Preseason Week 3 Takeaways: Steelers Escape Disaster After Watt, Diontae Injuries

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksFeatured Columnist IVAugust 29, 2022

Preseason Week 3 Takeaways: Steelers Escape Disaster After Watt, Diontae Injuries

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    Joe Sargent/Getty Images

    Just like that, the 2022 NFL preseason is now behind us. The next game we see will be on September 8 between the Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Rams.

    And that one, folks, will count.

    In many respects. Sunday's pair of games were rather anticlimactic. The first between the New York Giants and New York Jets was an entertaining back-and-forth affair, but it featured dueling backup quarterbacks and one team resting the majority of its starters.

    Most of the drama in the second contest was over by halftime. Kenny Pickett may be the future for the Pittsburgh Steelers under center, but after playing the entire first half with most of the team's starters (and faring well), it's apparent Mitch Trubisky is the present.

    However, there were still some developments of note, whether it was a scare for those Steelers, offensive struggles for the Lions or a potential quarterback controversy in the Big Apple.

    Here's a look at how the day unfolded, beginning with a couple of injuries that created quite the Steel City stir.

Steelers Lose WR Diontae Johnson and Edge T.J. Watt to Injuries

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    AP Photo/Don Wright

    Heading into the final game of the 2022 preseason, the quarterback competition in Pittsburgh was the question on most fans' minds.

    By halftime, that appeared settled. With veteran Mitch Trubisky playing the entire first half, it appears pretty clear that he'll be out there against the Bengals in Week 1. But now there's a new question on the minds of Steelers fans.

    Why the heck did head coach Mike Tomlin leave the starters on the field so long?

    It's a balancing act that coaches must walk every season. Sure, you want to get your starters some live reps. Knock the rust off ahead of games that count. But every play that starters are out there in a meaningless game is a play during which they can get injured.

    And the Steelers suffered a pair of potentially significant injuries against the Lions.

    First, it was No. 1 wide receiver Diontae Johnson. Not long after catching a 38-yard bomb from Trubisky, Johnson headed to the locker room with a shoulder injury. That was bad.

    Losing edge-rusher T.J. Watt would be catastrophic.

    In the second quarter, Watt took a shot to the knee on a cut block from Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson. Not long after, he too was ruled out of the game.

    Now, it's possible that both injuries are minor and that the team is just being cautious—although it could be argued that the cautious move would have been for two of the team's best players to come out of the game much earlier. Both players appeared to be OK on the sideline in the second half, and Tomlin said that were this the regular season, both players may have returned.

    But if either of those stars winds up missing regular-season time as a result of Tomlin's decision, a Steelers team with little margin for error in 2022 could be in trouble.

Steelers Offensive Line Continues to Struggle vs. Lions

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    AP Photo/Matt Durisko

    Heading into the 2022 season, the quarterback competition in Pittsburgh might have been the biggest storyline surrounding the Steelers.

    But that's settled now. After completing 15 of 19 passes for 160 yards and a score, Trubisky appears to have locked up the starting job.

    But quarterback wasn't the biggest problem facing the Steelers.

    That would be the offensive line. And if Sunday's tilt with the Lions is any indication, that problem is going to linger well into games that count.

    This isn't a new issue. Last year, the Steelers finished the season with the 26th-ranked offensive line in the league according to Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus. After making some personnel changes in the offseason, that ranking was adjusted—to 30th in the NFL.

    That assessment was accurate against the Lions.

    For the game, running back Najee Harris carried the ball four times—for all of 10 yards. Trubisky was regularly harassed by Detroit's first-team defense, drawing two sacks and a handful more hurries. The Steelers O-line also committed several drive-killing penalties in Lions territory.

    As Nick Farabaugh reported for Steelers Now, before the game, center Mason Cole said the line is coming together—it just needs a little more time to gel.

    “Listen, we are throwing our hands around and we have to be confident,” Cole said. “We have to trust the technique. Out there in practice, we will keep repping it, but if we trust our technique, we can execute the way we want to.”

    The problem is that the Steelers are just about out of time—and if they play up front against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1 the way they did against Detroit, it's not going to matter who the starting quarterback is.

Lions Offense Struggles Mightily in Pittsburgh

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    Joe Sargent/Getty Images

    Thanks to their appearance this year on HBO's Hard Knocks, the Detroit Lions have received a boost in notoriety this summer. The bombastic personality of head coach Dan Campbell hasn't hurt.

    But Sunday in Pittsburgh, we were reminded that the Lions are a ways off from being anything more than an also-ran in the NFC North.

    Going up against Pittsburgh's defensive starters for much of the first half, the Lions couldn't do anything offensively. With starting quarterback Jared Goff sitting out, David Blough and Tim Boyle were miserable passing the ball over the first 30 minutes—seven completions on 17 attempts for 75 yards with an interception.

