron Sutton’s help on the strong tackle. Third and six now, and Pittsburgh had good downfield coverage, along with good edge contain as Smith had to step up resulting in a Mondeaux sack. Great team effort here to force the punt, leading by seven.
At 5:17 the Seahawks began on the ground again, where Witherspoon showed good effort but poor tackling form, lowering his head and injuring his shoulder ending his night. On second and six, edge rusher Delontae Scott was sealed inside allowing a crease, but good read and react by Jack on the tackle shy of the marker. Third and one now, and the Steelers sniffed out the run, with Jack making the tackle, along with cornerback Levi Wallace and safety Terrell Edmunds swarming to the ball as well. Great stand and three and out, still up by seven.
The defense returned with 1:33 left in the first quarter, the Seahawks went play action and Smith hit the uncovered running back, seemingly Spillane’s assignment, who bit on the play fake on the explosive gain of 25 on the play where Kazee eventually made the tackle. The following first down was another play action pass, this time Spillane providing sticky coverage on the short tight end target for only three. On second and seven, Seattle went back to the ground, where Maulet blitzed and guessed play action again pursuing the quarterback along with Scott getting demolished on a pancake and linebacker Devin Bush committing to far inside, allowing a big 16-yard gain. The following first down was another big run, where edge rusher Derrek Tuszka and Bush were washed out by pulling blockers, Spillane took a poor angle, and Mondeaux was sealed on a double team (noticed this on a few occasions) for another big run of ten yards where Kazee made the big hit.
The following first down came from the red zone to start the second quarter, where Maulet did a great job getting outside the blocker on a screen pass to make the tackle for a two-yard loss. On second and 12, Tuszka provided some pressure against Seahawks first round tackle Charles Cross, forcing Smith to leave the pocket and his pass was dropped on the scramble drill with Wallace in coverage. Third and 12 now, and Pittsburgh played of coverage given the situation begging Smith to throw short, where Kazee reacted quickly for another solid tackle for only five yards to hold them to a field goal (which doinked in off the left upright). Unfortunate chunk plays on this drive, but good play in the red zone. Score 14-3 now.
With 4:23 in the second quarter up by 14, defensive lineman Carlos Davis got penetration and nearly got the tip on the pass to the open running back, with Spillane late to react in coverage, getting drug for additional yards with Wallace finishing the tackle on the 11-yard gain. Defensive lineman Isaiahh Loudermilk got good penetration to redirect the following first down run back inside, but fellow lineman DeMarvin Leal was blocked to the ground, with Scott and Mondeaux converging to make the tackle on the four-yard gain. On second and six, Mondeaux was blocked to the ground on his pass rush, and luckily the receiver couldn’t get both feet down inbounds on the downfield target, considering he had a step on Kazee and safety Tre Norwood in coverage. Third and six now, and Maulet had a great situational pass breakup here, punching the ball loose on the in route at the sticks. Nice short drive to force the punt, lead remains 14.
The defense returned with 1:48 in the first half, and Seattle came out passing as expected with a good throw in a soft spot between Kazee and Buddy Johnson in coverage for eight yards. On second and two, the four-man pass rush couldn’t get there but Loudermilk did a great job reading and batting down the pass attempt. Third and two now, and Leal did a great job winning off the line and getting a hand on Smith but unable to finish, along with edge rusher Tuzar Skipper being owned and pancaked by Cross, allowing the scramble for seven yards the first down where Maulet ran him out of bounds.
The following first and ten was a short running back pass, who was able to avoid Johnson’s tackle attempt for additional yards on the eight-yard gain. On second and two, Seattle got ten yards on a run and were able to get to the sideline with Pittsburgh playing situationally in off coverage, where cornerback James Pierre pushed him out. The following first down was an explosive catch with Maulet beat in coverage and Kazee making a strong tackle. First and goal from the seven now, and good coverage by Norwood on the incompletion in the endzone. On second and goal, Norwood made another great play, this time a run tackle to save the touchdown at the two-yard line. Third and goal now, and Smith sold a good play action that faked out edge rusher Ron’Dell Carter and Johnson, creating space to scramble right and dive over Pierre’s tackle attempt for the touchdown. Unfortunate allowing points before half, Steelers up 17-10.
