As Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of Saturday’s preseason game, “They (the Jacksonville Jaguars) controlled the football game, but we won the game.”
In the context that the process is more important than the result during August football, it was a less than stellar outing for the Steelers.
However, it was not all bad. A look at some positives and negatives from the 16-15 win at TIAA Bank Field.
In some ways, forget not only the final score, but everything else in Saturday’s game. If Pickett ends up showing he’s worthy of a first-round pick and franchise quarterback of the future, this training camp could be considered a rousing success.
Pickett played just 10 snaps. Between them, he managed to throw passes that were caught by teammates eight times for 106 yards and two touchdowns. Two of those passes ended up being called back for penalties, but that doesn’t take away from how accurate Pickett has looked during game action in a Steelers uniform — even if it’s a small sample size.
Pickett is far from a finished product, but he has gradually improved since the start of training camp. While he’s still not driving the ball very far down the court, he’s executing everything asked of him with precision and poise.
Yes, we know it’s “JV” action, as Tomlin likes to call the fourth quarter of preseason games. But Vaughns continues to come out in such situations and has been the non-quarterback most responsible for the Steelers’ two wins in two preseason games.
On the Aug. 13 opener, Vaughns had a 24-yard touchdown run with 12 seconds left. On Saturday, all of Vaughns’ catches for a team-best 56 yards came over the final 10 minutes of regulation. With the game on the line when the Steelers took over near midfield down five points with 3 minutes, 3 seconds left, Mason Rudolph looked to Vaughns on four of the first five plays. Three passes were completed that gained 51 yards and put the Steelers at the Jaguars 1 line.
That doesn’t mean Vaughns, a former USC receiver, will be on the 53-man roster. But he’s shown enough ability in the preseason and on special teams that it seems likely he’ll be linked to the practice squad for a second straight season.
Overall health of the team
By all indications, the Steelers survived the preseason “dress rehearsal” game unscathed injury-wise. Coming out of any NFL game without a significant injury is remarkable. With the vast majority of their starters playing through a preseason — even all-pro TJ Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick — coming out of Jacksonville with nothing more than (as Tomlin puts it) “football-related bumps and bruises” is probably the best. news from all about the Steelers.
Pass protection and run blocking could be ranked at No. 1, 2 and 3 when it comes to “down” when it comes to Steelers action in Jacksonville. The starters played more than half the game, the second team the rest (there was no “third team” offensive line). Steelers running backs had 10 rushes for 10 yards, the two best quarterbacks were pressured on eight of 15 dropbacks (for Pro Football Focus). There were three offensive line holding penalties, four times the quarterback was hit, one was sacked and another pressure forced a safety.
Offensive coordinator Matt Canada seemed to call plays that required an opening or pocket move on nearly every pass play. According to PFF, running backs gained more yards after contact (14) than scrimmage (10) in their collective 10 rushing games. That means, on average, running backs were being hit almost half a yard (0.4) behind the line of scrimmage on each rush.
Too many players penalized
The stat book says the Steelers were penalized six times for 48 yards. But that doesn’t tell the full story Saturday. They were flagged 10 times: Two were declined and two more were offset by Jacksonville’s offense. One even cost the Steelers two points, though Rudolph’s intentional grounding was more a function of the aforementioned shaky offensive line.
Four weeks into training camp, Tomlin had to hope (and expect) a much clearer performance.
Jordan Tucker, Jace Sternberger and Chris Oladokun were the only Steelers players who did not have a known injury and were not held out for preseason. Except for Oladoku, for whom this entire training camp has been a redshirt year, that can’t be a good sign.
For Tucker, in particular, that the coaching staff didn’t give him a chance even with the offensive linemen ahead of him on the depth chart is alarming for an undrafted rookie. Sternberger, a three-year NFL veteran, always faced an uphill battle as the No. 5 in a five-man tight end room that seemingly always had three locks to make the roster.
Five cuts are expected on Tuesday by 4 p.m. Tucker and Sternberger can beat that deadline.