If the third game of the preseason is the closest thing there is to an NFL dress rehearsal, the Pittsburgh Steelers should feel far better about the 2019 campaign than the Tennessee Titans.
Pittsburgh moved to 3-0 in the preseason with an 18-6 victory Sunday at Nissan Stadium. Tennessee is 1-2 but has larger concerns than a preseason loss given the performances of the respective first-team units.
Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers starting offense needed a couple of punts to settle in, but he eventually found JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 17-yard touchdown after a heavy dose of the No. 1 receiver and running back James Conner put Pittsburgh in position to score.
Big Ben finished 8-of-13 for 63 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions, calling it a day before the end of the first quarter. Conner tallied 41 yards on five carries, and Smith-Schuster had four catches for 37 yards and a touchdown.
It was Roethlisberger's first action of the preseason, and the offense looked ready to go even without Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell. While Bell sat out last season, Brown helped create holes for Conner with the additional attention he draws. Still, the six-time Pro Bowler looked comfortable under center as the primary reason there is remaining optimism in Pittsburgh.
The same cannot be said about Tennessee's starting unit.
Running back Derrick Henry's absence didn't help, but Marcus Mariota and Co. scored more points for the Steelers than the Titans. The Oregon product didn't complete any of his three pass attempts and ended his night on his back in the end zone when Stephon Tuitt sacked him for a safety.
That was it for Mariota, who was unable to build any momentum after directing a 10-play, 87-yard touchdown drive against the New England Patriots last time out. His offensive line struggled against Pittsburgh's front, and he couldn't get rid of the ball before it was too late.
He can at least take solace in knowing Pittsburgh's starting defense didn't take it any easier on Ryan Tannehill, with massive sacks from Tuitt, Vince Williams and Cameron Heyward. It was no accident Tennessee had a mere three points at the half with the Steelers starters flying around on all three defensive levels.
Tannehill finished 6-of-9 for 62 yards, zero touchdowns and zero picks, failing to make any notable statement after Mariota saw limited action.
Mason Rudolph and Joshua Dobbs didn't have to face Pittsburgh's defensive line while competing for the backup position behind Roethlisberger, and the former wasted little time making an impression when he found Oklahoma State teammate James Washington for a 41-yard touchdown on his first throw.
It was the high point of an up-and-down day for Rudolph, who tried the Big 12 connection again only to be intercepted by Amani Hooker.
He finished 6-of-9 for 75 yards, one touchdown and one interception before giving way to Dobbs for the entire second half. The Tennessee product faced all backups and went a mere 4-of-9 for 79 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception.
Dobbs at least directed a field-goal drive and protected the lead thanks to a stingy Steelers defense that took a bend-but-don't-break approach against Titans third-stringer Logan Woodside.
Woodside went 11-of-15 for 117 yards but was unable to provide the Titans with the silver lining of a late touchdown drive in what was a dismal showing from the offense. Pittsburgh finished with seven sacks and set the tone on the defensive side throughout the contest.
The Titans and Steelers finish their preseason slates Thursday with road games against the Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers, respectively.