“It was a junior varsity performance,” concluded Mike Tomlin following the Steelers 34-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers which wrapped up Pittsburgh’s 2021 preseason campaign with a 3-1 mark.
Who can argue?
Going into the game Tomlin had several players for whom he “thought it would be a great platform for them to display varsity skill.”
- Display those they did not.
Here are four quick takes on this preseason loss.
1. Haskins Humiliated? Not Quite. Humbled? You Bet
By all accounts, Dwayne Haskins has authored a very strong summer from the moment training camp began in July. Prior to the Panther’s game, he did nothing but impress in preseason. In comparison to Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins showed himself to be the far more dynamic player, and he exhibited more poise and comfort than Rudolph.
- But of course, that’s that way it was supposed to be.
As a former 15th pick overall, Dwayne Haskins was sort of like the kid who gets held back in kindergarten and then is the best in his class the following year. So Haskins earned the right to start.
- Haskins squandered it.
No, Haskins didn’t have a full complement of starters. Neither did he get a lot of help from his offensive line and from his running backs. But Haskins looked overwhelmed. Against the Cowboys, Eagles and Lions, the offense directed by Haskins has been a virtual touchdown scoring machine.
- Against the Panthers the Steelers didn’t convert a 3rd down until late in the 3rd quarter.
Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell went as far as to suggest that Haskins performance caused “us to wonder whether it might be more prudent to cut him.”
Frankly, that’s going a bit too far. Haskins did not look good, but the Steelers shouldn’t abandon their reclamation project.
2. Nothing Sexy about Sexton
One of the benefits of the Steelers-Panthers preseason rivalry is that it provides excellent fodder for story lines. Eleven summers ago a small, CFL vet whose speed earned him the name “Joystick” caught the coaches eye’s with a return for a touchdown in preseason. So Mike Tomlin gave him another chance, and he delivered again.
- Yet he was still on outside looking in going into the preseason finale again.
- Matthew Sexton entered the game against the Panthers with a similar opportunity.
But he botched it, badly by muffing two punts. Not even 24 hours have elapsed since the game ended, and Sexton’s butter fingers have earned him a spot on the waiver wire and all but ensure that Ray-Ray McCloud, who had a respectable night receiving, will keep his spot as the Steelers 5th wide out and 1st return man.
3. Can’t Keep Up with the Joneses
Unlike the regular season, during training camp reporters are allow to report on basically everything they see. As camp progresses, you’ll often start hearing a new name mentioned again and again.
- Jaimr Jones was that player this year.
You started hearing his name in practice. In the Hall of Fame game he had started making noise with a tackle for a loss and a few QB hits. Then he started adding on sacks in preseason games.
He continued the process against the Panthers, leading the team in tackles, getting a sack and logging a few more QB hits for good measure.
That effort has likely earned himself a roster spot, perhaps at the expense of 6th round draft pick Quincy Roche.
4. Enough to Tell with Snell?
If there was any one player on the roster of figured to benefit for the departure of James Conner and the arrival of Najee Harris, it was Benny Snell. Mike Tomlin likes Benny Snell, and while Snell certainly didn’t give the Steelers any reason to second guess drafting a running back in the first round, he has shown himself to be at least a competent number 2 rusher.
- Except Snell has been hurt for most of the summer.
And Kalen Ballage has gotten the carries and as recently as last week it looked like he could be pushing Snell off of the roster. Snell got his first work and while 8 carries for 28 yard is hardly gang busters, he didn’t have the best blocking to work with.
Snell certainly didn’t give the Steelers any reason to cut him.