    For the half, the Lions managed just 111 yards on 31 plays—an average of 3.6 yards per play. They converted just two of eight third downs and committed six penalties.

    Yes, Detroit was short a starting quarterback along with its top two running backs in D'Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams. But it was still disheartening to see a Lions offense that was supposed to be improved in 2022 look a lot like the herky-jerky squad that ranked 22nd in total offense and 25th in scoring offense a year ago.

    Given all the miscues Sunday, whoever dubs all the bleeps on Hard Knocks is about to have a busy week.

Giants Quarterback Tyrod Taylor Injures Back Against Jets

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    Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The New York Giants gave most of their starters the day off for Sunday's exhibition finale against their MetLife Stadium neighbors, presumably in an effort to avoid injuries in a meaningless game.

    No such luck.

    Granted, quarterback Tyrod Taylor isn't a starter—the veteran journeyman is slated to back up Daniel Jones this season. But Taylor is one of the league's more experienced backups, having started 53 games over 11 seasons in Baltimore, Buffalo, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Houston and now New York. With the Giants offense sputtering much of training camp and the preseason, there have been calls for Taylor to get the start Week 1 against the Tennessee Titans.

    However, head coach Brian Daboll has maintained that Jones remains New York's starter. And even if he didn't mean it, starting Taylor in the opener may not be an option anymore.

    After a dismal start to Sunday's game that included two completions in four attempts, an interception and a passer rating of 34.4, Taylor was carted to the locker room after absorbing a vicious (but legal) hit from Jets edge-rusher Michael Clemons.

    7️⃣7️⃣ WABC Sports @77wabcsports

    Michael Clemons destroys Tyrod Taylor on this play. Taylor stayed down after getting hit.<br> <a href="https://t.co/2FcLyeFjqd">pic.twitter.com/2FcLyeFjqd</a>

    That's the kind of hit that will loosen fillings.

    Per Ari Meirov of Pro Football Focus, Taylor suffered a back injury on the play.

    Fortunately, Daboll told reporters after the game that Taylor is expected to be OK.

    "He should be OK," Daboll said . "I don't think there is anything. He just landed hard and talked to him at halftime."

Mike White Outshines Joe Flacco Under Center for Jets

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    Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Unlike the Giants, the New York Jets rolled out their first-team offense in Sunday's preseason finale, ostensibly so that Joe Flacco could get some game reps ahead of the season opener. With Zach Wilson out with a knee injury, it will likely be Flacco who will start when the Jets play the veteran quarterback's old team at MetLife Stadium on September 11.

    Unfortunately, the Jets looked a lot like the team that ranked 26th in total offense last season. And there may be a backup brouhaha brewing.

    Over a quarter-plus of action, Flacco was somewhere between rusty and awful, completing seven of 12 passes for 76 yards with a passer rating of 42.4. Flacco overthrew his receiver multiple times and had an interception returned for the Giants' only touchdown of the first half.

    The ground game didn't do much to help Flacco out; Michael Carter and Breece Hall combined for just 23 yards on nine carries, and Carter also lost a fumble after catching a pass out of the backfield.

    It was a different story for third-string quarterback Mike White. Granted, it came against Giants reserves, but White was exponentially more effective than Flacco, completing 10 of 13 passes for 142 yards and two scores in the second quarter alone.

    White has some starting experience—he started three games for the Jets in 2021, including a 405-yard, three-score effort in a Week 8 upset of the AFC champion Bengals.

    That was the only start White won last year, but based on how the two quarterbacks looked against the G-Men, Jets head coach Robert Saleh has a more difficult than anticipated decision to make ahead of the season opener against the Ravens.

Jets Wide Receiver Denzel Mims Has Big Day After Trade Request

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    Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

    Since being drafted in the second round by the Jets in 2020, Denzel Mims has been a massive disappointment. The 6'3", 207-pounder has caught just 31 passes over two professional seasons, including a mere eight last season. And with Mims seemingly buried on New York's depth chart behind Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, Braxton Berrios and rookie Garrett Wilson, Mims requested a trade earlier this week.

    "It's just time," Mims' agent, Ron Slavin said, per ESPN's Rich Cimini. "Denzel has tried in good faith, but it is clear he does not have a future with the Jets. Denzel vowed to come back better than ever this season and he worked extremely hard in the offseason to make that happen. Still, he has been given very few opportunities to work with the starting offense and get into a groove with them."

    The preseason finale was no different—most of Mims' playing time against the Giants came with the second and third string against Giants reserves. But the former Baylor standout made the most of the chances he did get, hauling in seven of eight targets for 102 yards and a score before getting dinged up late.

    Frankly, Mims may get his wish in a backhanded way—he's far from a sure bet to make New York's 53-man roster. But after showing off his length and athleticism Sunday, if he is released, he should be scooped up quickly on waivers.

    And it's possible another team will throw a Day 3 pick at the Jets in return for a young pass-catcher with two years left on his rookie deal.

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