Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: Thoughts on Steelers 31, Eagles 14
The NFL’s exhibition schedule is so inconsequential to the regular season that the Pittsburgh Steelers played their opener without Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell.
But it was an important look at the backups and newcomers, and several shined as the Steelers beat the Super Bowl-champion Philadelphia Eagles, 31-14, Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
1. Battle for backup QB: The Steelers have challenged Landry Jones by drafting quarterbacks in the fourth round last year (Josh Dobbs) and third round this year (Mason Rudolph) to compete for the job as Big Ben’s backup.
Aside from being sacked twice for minus-18 yards, Jones did little to diminish his role. He completed all four pass attempts for 83 yards, including 71-yard touchdown to JuJu Smith-Schuster on a free play because of an Eagles penalty.
The real battle is between Dobbs and Rudolph for the third spot, although one could emerge to make a case to become the backup.
Dobbs was 9 of 13 for 91 yards, with an interception and a 29-yard strike to Damoun Patterson for a touchdown. Dobbs also rushed twice for 19 yards.
Rudolph finished 7 of 12 for 101 yards, including a 35-yard pass to former Oklahoma State teammate James Washington on a free play because of an Eagles off-sides penalty.
What we saw in Philly was much of the same as we see at Saint Vincent College: Jones is solid but unspectacular; Dobbs makes plays with his arm and legs but also turnovers; and Rudolph sometimes slow to make decisions.
Rudolph was sacked twice for minus-5 yards, had to call a timeout to prevent a delay-of-game penalty and botched a snap. The Steelers didn’t score a touchdown but had three drives end with Chris Boswell field goals of 32, 41 and 38 yards.
2. Conner comes through: This is the second consecutive preseason that Bell’s absence while waiting to sign his franchise tag tender has forced the Steelers to rely on backups at running back.
Last year, James Conner was sidelined with a shoulder injury. Against the Eagles, the 2017 third-round pick from Pitt looked ready to carry the load until Bell comes back.
Conner rushed for 25 yards on four carries and had one reception for 9 yards. By comparison, Terrell Watson led the Steelers with 44 yards on 10 carries against the Giants last year.
In interviews, Conner has been respectful of his backup status to Bell. On the field, Conner played like someone who wants to start.
3. Big-play Patterson: One of the surprises of training camp has been Patterson, a former Youngstown State standout with impressive speed and athleticism.
Only after a standing out in minicamp did the Steelers sign him.
Patterson recovered from a helmet hit by Eagles cornerback Sidney Jones that drew a personal-foul penalty to make the play of the game. Patterson caught a bullet from Dobbs in the back of the end zone for a 22-14 lead in the second quarter, did a back flip.
As celebrations go, he fits right in with the Steelers.
Patterson finished with six catches for 77 yards on 10 targets. Here’s the problem: There’s a logjam at receiver, with Brown, Smith-Schuster, Washington and Justin Hunter occupying the top four spots and Eli Rogers and Marcus Tucker returning in the slot.
Patterson separated himself from Trey Griffey and Tevin Jones, and provides a deep threat who has shown a willingness to go across the middle to make combat catches.
Now Patterson has to do those things with consistency.
4. Inside job: The first half gave a glimpse of what the Steelers defense looks like at inside linebacker, as Jon Bostic and Tyler Matakevich made mistakes and positive plays.
Jay Ajayi broke off a 22-yard run in the first quarter, beating Bostic, safety Morgan Burnett and Burns to the outside. But Bostic, who had four tackles, later hit Ajayi n the backfield for a 4-yard loss.
Matakevich missed a tackle on the Eagles’ 15-yard scoring pass to Dallas Goedert for an 8-7 lead but led the Steelers with five tackles.
5. Loss on the line: The only reported injury was not an insignificant one.
The Steelers took a blow when B.J. Finney went down in the second quarter with what Tomlin termed a quad contusion. Finney started at center in place of Maurkice Pouncey and was replaced by Patrick Morris, a rookie from TCU.
What compounds the problem is that Finney was taking first-team practice reps in place of Ramon Foster, who injured his right knee on the first day of practice in full pads.
That leaves the Steelers shorthanded on the offensive line but should give them a long look at Matt Feiler, a 6-6, 330-pounder from Bloomsburg who can play all three positions on the line.
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