No matter how many new cornerbacks the Pittsburgh Steelers draft, the front seven still sets the tone for their defense.
Rookie T.J. Watt and veteran Arthur Moats got that message across in Friday's 20-12 preseason victory over the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium, abusing a maligned New York offensive line for five combined sacks. Watt flashed athleticism with two sacks on his first four NFL plays, and Moats gobbled up three more quarterback takedowns along with an interception.
QB depth chart: Joshua Dobbs settled down after two brutal interceptions in the first quarter, finishing with 100 yards on 8-of-15 passing and a 28-yard touchdown to Cobi Hamilton. Dobbs looked comfortable throwing the ball downfield and skittish on over-the-middle throws in traffic. Bart Houston took over midway through the third quarter and made a few good throws but failed to connect on a big play.
When it was starters vs. starters, the Steelers looked ...: Physical on defense (especially nose tackle Javon Hargrave, who looked sharp), but the offensive line wasn't playing with its usual edge. The Steelers rested several starters -- including multiple O-linemen -- and it showed. The Giants had clear shots on Dobbs on several occasions. Backups need to clean things up in case the Steelers' starters suffer injuries early in the season.
One reason to be concerned: Despite obvious talent at the position, wide receiver is still a bit of a mess outside the starting lineup. JuJu Smith-Schuster suffered a concussion in the first quarter, joining Sammie Coates, Demarcus Ayers and Justin Hunter on the injury list. Darrius Heyward-Bey was quiet Friday. The depth has not been as advertised since camp started.
That guy could start: Defensive lineman Tyson Alualu looks like the ideal first defensive lineman off the bench who can also start games. The former Jacksonville Jaguar looked athletic moving laterally and helping stop the run. He also aided Moats on a sack. The Steelers always have had that free-agent reserve tackle/end to help with depth, but Alualu has a starter's pedigree.
Rookie watch: Coach Mike Tomlin might be right in saying after the game that Watt's two sacks were relatively easy to complete, but Watt's athleticism and high motor showed up throughout the first half. On multiple occasions, he either pushed the tackle back or beat him off the edge (Giants backups, but still). He chases the ball on every play and doesn't get fooled by play fakes.
Don't sleep on Cobi: Hamilton started camp with a few drops but has played better of late, resulting in a 72-yard preseason opener. It's easy to assume Hamilton won't make the numbers game, but he has a chance at the 53-man roster. He's a quality blocker, and though he doesn't have elite speed, he's good at stretching out for passes.
Keeps making plays: Cornerback Mike Hilton is becoming a tough cut. The camp favorite among fringe players recorded a sack off a corner blitz and recovered a fumble on punt coverage. In training camp, the ball seems to find him. That's translated to game action.