NFL News & Analysis

NFL Preseason Week 3 Game Recap: Carolina Panthers 34, Pittsburgh Steelers 9

Aug 27, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) throws a touchdown pass as Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Carlos Davis (73) pressures in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers — one of two teams scheduled for four preseason games this year — rested nearly all of their starters in the preseason finale, and their reserves looked like backups against the Carolina Panthers‘ first-teamers.

Carolina cruised to a 34-9 victory over Pittsburgh behind 162 yards and two touchdowns from quarterback Sam Darnold


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PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Quarterbacks

Dwayne Haskins struggled to get much going early in the game. He finished the first three quarters with just 29 passing yards on 11 attempts until re-entering the game in the fourth quarter (5-for-5, 79 yards and a touchdown). Two of Haskins' passes were dropped, though, and Ray-Ray McCloud III failed to get both feet down in bounds on one of the quarterback's better throws of the night.

Play type Yards per play (first three quarters)
Pass 3.6
Run 4.1

Pittsburgh’s passing offense averaged just 3.6 yards per play through the first three quarters, with neither Haskins nor Josh Dobbs providing a spark.

Running Backs

Nothing came easy for Benny Snell Jr. early on. He picked up 33 rushing yards after contact despite accumulating 28 yards overall.

Steelers running backs combined for only one first-down run on 14 carries.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Ray-Ray McCloud III was Haskins’ primary target early in the game, but he didn’t make the most of his opportunities. McCloud dropped two passes and failed to get both feet in on another pass down the sideline. His stats were boosted by a late touchdown, finishing the game with four receptions on nine targets for 61 yards and a score.

Chase Claypool led all wide receivers and tight ends with 18 receiving yards through the first three quarters in a quiet night for the passing offense.

Offensive Line

Pittsburgh’s offensive line faced its toughest test against a starting Panthers’ defensive line, and it resulted in their worst showing of the preseason as a unit. Pending review, Steelers quarterbacks were under pressure on 14 of 31 dropbacks in the game despite notching an average time to throw under 2.5 seconds

Pressure Rate Allowed by Preseason Week
Week Pressure Rate Allowed
HOF game vs. Cowboys 37%
W1 vs. Eagles 18%
W2 vs. Lions 18%
W3 vs. Panthers 45% (pending review)

Rookie Dan Moore Jr., who started at right tackle, was one of the weaker links up front after several impressive performances earlier this preseason. His streak of pass-blocking perfection came to an end with several pressures allowed in this game.

Defensive Line

A defensive front that didn’t feature T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Melvin Ingram III, Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt or Tyson Alualu still found success in the first half, tallying a pressure rate over 40%, per PFF’s first-run analysis.

Henry Mondeaux, Jamir Jones and Cassius Marsh led the way for Pittsburgh with at least four pressures each, pending final review.

Linebackers

Robert Spillane continues to get picked on in coverage this preseason. On initial review, he allowed four receptions on five targets for 48 yards and a touchdown in coverage.

Miles Killebrew had one of the better nights of any Steelers linebacker. He was charted as the first contact defender on five plays and allowed only 16 passing yards into his coverage on 23 such snaps.

Secondary
Player Outside CB Snaps Slot CB Snaps Box Snaps Deep/FS Snaps
Donovan Stiner 0 1 9 47
James Pierre 40 0 1 0
Tre Norwood 0 17 6 17
Justin Layne 39 1 1 0
Lamont Wade 0 2 13 18
Mark Gilbert 28 1 5 0
Lafayette Pitts 31 0 3 0
Shakur Brown 0 12 4 0

James Pierre lined up at outside cornerback on a game-high 40 defensive snaps for Pittsburgh, and he allowed three receptions for just three yards in that time on the field. He put together a strong case for the starting outside job opposite Joe Haden if Cameron Sutton ends up kicking inside to the slot in nickel.

Tre Norwood was targeted in the slot, allowing four completions on five targets for 53 yards and a touchdown, per PFF’s first-run analysis.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Quarterbacks

Sam Darnold ended the game with an impressive stat line — 19-for-25, 162 yards and two touchdowns — but a lot of that production came after the catch. Sixty-one percent of Darnold’s yardage came after the catch, to be exact. He got the ball out relatively quickly (2.6-second average time to throw) and kept things close to the line of scrimmage (4.5-yard average depth of target).

Sam Darnold Passing Depth
Stat 9 yards or less downfield 10-plus yards downfield
Attempts 20 4
Completions 17 2
Yards 130 32
Touchdowns 1 1

Just three of Darnold’s 25 attempts targeted players lined up out wide. Thirteen passes targeted players lined up in the slot (9-for-13, 95 yards and a touchdown).

Running Backs

Undrafted free agent rookie running back Spencer Brown started to pick up rushing yards in chunks in the second half. Forty-two of his 57 rushing yards in the game came after contact, aided by four missed tackles forced on the ground.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

D.J. Moore was involved early and often in the passing game with four targets and four receptions in the first quarter on just 12 routes. He ended the game with six receptions for 48 yards on his six targets.

First-Half Wide Receiver Breakdown
Player Outside routes Outside targets Slot routes Slot targets
D.J. Moore 21 2 5 4
Robby Anderson 17 1 9 4
Terrace Marshall Jr. 5 0 13 4

Rookie tight end Tommy Tremble brought in two big receptions for 45 yards on the same drive, one of which involved some concentration after the pass was initially broken up.

Offensive Line

The first-team offensive line didn't take advantage of a Pittsburgh defensive front that didn’t employ any of its starters. Most of the issues popped up on the interior, where Pat Elflein, Matt Paradis and John Miller were all charged with multiple pressures allowed (pending review).

Defensive Line

Brian Burns and Haason Reddick got after Haskins early in the game, with each picking up multiple pressures. It was a strong all-around effort for Carolina’s starters, with Derrick Brown, DaQuan Jones and Morgan Fox also delivering solid performances.

Yetur Gross-Matos didn’t see the field until the second half, but he did record a sack in the game on his eight pass-rushing snaps.

Linebackers

Jermaine Carter and Shaq Thompson were the only linebackers to take first-half snaps for Carolina. Thompson led the defense in missed tackles with two, per PFF’s first-run analysis.

Secondary
Player Outside CB Snaps Slot CB Snaps Box Snaps Deep/FS Snaps
Myles Hartsfield 1 20 5 0
Stantley Thomas-Oliver 26 0 1 0
Sean Chandler 0 10 13 5
Jaycee Horn 19 0 0 0
Donte Jackson 14 0 5 0
Jeremy Chinn 0 5 9 5
Juston Burris 0 5 4 11
Sam Franklin 0 8 5 5
Keith Taylor 19 0 4 0
Jalen Julius 2 10 1 0
Doug Middleton 0 0 5 6

Jaycee Horn was targeted several times early in the game. He ended the night with a pass breakup and no receptions allowed on three targets.

Horn’s running mate Donte Jackson represented himself well as a tackler. He finished with four tackles and whiffs, two of which were qualified as stops (wins for the defense based on down and distance).

Myles Hartsfield also delivered a strong performance from the slot. He didn’t allow a completion on two targets, adding a forced incompletion to his stat line.

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