Seattle’s offense opened the second half with a play action rollout from quarterback Drew Lock, hitting Melton on the short pass at the line of scrimmage and forcing a missed tackle on a poor attempt from cornerback Carlins Platel, allowing huge yards after catch on the explosive 39-yard gain where Pierre finally made the tackle. The following first down was a run in which Pittsburgh had good initial run defense, with Carlos Davis setting the edge and safety Donovan Stiner hit the runner, but great effort to churn for extra yards on the gain of five where Davis made the tackle. On second and five, Robinson missed a diving run tackle attempt with Tuszka making the tackle though being drug for additional yards on the gain of six and first down.
On the following first down run, Tuszka and Loudermilk set the edge well and Robinson did a good job staying clean and making the tackle on the four-yard gain. The Seahawks went back to play action on second and six in the red zone, with Loudermilk providing a nice rip to pursue the quarterback, and great coverage and physicality by Norwood and Stiner to force the incompletion in the end zone. Third and six now, and good push from Scott on the pass rush, where athletic rookie wide receiver Dareke Young making the catch with Robinson beat on this tough coverage assignment, combining on the tackle with Pierre, allowing the first down and 13-yard gain.
First and goal now, and Leal made a nice tackle along with Mondeaux on the straight ahead run for three yards. On second and goal, it’s play action with Lock throwing the crossing route to the back corner of the end zone where Pierre had a nice pass breakup, though the pass could have been more on a line. Third and goal, and Lock threw quickly to the trailing receiver in trips formation at the goal line, where Johnson was a tick slow in coverage allowing the touchdown. Tie game.
The defense returned at 6:38 with an eight-point lead to a running play, where Loudermilk ripped off his blocker well but couldn’t make the tackle, but Leal moved his blocker well to the runner and disengaged to wrap him up, though it took a while to get him down on the gain of six. On second and four, Lock threw the quick out with Pittsburgh in zone, good click and close from Pierre along with Carter chasing and combining for the tackle. The following first down run went for a big 18-yard gain, with Khalil Davis being washed out inside, and Pierre guessing wrong on his outside positioning, with the runner cutting back and breaking a tackle attempt by Stiner, then finally brought down by Johnson.
Seattle then had a false start penalty in a fairly clean game in this regard. This set up first and 15, another run where Leal did a good job at the point of attack and ripping off his block, and Maulet staying clean off the edge blitz to make the tackle of four yards. On second and 11, Leal and edge rusher Hamilcar Rashed got a good push on their pass rush, with Loudermilk tipping his second pass along with solid coverage from Norwood for the incompletion. Third and 11 now, and Maulet made a great read for a loss of one on the screen play, forcing a punt. Good job tightening up after three chunk gains, lead is still eight.
With 49 seconds left in the third quarter, Seattle started with a pass with seemingly good downfield coverage to the left, with Lock taking the short completion, and Tuszka getting there late and allowing the cut inside for extra yards on the nine-yard gain where Pierre made the tackle. On second and one, Carlos Davis and Robinson each had a chance to make the tackle near the line of scrimmage but missed, with Norwood making the tackle after a gain of ten.
The following first down was another chunk play to begin the fourth quarter, this time a pass over the middle for 15 yards with Pierre in coverage and the tackle. The following first down in the red zone was a run for four yards where Robinson made the tackle. On the following play, Robinson had poor coverage on the running back, also missing a tackle attempt along with Stiner, and Pierre also having an opportunity, but the running back jumped over into the end zone for the touchdown. The Seahawks go for two here trying to tie the game and were successful due to Johnson stopping in coverage. Unfortunate miscommunication thinking someone else would be there leaving the back wide open. Discouraging series, tie game.
