By: Zach Metkler, GZ Sports Report Writer
After two poor showings against the Lions and Eagles, the Steelers finally appeared to be clicking on all cylinders. With the chance to finally see the first-team offense on the field and the defense going against a high-powered offense with a veteran quarterback, the Steelers had a lot to prove and clearly stepped up to the challenge. It was hard to find many negatives from this game so I will be focusing on the many positives that I noticed from the game and from re-watching film.
-The Steelers first-team offense was everything you expected them to be: explosive and dominant. In two series, Ben Roethlisberger went 12/17 for 148 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and a passer rating of 136.4. Antonio Brown finished the day with 4 receptions for 87 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown reception. That comes to a 21.8 average yards per reception, which is ridiculous for 2 drives. Image a full game. *Gulp*. To round out the Big Three, Le’Veon Bell had 3 carries for 21 yards and added 37 yards on 5 receptions. Not bad at all for less than 2 full quarters of work total.
-Eli Rogers is going to make waves this season. Just wait. After being a bubble player throughout the offseason, Rogers has done nothing but impress during training camp and the preseason. During Friday’s game, Rogers took the field as the team’s #3 wide receiver, playing on the field with Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton. While none of these receivers are huge targets, all possess open-field playmaking ability. It was exciting to see Rogers and Brown on the field together for the first time and it appears that this will continue for a while, especially since Rogers seems to get it more than fellow receiver Sammie Coates.
-After 2 bad games to start the preseason, Landry Jones finally appeared to look like football players. Jones had a fantastic night, going 19/22 for 206 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 (yes, zero!) interceptions, and a passer rating of 120.8. After bringing into question whether he deserved to be the Steelers backup quarterback, Jones finally showed that he is worth the spot. The biggest thing, however, is putting on this kind of performance on a consistent basis.
–Sammie Coates finished the night with 2 receptions for 66 yards and a touchdown, which is a far cry from his 2 fumbles in week 1. Coates showed poise on Friday and finally put together the performance that we all have been waiting for. It might be a little bit late to dub him a starter due to Eli Rogers fantastic performance all training camp and preseason, but Coates needed to have a game like this to establish himself as a legitimate threat in the passing game. He did just that.
-Jesse James continues to show development each and every week as a player. A lot of fans are calling for the Steelers to sign a veteran tight end due to the lack of experience currently at the position. However, this is a foolish move, especially considering how well James has quietly performed this preseason. James has shown much improvement as a run blocker and made a very veteran-savvy move on Friday by leaving his blocking assignment to give Ben Roethlisberger another target. The result? The first touchdown of the game in the form of a Jesse James reception. James is in much better shape this season compared to last year and has filled out his frame nicely. While many people won’t give him the credit he deserves, Jesse James will be the Steelers starting tight end this season.
-I have said this since the Steelers drafted him: Stephon Tuitt has the potential to be better than Cam Heyward. Think about that for a second… Cam Heyward is considered one of the top 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL and has been a disruptive force for the Steelers over the past few seasons. If Tuitt reaches his full potential, he has elite, top tier potential in the J.J. Watt stratosphere. Now I am not saying he will be as good as J.J. Watt but he has the potential to be the best Steelers defensive lineman of this century to this point. His ability to collapse the pocket and disrupt plays is incredible and he has athleticism you typically don’t see from 6’6″, 303 lb. defensive linemen. Throw in the fact that he is only 23-years old and already entering his 3rd NFL season, and you have a player who has yet to even scratch the surface of his development potential. If both Tuitt and Heyward stay healthy this season, the Steelers will have the best 3-4 defensive end duo in the NFL.
-Javon Hargrave continues to be the Steelers best rookie this season by constantly demonstrating what made him such a tantalizing prospect in college. Against the Saints, Hargrave was the top-graded defensive player for either team, finished with a grade of 84.7 according to Pro Football Focus. Hargrave finished the night with 1 sack, 2 pressures, and a batted pass. Hargrave continues to impress with his tremendous get-off, almost always beating the offensive lineman off the ball and disrupting the play. Hargrave is the real deal and will see a substantial amount of playing time this season.
-Robert Golden has established himself as the starting safety opposite of Mike Mitchell and it is not because Sean Davis hasn’t been able to pass him up. Golden has been an effective safety for the Steelers through 3 preseason games and has the ability to play at different spots on the defense in their sub-packages. He is far from an All-Pro player, but he has proven that he is a solid starter in the Steelers secondary, justifying the team signing him to a 3-year deal this offseason.
–Jordan Dangerfield looks like he could potentially turn into the next Steelers undrafted free agent that makes an impact on the 53-man roster. Mike Mitchell has routinely been the Steelers hardest hitter in the secondary but it appears that Dangerfield is giving Mitchell a run for his money after multiple big hits on Friday. Dangerfield has also been effective in coverage at safety and while it is unclear whether he will make the final roster, he has definitely made a case for himself heading into the last week of the preseason.