PITTSBURGH — The new mantra, “Shut out the noise,” chosen by Ben Roethlisberger from the late Darryl Drake’s repertoire, definitely gets an UP vote out of Saturday night’s 17-7 Steelers win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Of course, the Steelers had so many UP performances in the game that the DOWNs have to be forced a bit in this Monday morning checklist:
UP — Artie Burns started once again in place of Joe Haden and on the first series made a solid open-field tackle on scary speedster Tyreek Hill and held him to only six yards. Burns also put his helmet on a ball that was fumbled on the second series (although Terrell Edmunds was credited with the force). Burns has the look of a quality NFL punt gunner, and also had a pass breakup in the red zone as he played into the second half. He’s looking more and more like a roster lock.
DOWN — Burns didn’t talk after the game, preferring to play pattycake with his two young children in front of his locker. Things are never perfect.
UP — Bud Dupree had two sacks, a breakup of a screen pass, and a pressure/QB hit on an incompletion late in the second quarter. If Dupree and Burns play at this level all season, the Steelers can expect to go deep into the playoffs.
UP — James Conner’s seven touches may have been more than all of his touches in training camp combined. So, he gets an UP vote for durability, and also for the catch he made between his legs after bobbling it at chest level. Conner gained 28 yards on six carries while flashing outside speed as well as inside power. He’s in tremendous shape.
DOWN — Donte Moncrief caught one pass for one yard and fumbled the ball away. Coming off an excellent practice, few are doubting Moncrief’s inevitable contributions.
UP — Mason Rudolph said last season that he loves directing RPOs, and last night he showed why. He completed 10 of 15 passes for 75 yards with at least three drops. His best play may have been his handoff to Jaylen Samuels, followed by a fake pass that froze defenders long enough for Samuels to get outside for the touchdown.
DOWN — Josh Dobbs actually had a solid game. He completed six of 11 passes for 95 yards. His interception came off what’s continuing to be a perplexing weakness: very short passes. One play after completing a 25-yard laser to Eli Rogers (plus a six-yard penalty) for a first down at the KC 6, Dobbs’ 2-yard pass intended for Diontae Johnson was badly overthrown and intercepted at the goal line. However, so much else of Dobbs’ play has been elevated during this competition for the backup job. The Steelers are now solid throughout at quarterback.
UP — Jaylen Samuels is playing well on several special teams. He’s also breaking tackles and flashing his speed as an offensive weapon. He was untouched on his 14-yard touchdown run around left end.
DOWN — Chuks Okorafor gave up another sack, this time as the starting right tackle. The staff wants him to give him the RT job in order to use Matt Feiler as a three-position reserve, but Okorafor hasn’t taken it.
UP — James Washington always seems to catch Rudolph’s passes, but he also hauled in another bomb from Dobbs on, again, Dobbs’ first pass of the game. Last week it was a 43-yarder to the opposing 49; last night it was a 40-yarder to the KC 43. Washington looked the part of an NFL starter by catching four passes for 78 yards Saturday night, giving him eight catches this preseason at 20.3 yards per catch. He also made key blocks on Samuels’ TD run and Benny Snell’s fourth-and-1 conversion.
DOWN — Diontae Johnson made headlines with an impressive receiving performance late in the game. He scored two touchdowns but had one called back on a poor OPI call. He’s smooth as silk as a rookie receiver, but he dropped a punt, which — even though he recovered — won’t instill confidence in a coaching staff looking for someone more explosive than Ryan Switzer, but also someone who’s as equally sure-handed.
UP — Diontae Spencer provided dynamic returns for a second consecutive game — 38 and 11 yards, and also called for his first fair catch on his final rep. He broke two tackles on the 38-yarder and shows a knack for making the first defender miss after catching the punt. In two games, Spencer’s averaging 16.8 per punt return without a hint of a bobble. He also took a handoff around left end for 19 yards. This is the kind of explosiveness necessary to make a team that wouldn’t otherwise appear to have room.
DOWN — Mike Hilton was beat for a 19-yard gain down the middle on third-and-12, and then for the Chiefs’ TD to cap off the drive. Hilton made up for it by forcing a fumble on the next KC snap. Hilton started the second half at free safety and broke up passes on second-and-20 and third-and-7, so clearly he made up for his early disappointments, but, HEY, I need to find DOWN votes today.
UP — Ulysees Gilbert, the rookie inside linebacker, played much earlier than he had the previous game. He replaced Mark Barron at mack ILB with 3:18 left in the first quarter and wasn’t replaced until 4:22 remained. He was swift in coverage (ran deep with burner Mecole Hardman) and stout as a tackler, particularly the third-and-7 tackle he made of the tight end a yard short of the sticks. Gilbert also seems to have terrific instincts. Watch him peel off a potential block in the back of a punt gunner on Spencer’s 38-yard return. At present, Gilbert looks like the ninth linebacker (fifth inside) and seeming roster lock.
DOWN — Kevin Rader, but just nitpicking at this point for his two first-half holds, one on Snell’s fourth-and-1 conversion in the third quarter. Rader made up for that with a pair of catches for the exact 20 yards he’d cost them. He also had a key block on Spencer’s 19-yard run.
UP — Tuzar Skipper not only fell on a fumble on his first snap, he recorded his second sack in two preseason games. The rookie OLB out of Toledo continues to display extraordinary strength at the point of attack.
DOWN — Brian Allen missed tackles on back-to-back third-and-short plays in which a tackle could’ve prevented the first down. The tall cornerback is on the bubble again.
UP — Javon Hargrave is a late addition following next-day film review. On the screen pass Dupree knocked down, Hargrave had the unsuspecting RB in his sites had he caught the pass. Hargrave reads screens quite well. He also dominated blockers as a DT for a second consecutive game. Hargrave could bite into Stephon Tuitt’s first-team snaps if he keeps this up.
UP — Marcus Allen came up with a couple of big hits in the final moments, one on special teams and another that forced a fumble which Tegray Scales recovered.