11:01 left, game still tied, and Seattle begins with another big run where Robinson was washed out and Carlos Davis was pancaked, with Johnson there on the tackle but a gain of 13. The following first down was a short play action pass where cornerback Justin Layne got off his block but couldn’t make the tackle, allowing additional yards before Robinson could push him out on the gain of eight. On second and two, Seattle went back to the ground, Khalil Davis being pushed back easily, with Johnson and defensive lineman Doug Costin combining for the tackle.
The following first down defensive lineman Donovan Jeter impressively stacked and pulled his man but couldn’t get to the runner, Carter couldn’t get off his block, and Johnson making the tackle but a gain of nine. On second and one, Carter made a good play working down the line to stop this third run in a row for no gain. Third and one now, and unfortunately Lock was able to use his legs to pick up three with Costin making the tackle. The following first down was a good move from Rashed, swimming inside with good pursuit for the sack and loss of seven. On second and 17, Platel came on a corner blitz, but Lock was able to get the pass off short to the running back, with a good tackle from Johnson on the gain of two. Third and 15 now, and thankfully Lock’s pass is high and incomplete forcing the punt. Still tied up.
After the offense was unable to score, the defense returned with 1:17 left in the game needing a stop. They did just that, with Robinson coming in clean for the strip sack and edge rusher Tuzar Skipper recovering the fumble! Huge turn of events to give the offense another chance!
The defense returned for one last Seahawks desperation play, and after a few laterals Carlos Davis had enough and put on the big hit to put another exclamation point on to the end of this exciting game!
Last let’s look at special teams:
Graphs will come later with a larger sample size, with many players currently with the same snaps and grades causing a messy graph. The table at the end of the article will have snap counts.
The highest graded special teamers according to PFF were Boykin (91.8), Rader (83) on the highest snap count (24), and two other grades above 70: Stiner (74.9) and Warren (70.6). Connor Heyward was a bit lower than I expected (65.4, 6th), and Cody White had the lowest grade (29.9).
McFarland was the first-string kick returner, taking his first attempt to the 28 but unfortunately White had an early illegal block penalty right out of the gate. Connor Heyward got just enough of an angle/contact to make the first tackle on special teams following the opening drive touchdown. Sims was the first out on punt returns, showing a great poker face by signaling for the fair catch which allowed the ball to roll in for the touchback. The first punt came at the end of the second drive, a 33-yarder by Cameron Nizialek that went inside the ten where Boykin showed great awareness forcing the fumble, with Seattle recovering and Stiner making a solid tackle. Sims second punt return was a risk, fielding it in traffic but avoided the tackle for a nice reward of 38 yards. Following Pittsburgh’s second touchdown, Seattle’s kick returner was able to avoid Kazee’s low tackle attempt with Buddy Johnson finishing the play.
The first kickoff in the second quarter went to the end zone following the Seattle field goal, where McFarland took it out to the 16-yard line. Kicker Nick Sciba made a 21-yard field goal to cap off the long second quarter drive. On the following kickoff, Boykin did a nice job getting off the blocker to make the tackle at the 24-yardline. Sims has a career as an actor if he’d like, selling the fair catch signal even better, showing awareness and value here. Nizialek’s second punt came at the two-minute warning before halftime, a 45 yarder to the 26-yard line where Norwood missed a tackle opportunity and Rader made the tackle on the 13-yard gain.
The Steelers kickoff to open the second half, with Heyward slipping but making the tackle at the 27-yard line. The next kickoff went to the nine-yard line with Heyward missing a tackle attempt and Warren making the tackle at the 23-yard line. Sims fare caught the next punt return at the 7-yard line. Nizialek’s punt from the two-yard line near the end of the third quarter was a quality 53-yarder, rolling a good ways and downed by Sims.
Vaughns was the kick returner in the fourth quarter, with his first attempt going 27 yards. Nizialek’s next punt was a 51 yarder that bounced into the end zone for the touchback. Vaughns was also back on punt return, running forward instead of faking a fair catch that resulted in Seattle downing it at the five.
STEELERS VS. SEAHAWKS PRESEASON GAME 1 SNAPS
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