PITTSBURGH -- That's two in a row for the perennial preseason losers. The Pittsburgh Steelers went 3-14 in their past four preseasons but have knocked off the New York Giants and the Atlanta Falcons in back-to-back weeks. That's not exactly exciting after the starters looked uninspired in the first half of Sunday's 17-13 home win over the Falcons. But at least former Pitt star James Conner's 98-yard debut and playmaking from some reserves kept the pace up.
QB depth chart: Josh Dobbs cleaned up his accuracy on short and over-the-middle passes, completing 9 of his first 14 attempts. He failed to stretch the field, a strength in his preseason opener against the Giants. Dobbs typically looks more comfortable when stepping into the pocket and going vertical. The Steelers tried a few deep balls early in the second half but couldn't connect. Overall, Dobbs (10-of-19, 70 yards, one interception) minimized mistakes. His late-game interception was fluky: He flicked the ball toward the sideline while getting pulled down for a sack.
When it was starters vs. starters, the Steelers looked … unspectacular. Hard to gauge with the Steelers sitting so many key players, but the defense let Falcons backups operate wide swaths of open field while catching passes from three different quarterbacks. Pittsburgh just looked a step late against the pass for much of the first half. The eventual return of four starters should aid those issues. The offensive line, sitting Ramon Foster and Maurkice Pouncey, didn't play with its usual edge in the running game.
One reason to be concerned: Nothing thwarts the Steelers' plans for blanket pass coverage quite like fringe roster guys Nick Williams and Reggie Davis combining for 112 first-half receiving yards. Veteran corner Ross Cockrell got beat on a Davis go route for 44 yards. The pass coverage should be at least slightly better this season, and one preseason game won't affect those plans. But Sunday wasn't exactly the grand statement that 2017 will be much different. The second unit fared better, though against lesser competition.
That guy could start: Outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo wants to be known for more than his August camp flashes. Right now he's a backup. That likely won't change with the Bud Dupree-James Harrison-T.J. Watt trio in place. But Chickillo's two sacks Sunday reminded everyone that he keeps improving.
Rookie watch: After limited but promising camp work, the Steelers were eager to see Conner in game action. He put together a solid outing after a sluggish start that included two dropped passes on third downs. Conner rushed for 13 yards on his first five carries (11 of which came on a third-and-long) but started to use his power up the middle or off the edge, finishing with 98 yards on 20 carries. Conner can be too eager to bounce outside and needs to show more reliability as a pass-catcher, but overall he acquitted himself well with a bigger-than-expected workload. He seemed to gain strength as the game progressed, which is a good sign.
Quiet re-introduction: Martavis Bryant was pumped about his first game action in 19 months. He'll have big moments this season, but those will have to wait. Bryant finished with 20 yards on two catches, along with a fumble out of bounds on a reverse play. Bryant and Dobbs connected on a 23-yarder down the sideline but that was the only firework. Bryant was on a pitch count and didn't have Big Ben, so no worries here.
Don't sleep on Trey: Trey Williams, who showed good open-field wiggle in training camp, burst through a well-blocked seam for a 64-yard punt return touchdown. Williams doesn't have an inside track on a running back job but might just make things interesting.