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All fears over Pittsburgh Steelers allayed with performance in 27-14 win

In spite of injuries, Jon Ledyard impressed with offense's efficiency. Here's his breakdown of the good and bad:

For all of the fretting over what the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense will look like without Martavis Bryant or Ladarius Green, Friday night was an indication that maybe the concerns have been greatly exaggerated.

The Steelers beat the New Orleans Saints 27-14 last night and the offense could do no wrong as their first two quarterbacks took turns carving up the Saints for a combined 354 yards and three touchdowns in just over three quarters of work.

It would be a trend of positivity that carried across the entire roster as the Steelers made their regular-season dress rehearsal stand out amidst a preseason that had previously revealed few bright spots.

STANDOUTS

1. Le'Veon Bell

If you needed any proof that Bell’s knee is back to 100 percent, watch him cut at top speed, run through arm tackles and chip the life out of Cameron Jordan in pass protection if you re-watch this tape. There was the one out-of-character fumble by Bell, who hasn’t put the ball on the turf since the 2013 season, but overall it was an extremely encouraging outing for the Steelers' star running back.

2. Ben Roethlisberger

It took Roethlisberger a little over half a quarter to throw two beautiful touchdown passes, the first a post-scramble dart to Jesse James on a “vintage Ben” play, and the second on a gorgeous touch pass to Antonio Brown for a 57-yard score. Roethlisberger appeared in complete command during both his drives, going 12-for=17 for 148 yards in picking apart the Saints.

3. Antonio Brown

So these first three almost go without saying, but because we haven’t seen them in action for so long it bears mentioning how exceptional they looked. Brown showed remarkable concentration to track down a floating pass from Roethlisberger despite tight coverage, continuing to prove that even smaller receivers can be highly successful in contested=catch situations. The receiver finished the night with four grabs for 87 yards and a score.

4. Landry Jones

What an outstanding showing for Jones, who may have had an even better statistical output if not for Bell’s fumble just outside the red zone. The Steelers backup quarterback was 19-for-22 for 208 yards and a touchdown pass to Sammie Coates. Jones rebounded beautifully from a four-interception performance the week before. Say what you want about Jones but he’s proven to be among the better backup passers the NFL has to offer, and his intangibles keep him prepared to step in at all times.

5. Todd Haley

That first drive was a play-calling bonanza. Six different receivers caught the ball, and Haley did a terrific job creating advantageous box counts by spreading the field. I love that he’s put pin-and-pull blocking schemes into action with Maurkice Pouncey’s athleticism back in the starting lineup. He’s also pounded the table for Eli Rogers since the slot receiver’s arrival here, so every time the Louisville product stands out, which he did again tonight, it’s a great look for Haley.

6. Javon Hargrave

A terrific hand swat against Saints backup center Jack Allen earned Hargrave his first NFL sack, as the third-round pick continued to show the disruptive traits that Pittsburgh saw in him. Great way to cap his first start as well, as Hargrave slid into the first-team defense with Daniel McCullers out of the lineup with a sore knee.

7. Tyler Matakevich

Often criticized for his lack of athleticism in coverage, Matakevich stood out in that area on Friday night, knocking away one pass and intercepting another. He’s doing all he possibly can to make the Steelers' final roster at a crowded position.

DISAPPOINTMENTS

1. Fitzgerald Toussaint

It really wasn’t all Toussaint’s fault, but he looked a little hesitant behind the Steelers' overmatched reserve offensive line, running the ball six times for eight yards. Daryl Richardson is the more decisive runner, but Toussaint is a better fit for the zone schemes the Steelers rely fairly heavily upon. I also like him more as a blocker and receiver, so his roster spot should still be safe.

2. Injuries

The biggest negatives on the night came on the injury front. Cam Heyward and Marcus Gilbert left the game with ankle and elbow injuries, respectively. Heyward told a reporter he will be back on opening day after being diagnosed with a high ankle sprain. He was in a walking boot at the end of the game and seemed to be in good spirits. He will have an MRI today. Mike Tomlin said that he didn't expect Gilbert’s hyperextension to be a serious one.

3. Will Monday

The Steelers' punting battle is nothing more than a formality right now, but Monday punted three times on Friday night with an average of a 35.3 yards per boot and a long of 40. He’s auditioning for the rest of the NFL right now, but even that isn’t going well.

4. Ross Cockrell

Cockrell spent the offseason bulking up and attempting to improve his physicality as an outside corner, but C.J. Spiller tossed him off like a small child early in the game, an unfortunate reminder of the cornerback’s liability. There have been encouraging signs with Cockrell in coverage this offseason, but when it comes to making stops on the boundary and setting the tone, he still looks remarkably out of place.

5. Artie Burns and Bud Dupree

Both players continue to miss time with maladies many thought would be healed weeks ago. From first viewing very few Steelers played poorly, but this defense is not going to be able to consistently get pressure if Dupree can’t make significant strides this offseason. This was his best chance to show how he’s progressed against quality competition before the season starts, but his groin injury continues to linger. One would think Burns would be next man up if an injury occurred at corner, but the rookie has barely been able to participate this summer due to a quad injury. For a guy who's raw already, limited camp/preseason reps might spell trouble if Burns is forced into action sooner rather than later.


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