Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: Nothing normal about Steelers’ second preseason game
The Pittsburgh Steelers started the week dealing with the death of Darryl Drake, and Mike Tomlin warned football wouldn’t necessarily provide a return to normalcy.
The Steelers rescheduled their routine this week to grieve the passing of their wide receivers coach. Their initial return to the practice field was interrupted by a rainstorm, as was their final session of training camp at Saint Vincent.
Another storm caused a one-hour delay of their preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday night at Heinz Field, one that saw the Steelers kneel in prayer at midfield before the game, followed by a moment of silence for Drake.
This week was anything but normal.
Neither was the game.
1. Three the hard way: Where Mark Barron started in the preseason opener, cornerback Artie Burns and inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich also opened with the first unit.
All three made stops on the first series, when the Chiefs started Patrick Mahomes, the 2018 NFL MVP.
Matakevich played next to Barron, filling in for first-rounder Devin Bush and Vince Williams, and tackled tight end Travis Kelce after a 5-yard catch on first down.
Burns, who started in place of Joe Haden, followed with an open-field stop of Tyreek Hill after a 6-yard catch. And Barron showed his coverage skills by blanketing running back Damien Williams on a third-and-4 pass at midfield.
The @steelers take the ball back!
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) August 18, 2019
2. Turnover time: The Steelers are emphasizing the need to complement their sack totals with turnovers, especially by becoming ballhawks and getting interceptions.
They forced one the old-fashioned way on the second series, as Terrell Edmunds punched the ball from the grasp of Carlos Hyde to force a fumble.
When Sean Davis recovered the ball at the Steelers 47, it was a positive sign: Both of the Steelers’ starting safeties were involved in the turnover.
Problem was, the Steelers lost the ball on the next play when Donte Moncrief caught a 3-yard pass from Mason Rudolph but was stripped by cornerback Herb Miller.
— Tommy Jaggi(@TommyJaggi) August 18, 2019
3. Taking it back: Where Rudolph was ineffective on his first three third-down attempts — throwing an incompletion, taking a 5-yard sack and a near-interception — he found success by turning to an old teammate.
On a third-and-11 from the 10, Rudolph fired a pass over the middle to James Washington. The former Oklahoma State mates connected again for an 11-yard gain that saw Washington leap to make a sideline catch.
Rudolph connected on another third-and-11, this time with tight end Xavier Grimble for a 13-yard gain, in leading the Steelers on a 14-play, 89-yard scoring drive capped by a Jaylen Samuels 14-yard run for a 7-0 lead at 6:39 in the second quarter.
Rudolph completed 10 of 15 passes for 77 yards but didn’t get the chance to finish the first half.
4. Pressure situations: If the delay to the start of the game seemed like forever, it was nothing compared to the last two minutes of the first half.
The Chiefs, led by backup Chad Henne, marched 81 yards on 13 plays to score on a 17-yard touchdown pass to Mecole Hardman and tie the score at 7-7 with 1:11 left.
When Josh Dobbs relieved Rudolph, he threw a 40-yard pass to Washington — the same way they started the preseason opener last week.
When the drive stalled, Tomlin made an interesting decision: He chose to go for it on fourth-and-5 from the KC 38 instead of attempting a 55-yard field goal.
Tomlin has promised to put placekickers Chris Boswell and Matthew Wright in pressure situations throughout training camp and the preseason, and nothing compares to kicking in a game under the stadium lights.
Not to mention Dobbs’ pass intended for Diontae Johnson fell incomplete. When the Steelers got the ball back, Dobbs was intercepted at the goal line by Charvarius Ward, whose return put the Chiefs in Steelers territory.
Andy Reid had Harrison Butker attempt a 58-yarder, which went wide right to end the half.
Wright got his shot in the fourth quarter, splitting the uprights on a 46-yard field goal for a 10-7 lead.
— Steelers en Español(@acereros) August 18, 2019
5. Quick hits: Samuels is looking like a nice complement to James Conner. Samuels averaged 6.5 yards on four carries, including the 14-yard scoring run where he went untouched.
The most interesting (and confusing) matchup of the game involved Steelers right tackle Chuks Okorafor against Chiefs left end Alex Okafor. The latter had his way with the former, especially on a 5-yard sack of Rudolph in the first quarter.
The spotlight is on the backup tight ends, especially with fifth-rounder Zach Gentry out. Grimble had one catch for 13 yards but also had a drop. Kevin Rader of Pine-Richland drew a pair of holding penalties but had a 13-yard catch.
Fourth-rounder Benny Snell Jr. had a pair of impressive plays that had nothing to do with carrying the ball. Snell made a terrific tackle on Hardman on a punt return and picked up a pass rusher to make a nice block on Rudolph’s third-down pass to Grimble to extend a scoring drive.
CFL product Diontae Spencer had a 38-yard punt return that saw him break two tackles — OK, one was the punter — and added a 19-yard run on an end-around in the fourth.
The other Diontae (Johnson) had a 24-yard touchdown catch wiped out by offensive pass interference — which the Steelers challenged and lost — but he got redemption when his 19-yard touchdown scoring play held up under review.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .