Steel Curtain Network: A Pittsburgh Steelers podcast

9 Winners and 3 Losers after the Steelers win over the Buccaneers in Preseason Week 1

The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field Friday for the 2023 preseason when they played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1 of preseason action. The Steelers were winners in the contest, but that doesn’t mean every player had a good or bad performance.

Players who play well can be considered ‘Winners’, while those who left a lot to be desired can be called ‘Losers’. It may sound harsh, but it is the crux of this exercise.

Let’s check in to see who fell on which side of the ledger after the latest game…

Winners

Kenny Pickett
Stat Line: 6/7, 70 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 0 sacks, 147.9 Rating

What more could you ask of Pickett in his first preseason action as the No. 1 guy? He looked poised, decisive, and made all the throws asked of him on the night. I was shocked they threw the ball as much as they did, but Pickett and company responded with a tremendous effort. This performance put some of his doubters at ease, but he’ll have to build on it in Week 2. A great start though.

Diontae Johnson
Stat Line: 3 receptions, 3 targets, 32 yards, 10.7 average, 13 yard long, 0 TD

The Pickett to Diontae Johnson connection never really got started last season, and Pickett made it a point to work more with Johnson this offseason. It looks to be paying off in the early stages of the preseason. Johnson was Pickett’s favorite target, and who he located on several key plays. This is a great sign for both players as they prepare for the regular season.

George Pickens
Stat Line: 1 reception, 1 target, 33 yards, 33 average, 33 yard long, 1 TD

Pickett to Pickens once again, right? The connection was strong as Pickett threaded the needle to Pickens, and let him do this thing. The 33 yard reception was not just a great throw, but also a great catch and run. As if we needed proof this connection remains rock solid, but there it was on Friday night.

Kwon Alexander
Stat Line: 2 tackles, 2 solo, 1 TFL

I really wanted to see the ILBs play on Friday night, and I was impressed all around, but it was Kwon Alexander who announced his presence with authority. He was flagged for unnecessary roughness, more on that later, but was noticeable when he was around the football. A good sign for the newest member of the Steelers defense.

Connor Heyward
Stat Line: 2 receptions, 34 yards, 17 average, 0 TD, 24 long, 2 targets / 1 carry, 5 yards

The Steelers have been saying all training camp they have to find ways to get Connor Heyward involved in the offense. You saw a lot of that versatility on Friday night with Heyward lined up in the backfield, getting a carry, and doing his thing out of the slot. Heyward is a wild card, and a great tool for the Steelers offense.

Calvin Austin III
Stat Line: 2 catches, 73 yards, 36.5 average, 1 TD, 67 long, 4 targets / 2 carries, 23 yards, 17 yard long

We all wanted to see what CA3 could do, considering we were deprived of that in his rookie season after a foot injury cut his season early. But what we saw in Florida was not just Austin’s awesome 67 yard touchdown reception, but also his speed on jet sweeps. Many bemoan those plays, but you might not when someone as fast at Austin is the one getting the football. A great start to his professional career.

Nick Herbig
Stat Line: 3 tackles, 1 solo, 1.5 sacks, 1 TFL, 2 QB Hits

Just like Kwon Alexander, I wanted to see if Herbig’s game matched what we were all reading coming out of camp. Well, it did. Herbig’s get off is ridiculous, and he has a knack for getting after the quarterback. The Steelers might have gotten a steal in the 4th Round with Herbig, and adding another talented pass rusher is never a bad thing to have on an NFL roster.

Anthony McFarland
Stat Line: 3 carries, 18 yards, 6 average, 14 long, 1 TD / 1 reception, 5 yards, 1 target

McFarland might have cemented himself as the RB3 on the roster. He was the primary kickoff return man, if a return ever happens, but also ran the ball well when given the opportunity. McFarland has such a unique skill set he fits with Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren. Barring injury, the only way I don’t see McFarland making the team is if the Steelers choose to just keep two backs on the 53-man roster.

Keeanu Benton
Stat Line: 3 tackles, 2 solo, 1 TFL

There are times it is difficult to see the dominance of a defensive lineman on the standard TV angle. However, Benton was noticeable throughout the game before leaving with an ankle injury. Needless to say, it was a huge first step for Benton, and the hope is his ankle injury isn’t deemed serious. He was playing against lesser competition, but he did what you’d expect in that situation…dominated.


Losers

Kendrick Green
Stat Line: Holding call, botched snap

What in the heck was that? Remember when everyone wanted Green to be the fullback? Maybe the guy should focus more on his offensive line play. The series of events which took place was horrid. Green gets called for holding, then a botched snap kills field position, and on 3rd down he whiffs on his block. Not a good start for a guy with a lot to lose.

Injuries
Stat Line: Hate to see them

The Steelers fan base was ready to see Joey Porter Jr. make his NFL debut, but didn’t. Why? A nagging injury. Larry Ogunjobi is finally healthy! Nope, didn’t play due to a nagging injury. These things happen, and Mike Tomlin said they were strictly precautionary, but when you throw in what looked to be a significant knee injury to Duke Dawson, injuries find their way to the loser list.

Officiating
Stat Line: Anyone know?

You know what they say…it’s preseason for the refs too. Well, their performance left a lot to be desired. The Buccaneers first touchdown looked as if it should have been reviewed, they blew the Tanner Morgan fumble recovery, and some of their penalties (Kwon Alexander’s unnecessary roughness) just seemed out of left field. Let’s hope this isn’t the start of how these officials will be calling games in 2023.


If you want a more detailed look at the above list, check out my “Let’s Ride” podcast in the player below where I outline each Winner and Loser, and MORE!

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