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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Quarterback play a mixed bag as Seahawks lose to Steelers to open preseason play

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) scrambles out of the pocket under pressure from the Seattle Seahawks linebacker Boye Mafe (53) in the fourth quarter of a preseason game at Acrisure Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022, in Pittsburgh.  (Getty Images)
By Bob Condotta Seattle Times

PITTSBURGH – The first impression of the Seahawks in the post-Russell Wilson era looked pretty much like the Wilson era itself – a ghastly beginning followed by a never-say-die finish.

After allowing the Steelers to take an early 14-point lead, the Seahawks battled back to tie the game before Pittsburgh scored with 3 seconds left to take a 32-25 win.

But as with any preseason game, there was the usual caveat that both teams sat many of their key players.

Ten Seahawks players listed as starters on the depth chart did not play, including all four in the secondary (safeties Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs and cornerbacks Sidney Jones IV and Artie Burns) as well as receivers Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf.

And more important than the result was the performance of players at positions where the Seahawks are still sorting out who will start, most notably at quarterback where Geno Smith and Drew Lock continue to battle to be the successor to Wilson.

That was a battle that yielded some mixed results.

Lock had the statistically better night, finishing 11 of 15 for 102 yards two touchdowns and no interceptions and a rating of 131.1, but he took a blind-slided hit by Mark Robinson with 1:17 left and fumbled.

The Steelers recovered to set up their winning touchdown, a Kenny Pickett 24-yard pass to Tyler Vaughns.

Until then, Lock appeared to again be closing the gap on Smith, though it was hard to tell immediately if Lock was at fault for the sack and lost fumble.

As has been the case all camp, Smith played with the first-team offensive line and Lock the second.

Smith played all of the first half, getting five possessions.

The first four drives ended in three punts and a field goal before Smith led a quick nine-play drive for a TD in a two-minute drill.

Smith ended his night 10 of 15 for 101 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions and rating of 85.7. But he had two passes dropped, another tipped at the line and another in which tight end Noah Fant couldn’t get a second foot down for a completion.

On the TD drive, Smith ran twice for 9 yards, both on third downs, including the TD when he faked a handoff and ran around the right end for the score.

Along the way to the TD, Smith hit Cade Johnson for 21 yards down the middle to take the ball to the Pittsburgh 7. Other than that pass, though, Smith largely was conservative with the ball – his longest completion was a 25-yarder on a swing pass to running back Travis Homer that set up a Jason Myers 33-yard field goal early in the second quarter.

Lock took over to start the second half, playing behind the second-team offensive line, and led a 73-yard TD drive, capping it with a three-yard TD pass to rookie Dareke Young on third down.

Lock was 3 of 5 on the drive 55 yards, including a 39-yard pass to rookie Bo Melton on a receiver screen on the first play. He also threw a pass down the seam for what might have been a 19-yard TD pass to Colby Parkinson had Parkinson been able to hang on.

After Lock’s second possession ended in a punt he then led another TD drive, a five-play 55-yard march in which he hit on all three of his passes for 41 yards, with the TD coming on a play when Lock smartly checked the ball down to running back DeeJay Dallas, who was wide open over the middle and broke down the right side to dive into the end zone for the TD. Carroll came leaping off the sidelines, pumping his fist in jubilation, as Dallas scored.

Lock rolled out to hit Homer for a pass on the ensuing two-point conversion try to tie the game at 25.

Lock’s fourth series ended in a punt after he took a sack and then on third-and-15 overthrew an open Kevin Kassis down the middle.

Then came his disastrous fifth possession when Seattle got the ball at the Steelers 47 following a Boye Mafe sack of Kenny Pickett and appeared set to steal the win – Mafe’s second sack of the night – before Lock fumbled.

Here are a few other quick impressions:

Rookie corners get mixed grades

Rookies Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant started at corner, on the right and left sides, with veterans Sidney Jones IV (concussion) and Artie Burns (groin) sitting out.

As might be expected, each had some moments they’d like to have back while also showing flashes of why they have elicited so much excitement throughout camp.

Woolen got off to a somewhat rocky start. He missed a tackle on a running play that turned into a 24-yard gain and then appeared to not be in the right coverage on a 13-yard TD pass from Mitchell Trubisky to Gunner Olszewski on Pittsburgh’s first possession.

Woolen followed a receiver in man coverage while the rest of the defense appeared to be in zone, leaving Olszewski wide open.

But Woolen also stayed right with Pittsburgh rookie receiver George Pickens on a go route that ended up incomplete, and after the TD played far steadier.

Bryant, meanwhile, was beaten for a 26-yard TD pass from Mason Rudolph to Pickens in which he appeared to be in OK position to make a play on the ball but didn’t turn around.

Bryant then spent much of the rest of his night playing nickelback, with Michael Jackson then moving into the left cornerback spot.

While Bryant got beaten on the Pickens TD, he also showed strong tackling and instincts when he tackle tight end Jace Sternberger a yard short of a first down on a third-down play late in the second quarter, forcing a Steelers punt, after which the Seahawks then drove for their first TD.

Travis Homer, DeeJay Dallas state their cases

Rookie Ken Walker III got the start at running back with Rashaad Penny not playing while dealing with a groin injury.

Walker, though, didn’t find a lot of room to run, finishing with 19 yards on five carries.

The running back stars of the game were instead a pair of former University of Miami teammates, Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas.

As noted, Homer’s 25-yard reception set up Seattle’s field goal.

And then he had runs of 10 and five yards on the Smith-lead scoring drive that ended the first half playing the entire drive in his role as the third-down, two-minute back.

Homer finished with 41 yards on four carries in the first half as well as two receptions for 33 yards.

Dallas then took over the running back duties for most of the second half and had 73 yards on 10 carries while also scoring on the 17-yard pass from Lock.

Tackling an issue

The Steelers outgained Seattle 236-163 in the first half, and one of the most significant reasons was shoddy tackling by the Seahawks.

Seattle played without six defensive starters and also stayed in mostly basic base and nickel formations throughout so any real assessment of the defense in what was the first game for defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt has to be made with that in mind.

But what Hurtt undoubtedly will pound home in film sessions were some of the missed tackles that helped key the Steelers’ early scoring drives. That included two by backup linebacker Nick Bellore on a drive that ended in a Steelers field goal as well as one by receiver Penny Hart on what became a 38-yard punt return by Steven Sims that set up the Steelers’ second touchdown.