Tim Benz: The good, the bad and the ugly from Steelers’ win vs. Titans

September 18, 2018

Steelers linebacker Olasunkamni Adeniyi sacks Titans quarterback Luke Falk on Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018, at Heinz Field.

There was more good than bad to come out of the Steelers’ 16-6 preseason win against the Titans on Saturday. Most of the good came from the defense. That’s particularly good because last time out against the Packers, the defense was ... particularly bad.

Dare I say “ugly?”

So here’s a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from Week 3 of the preseason.

The good

The defensive front

For as bad as the defense might have been up front in Green Bay, it was every bit that good against Tennessee.

Getting Cameron Heyward on the field certainly helped. He played well and had a sack in his preseason debut. On the other side of the defensive line, Stephon Tuitt had a couple of early plays where he destroyed Tennessee blockers in the same way he did to Cleveland at the start of last year’s opener before tearing his biceps. He also had a sack.

Now it’s just a matter of keeping Tuitt healthy.

As we discussed after the game, the linebackers stood out. Vince Williams, Farrington Huguenin and Olasunkanmi Adeniyi registered sacks. Matthew Thomas had a team-best nine tackles.

Bud Dupree and Anthony Chickillo were credited with one tackle apiece. But both were far more active than that, creating havoc for Tennessee offensive linemen throughout the game. Dupree collapsed the pocket, taking away any escape lane on Heyward’s sack in the third quarter. He also provided the pressure on Marcus Mariota to help force the throw Terrell Edmunds intercepted.

All in all, the Titans failed to average more than 2.3 yards per play against the Steelers first-team defense.

The secondary

The defensive backs -- a perpetual point of concern -- performed well, even without Mike Hilton and Morgan Burnett.

We didn’t see the usual speeding up from the back third of the defense on bad angles. Titans ball carriers weren’t running through arm tackles. And Steelers DBs weren’t sticking to blocks like Velcro.

Also, Tennessee receivers weren’t running through the secondary with unfettered freedom.

Edmunds had an interception. Then he showed great athleticism to bounce up and get a 30-yard return. Marcus Allen grabbed a pick as well.

The three Tennessee quarterbacks combined for 30 dropbacks and totaled 168 yards passing.

The running backs

Rookie Jaylen Samuels impressed after showing marginal results in the first two games.

He had 15 touches for 78 yards. On top of that, the N.C. State product had a nifty 17-yard catch-and-run that was negated by a penalty.

James Conner didn’t do much on the ground: 18 yards on 10 carries. But he hauled in six catches for 52 yards.

The Boz

Chris Boswell nailed all three of his field goals. For $19 million, he better be good. Almost always, he is.

The bad

The first offensive drive

On their first possession, the Steelers stalled just across midfield. Ben Roethlisberger misfired on a pass to Jesse James. On third-and-4, Roethlisberger threw a 2-yard pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster. Then they punted from the 42-yard line.

Why punt there? If the Steelers are going to run the risk of dressing Roethlisberger and the rest of the first-team offense, why not have them try to stay on the field for the sake of practice and try to pick up the first down?

They have three games to work on punt coverage. They had three drives to work on the first-team offense with the Pro Bowl quarterback.

Roethlisberger angrily waved at the sideline after getting pulled. He was right to do so.

Don’t punt there.

The ugly

The wide receivers

Justin Hunter made a nice 32-yard touchdown catch on a pretty throw from Roethlisberger.

But aside from that, it was a forgettable day for the pass catchers.

Tennessee rookie linebacker Robert Spillane wrestled a ball away from Hunter for an interception. JuJu Smith-Schuster had one blatant drop and failed to come down with a contested fourth-down pass. Rookies James Washington and Damoun Patterson had a combined four targets and no catches.

Steelers quarterbacks combined for 24 completions. Thirteen of those went to running backs and tight ends.

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