Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: Thoughts on Steelers’ 51-34 loss to Packers

September 1, 2018

The Steelers had a record-setting performance in Green Bay.

Unfortunately, it was for most points allowed in a preseason game.

The good news is that the defense didn’t allow all 51 points. So, what’s the bad news? Both Steelers quarterbacks threw a pick-six on their first drive, accounting for two of the Packers’ touchdowns.

1. Rough start: There are four quarterbacks battling for three spots in training camp, and the two youngest got all of the snaps.

Both wish they could have their first pass back.

Rookie third-round draft pick Mason Rudolph got the start, and his first attempt was intercepted by 35-year-old cornerback Tramon Williams and returned 25 yards for a touchdown only 13 seconds into the game at legendary Lambeau Field.

Josh Dobbs, the 2017 fourth-rounder, also saw his first pass picked off, this time for a 22-yard touchdown return by Josh Jackson only 43 seconds into the second half.

Rudolph finished 5 of 12 for 47 yards and threw a 4-yard scoring pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster to tie it at 14-14. But he was sacked three times for minus-20 yards, and the Steelers were 0 for 6 on third downs and failed on a fourth-down attempt in the first half.

Dobbs was 12 of 18 for 192 yards and threw two touchdown passes to James Washington, and the Steelers went 3 for 5 on third downs in the second half.

It’s important to remember that this is the preseason, and that Rudolph played against the Packers’ first-team defense and Dobbs against the second- and third-team defenses.

2. Big-play threat: James Washington did to the Packers defense what he has been doing to the Steelers’ secondary in camp.

Washington made what Steelers coach Mike Tomlin likes to call “combat catches,” especially high-pointing corner fades in the end zone, in recording five receptions for 114 yards and two touchdowns. One of the scores went for 54 yards.

Justin Hunter had a 19-yard catch in the first half but with tight end Vance McDonald sidelined, Washington is making a case to become the No. 3 receiver the Steelers envisioned when they drafted him in the second round out of Oklahoma State.

Once again, it’s worth a reminder that Washington did his damage in the second half against second- and third-stringers.

3. Missing on defense: Tackles weren’t the only thing the Steelers were missing against the Packers.

Defensive end Cameron Heyward, outside linebacker T.J. Watt, cornerbacks Joe Haden and Mike Hilton and safety Sean Davis did not play in Green Bay.

No wonder the Packers scored on five of their first six drives.

The Steelers helped the Packers by committing costly penalties: Nose tackle Daniel McCullers drew a flag for too many men, setting up an Aaron Rodgers touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham; outside linebacker Jon Bostic for pass-interference; cornerback Coty Sensabaugh for lowering his helmet to initiate contact; and cornerback Brian Allen for pass interference.

Allen was involved in the longest play of the game, when he whiffed on an attempt to pick off a DeShone Kizer sideline pass to tight end Jake Kumerow. Kumerow then ran right past safety Nat Berhe on his way to an 82-yard touchdown.

4. Conner comes through: James Conner’s first carries couldn’t have gone worse. His next series couldn’t have gone better.

The second-year running back rushed for no gain and a 1-yard loss on the Steelers’ second possession, but he broke off runs of 8, 24 and 26 yards to score a touchdown on the ensuing drive.

Conner ran hard, broke tackles and flashed the power and physicality that he had displayed as an All-American at Pitt, before his knee injury and diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

He finished with 57 yards on five carries, an average of 11.4 yards per carry, but averaged 19.3 on the scoring drive and looked like a player capable of carrying the load in Le’Veon Bell’s absence.

5. Final thoughts: Good to see that Aaron Rodgers, playing at Lambeau Field for the first time since last September, received a standing ovation. ... First-rounder Terrell Edmunds made a nice play by stripping Ty Montgomery on a kick return and recovering the fumble to set up Rudolph’s scoring pass to Smith-Schuster, but the rookie safety also was beaten on a corner fade in the end zone. ... Fifth-round pick Jaylen Samuels was billed as an all-purpose back, but he hasn’t been overly impressive. Samuels finished with nine carries for 38 yards and a touchdown and had three catches for 13 yards. ... Berhe getting beaten so badly on Kumerow’s touchdown was unacceptable for a veteran, but the bright spot was seeing undrafted free-agent linebacker Matthew Thomas almost chasing down Kumerow before he crossed the goal line.

Remember, it’s the preseason.

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