Takeaways from the Steelers First Two Preseason Games

(Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

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After two preseason games, I've seen some good and some bad out of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  While you can't take too much from these games with so many guys rotating in and out, there are some takeaways that I wanted to touch on.  Here are the three things I've noticed so far, and will be keeping my eye on in the last preseason game on Sunday against the Detroit Lions.

The O-Line

The most noteworthy thing about this team so far, and the one that has probably garnered the most media attention, is the offensive line play.  After their dismal play last season, there were hopes that the offseason signings of James Daniels and Mason Cole, along with the re-signing of Chuks Okorafor, would bolster the line this season.  However, their play so far in the preseason has given me great concern.  

In the first preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks, they did a decent job in the running game.  It was the pass blocking that left a lot to be desired.  Unfortunately, it only got worse in the second game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.  Clips were circulating on Twitter of the Steelers offensive line getting bullied and run over far too often.  The biggest culprit of such was left guard Kendrick Green.

This week, Green was asked if he thought he'd done enough to earn the starting left guard spot, to which he answered "Absolutely not."  While I appreciate the honesty, it is truly telling of the type of play he, and the rest of the offensive line, has shown thus far.  Coach Mike Tomlin was also asked about the O-line, to which he said there were a lot of mechanics that the unit needed to improve upon.  Not very convincing for a unit that played so poorly last season and has the spotlight on them heading into a new season with a new quarterback.  This is definitely something I'll be keeping my eye on the rest of the preseason, especially with some starting spots potentially up for grabs.

The Running Back Room

The second thing that has been pretty telling so far in the preseason is the team's lack of faith in backup running back Benny Snell.  It is certainly warranted given how lackluster Snell has been in his career with the Black and Gold.  The Steelers have made a few signings over the course of the preseason, bringing in Master Teague III, who ended up getting injured, and most recently, Max Borghi to go along with Anthony McFarland.

The most noteworthy out of this group, however, has been undrafted rookie Jaylen Warren from Oklahoma State.  It is Warren who has truly seized the opportunity given to him by the coaching staff.  Warren has shown the ability to run hard and efficiently, something we have seldom seen out of Snell.  I think Warren will ultimately win the backup role, if he hasn't already done so.

One thing the Steelers have made clear is they want to spell running back Najee Harris more than they did last season.  Harris himself said that he felt tired at times during games due to his heavy workload.  If the team was able to find someone to sufficiently fill the backup role, it would help keep Harris fresher over the course of the season in such a taxing position.  And it appears that Warren may very well have earned the right to do so with his play so far this preseason.

The Fa├žade of a QB Battle

Lastly, no matter how much Coach Tomlin tells me that it is the case, I refuse to believe that quarterback Mitch Trubisky is "competing" for the starting role.  Everything that has happened thus far has said that he has already earned it.


The above tweet was making its rounds on Twitter last night and I cannot buy into what Tomlin is saying.  So far, Trubisky has played only a few series in each game, with the majority of the playing time getting split between Kenny Pickett and Mason Rudolph.  In my mind the only competition is between these two for the backup spot.

There had been rumblings going around that Rudolph could get traded, but quite frankly, he's performed pretty well throughout the preseason.  It may have been enough to earn the backup spot, but I still believe that doesn't gel with this team's future.  If you're going to select the first quarterback in the draft with your first round pick, he should at least be the backup.  

I don't think Pickett is ready to be the starter.  But, it seems foolish to select someone that high if you don't believe he could at least be the backup out of the gate.  We have seen plenty out of Rudolph over the years, and I think it is time to move on from him.  Also, Pickett hasn't played poorly enough not to be the backup.  In fact, he's been rather impressive so far.

Conclusion

As Coach Tomlin said, the last preseason game against the Lions will be crucial for a lot of position battles.  I think there will be a lot to take away from that game, most notably the three things I've discussed.  We need to see improved play out of the offensive line.  It's as simple as that.  That unit is on a path similar to last year's, and it is tough to win games when you can't protect the quarterback.  

I also believe if we see another good game from Jaylen Warren, the backup running spot is his.  As for the backup quarterback battle, this could very well come down to who performs better.  It is that much of a toss up.  There's a lot that I will be keeping my eye on Sunday night, with the regular season just around the corner.  Meaningful football is almost here!

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