NFL News & Analysis

NFL Preseason Week 2 Game Recap: Pittsburgh Steelers 26, Detroit Lions 20

Aug 21, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth (88) catches a touchdown during the first quarter Detroit Lions safety Tracy Walker (21) applies defense at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

While it ended a one-score game, it was all Pittsburgh Steelers against the Detroit Lions.

After a disappointing end to the 2020 season, Steelers fans have to be happy with how their first stringers looked Saturday night. They hummed out to a 14-0 lead on only three drives before quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and others headed to the bench to stay healthy in preparation for the regular season.


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Pittsburgh Steelers

Quarterbacks

We got our first action from Ben Roethlisberger this preseason, and he didn’t disappoint.

While he underthrew a wide-open Diontae Johnson a touch, Big Ben showed no signs of arm strength decline on two zipped red-zone touchdowns to rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth. He finished 8-of-10 for 137 yards and two scores.

Running Backs

It was tough sledding for Steelers running backs on the ground all day. Najee Harris was provided an average of one yard before contact on his four rushing attempts.

You won’t find any backs in the NFL who can thrive behind that sort of run blocking. He still showed why he was coveted so highly by the Steelers in the passing game, turning a simple angle route into a big gain after stiff-arming Lions linebacker Jahlani Tavai.

Receivers

You’ll have to forgive Steelers fans if they got déjà vu watching Pat Freiermuth haul in two red-zone scores. His size, body control and iron-clad mitts were eerily reminiscent of Heath Miller.

The rookie was on the field for only seven pass plays yet was targeted three times and had two catches for two touchdowns. It’s still to be determined exactly how his role will play out alongside Eric Ebron — who caught four of six targets for 59 yards himself — but it’s clear Big Ben already trusts the rookie to make plays.

Offensive Line

After an offseason of hand wringing around the losses suffered on their offensive line, the Steelers starters earned a passing grade in this one. Guards Kevin Dotson and Trai Turner and right tackle Zach Banner all had clean sheets in pass protection.

STARTING OFFENSIVE LINE PRESSURES
Position Name Pass-Blocking Snaps Pressures
LT Chukwuma Okorafor 29 5
LG Kevin Dotson 29 0
C Kendrick Green 29 1
RG Trai Turner 16 0
RT Zach Banner 8 0

*Final pressure numbers pending review

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, though, as Chukwuma Okorafor struggled yet again adjusting to his new left tackle position. After earning a 29.6 pass-blocking grade last week, Okorafor allowed five pressures on only 29 pass-blocking snaps.

Defensive Line

It’s become abundantly clear that the Steelers' defensive line won’t be missing a beat from its dominance a season ago. The biggest reason is the play of Alex Highsmith and Melvin Ingram on the edge.

Highsmith, in particular, has been one of the stories of the preseason. With two more pressures Saturday, he now has seven pressures on only 39 pass-rushing snaps this preseason. That’s cooking.

Linebackers

After a bit of a lackluster first preseason outing, Devin Bush looked a little more like himself against the Lions. He played 24 snaps and made two stops on the day.

The big story, though, was recent addition Joe Schobert’s debut. He played all 24 snaps alongside Bush and made one stop himself.

Secondary

Former third-round cornerback Justin Layne finally showed some signs of life. He’s managed to see the field only 122 snaps in his two-year career but is heading in the right direction.

Layne almost picked off a post route as he was replacing the deep middle safety. Sadly, the tackling issues that have plagued him also showed up, as he got ran over on one of his two tackle attempts.

Detroit Lions

Quarterbacks

No Jared Goff in this one which meant Tim Boyle got the run with the first team offense. And Boyle looked like a backup against the vaunted Steelers' defense.

He finished 7-of-15 for 44 yards. While he didn’t throw a pick, Boyle was credited with three turnover-worthy plays. 

Running Backs

With D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams on the sideline, Dedrick Mills, Godwin Igwebuike and Jermar Jefferson all got 10-plus snaps on the day. None really did much to separate themselves from the pack, though.

Mills was the only one to break a tackle (two on four carries).

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

The Lions' passing game was a dud Saturday night, and that’s reflected in their receiving numbers. They didn’t get much going until late in the game when undrafted free agent Tom Kennedy injected some life into the offense. He caught four passes for 61 yards to lead the team.

Fellow rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown has been the talk of Lions camp and showed once again he can get open. He was targeted on half of his eight routes, catching two for 12 yards. He nearly had a big play up the sideline but failed to haul in a diving catch.

Offensive Line

There’s no sugar coating it: Penei Sewell looks uncomfortable at right tackle. His sets don’t have near the precision or confidence we saw from him on the left side back at Oregon in 2019.

The depth of his sets was an issue, as he would almost comfortably allow defenders to the quarterback’s dropspot. He ultimately allowed three pressures on only 13 pass-blocking snaps on first review of the game.

Defensive Line

Rookie defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike started off his NFL career on the right foot Saturday. The second-rounder generated two pressures on only 10 pass-rushing snaps and added a run stop on seven run snaps on first review.

He and second-year defensive end Julian Okwara were the two standouts, as Okwara made multiple nice plays in the run game. Getting an infusion of young talent on the Lions line is a must with their performance in recent years.

Linebackers

It may not be too long before Derrick Barnes starts taking playing time away from established starter Jahlani Tavai.

On 39 defensive snaps, Tavai failed to make a single stop and had multiple ugly plays in coverage. His inability to even lay a hand on Najee Harris on his long reception in the first half is inexcusable for a starting linebacker in the league.

Barnes, on the other hand, racked up four stops on only 25 snaps and flashed that edge-rushing pedigree with a sack.

Player Run Snaps Pass-Rush Snaps Coverage Snaps Stops
Jahlani Tavai 14 6 19 0
Jalen Reeves-Maybin 14 4 21 2
Derrick Barnes 11 2 12 4
Anthony Pittman 7 0 13 1
Tavante Beckett 4 1 0 1
Secondary

Jeffrey Okudah endured a tough start, as he was left firmly in the dust by Diontae Johnson on the second drive of the game. But he bounced back with a pass breakup on his only other target on a third down in the second quarter.

Undrafted free agent slot corner A.J. Parker did his best to earn a roster spot. He racked up six tackles in coverage, including three stops, as well as a forced incompletion. Parker was a three-year starter for Kansas State but wasn't a full-time slot player until 2020.

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