Pittsburgh Steelers fans entered Sunday’s preseason finale anxious to see if Kenny Pickett would do enough to possibly supplant Mitchell Trubisky as the starting quarterback. Pickett played well, but Trubisky likely played well enough during Sunday’s 19-9 win over the Lions to keep his spot in Pittsburgh’s quarterback pecking order.
Pittsburgh used its preseason finale as a dress rehearsal, as the majority of the team’s starters played in the first half. With stalwarts TJ Watt, Cam Heyward and Minkah Fitzpatrick on the field, Pittsburgh’s defense twice gave their offense the ball deep in Lions territory. But Pittsburgh’s offense, plagued by miscues on the offensive line, was unable to do much with either opportunity, settling both times on short Chris Boswell field goals. The offense finally found its groove at the end of the first half, as Trubisky hit Steven Sims for a six-yard score. Deep completions from Trubisky to rookie wideout George Pickens and tight end Pat Freiermuth set up the touchdown.
Pickett led the Steelers on their lone scoring drive of the second half, while David Blough capped off a 16-play, 74-yard drive by hitting Quintez Cephus for a five-yard score with 30 seconds left.
Here’s a deep dive at what transpired in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
The Steelers’ first-round pick capped off his scintillating summer with another strong showing. Pickett played almost the entire second half after Trubisky went 15 of 19 for 160 yards in the first half while playing with the first-team offense. Pickett again looked sharp while running the second-team offense. He went 10 of 14 for 90 yards while directing a 12-play scoring drive. He also engineered a 10-play drive that ended with a blocked field goal attempt. Pickett’s best completion was a 29-yarder to Miles Boykin on the near sideline.
As good as he’s played, Pickett will likely spend Week 1 holding a clipboard, which is how the Steelers’ last quarterback who was taken in the first round, Ben Roethlisberger, started his NFL career. But what Pickett has done has shown the Steelers’ staff that he is ready to enter the fray if called upon to do so.
Early exits for Watt, Johnson
Steelers Pro Bowlers TJ Watt and Diontae Johnson both left the game during the first half. Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin told CBS Sports sideline reporter Evan Washburn that neither injury was significant and, if Sunday had been a regular season game, both players may have remained in the game.
Both players showcased their talents before leaving the game. Watt’s tackle of Justin Jackson behind the line of scrimmage forced a Lions punt on their first drive. Johnson made an impressive 38-yard catch from Trubisky that set up the Steelers’ first score.
Pittsburgh saw perhaps a more significant injury suffered by defensive back Damontae Kazee, who left the game in the third quarter. Kazee, whose play this summer made him a virtual lock for the 53-man roster, was ruled out with a shoulder injury.
Young Lions Roar
There were some promising things from some of the Lions young players. First-round pick Aiden Hutchinson contributed to a sack on Trubisky, while fellow first-round pick Jeff Okudah came up with a big play when he broke up Trubisky’s pass intended for Pickens in the end zone early in the second quarter.
Another Lions newcomer, former Chargers running back Justin Jackson, also made his mark on Sunday’s game. He averaged nearly six yards per carry while making a 32-yard catch that set up the Lions’ first score. Second-year back Jermar Jefferson made a notable play when he ripped off a 27-yard gain against the Steelers’ first-team defense.
Lions backup QB battle
Tim Boyle and David Blough tried to stake their cases to be Jared Goff’s primary backup. Boyle, who had the unenviable task of facing the Steelers’ first-team defense, went just 4 of 12 for 57 yards that included an interception to defensive back Cam Sutton that set up one of the Steelers’ first half field goals. Blough, playing primarily against backup defenders, went 17 of 32 for 160 yards that included his touchdown pass to Cephus.
Steelers WR battle heats up
Gunner Olszewski, the former All-Pro from New England, has been penciled in as the Steelers’ fifth receiver on most 53-man roster projections. That is no longer a lock, however, not after Sims and Boykin both came up with big plays on Sunday. Sims, who started his career with Washington, had a 38-yard run and a 38-yard return in Pittsburgh’s preseason opener. Boykin, a big-bodied receiver, arrived in Pittsburgh this offseason after being underutilized during his years in Baltimore.
Another Steelers wideout who strengthened his case Sunday was Tyler Vaughns. Vaughns also caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Pickett during Pittsburgh’s preseason-opening win over Seattle.
The Steelers will open the regular season in Cincinnati against the defending AFC champion Bengals. Cincinnati tormented Pittsburgh last season, outscoring the Steelers a combined 65-20 in their two matchups. Detroit opens up with a home game against Philadelphia, who clinched the NFC’s seventh and final playoff spot during Nick Sirianni’s first season as Eagles head coach.