PITTSBURGH – Mike Tomlin will meet with the rest of the Pittsburgh Steelers' braintrust before announcing who will be the starting quarterback in Cincinnati in two weeks.
Mitch Trubisky presented a pretty compelling case to make sure the conversation is a short one.
Unharried behind an offensive line that remains very much a work in progress, Trubisky finished off a steady if not spectacular preseason with 80 seconds of precision, leading a crisp 92-yard touchdown drive to end the first half in a 19-9 victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
Trubisky's final throw of a busy August was a 6-yard dart to Steven Sims that gave the Steelers a 16-point lead and likely erased any doubt as to who will run onto the field with the starting offense against the defending AFC North champion Bengals on Sept. 11. Trubisky finished the preseason 24 of 34 for 283 yards and two touchdowns against no interceptions.
“I feel confident with where I’m at,” Trubisky said.
He should, even with rookie Kenny Pickett doing his best to apply some pressure. Pickett went 10 for 14 for 90 yards while playing the majority of the second half and completed 80% (29 of 36) of his passes during the preseason, with three touchdowns and no picks.
“If it’s me (as the starter), I’m going to play as hard as I possibly can and be the best I can be,” Pickett said. “If it’s Mitch or Mason (Rudolph), whoever it is I’ll support them and be ready when my number is called and be the best QB on the sideline that I can be.”
Pickett remains very much a part of Pittsburgh's future. Trubisky, however, appears to be part of the present. Five months after signing a two-year deal with Pittsburgh in hopes of reviving his career, Trubisky's professionalism and play since training camp began has given Tomlin little reason to hand the keys to the franchise to the 20th overall pick in the draft so quickly.
Tomlin has grown tired of fielding questions about the quarterback position, maybe because it so rarely happened during his first 15 years on the job with Roethlisberger's name written in permanent marker atop the depth chart. Clarity will come at some point in the next few days, though Tomlin called the situation “a good problem” to have.
There are a handful of not-so good ones too.
The starting offensive line, excoriated following a shoddy half of work last week against Jacksonville, was again sloppy and at times disorganized. Twice the Steelers started a series inside the Detroit 30 in the first half. Twice they failed to record a single first down and were forced to settle for one of Chris Boswell's four field goals.
Tomlin played most of his starters on both sides of the ball in the first half, and it nearly cost the Steelers after All-Pro linebacker T.J. Watt and Pro Bowl wide receiver Diontae Johnson both left with injuries.
Watt, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, injured his left knee after receiving a cut block from Detroit tight end T.J. Hockenson in the second quarter. Hockenson seemed to apologize to Watt immediately after the play, and Watt remained in the game briefly before being pulled.
Johnson, who signed a lucrative extension earlier this month, also left in the first half with a shoulder injury after landing awkwardly following a nice 38-yard reception down the sideline.
Tomlin said both injuries appeared to be minor and that they possibly could have returned if the game counted, shrugging off the risk involved with playing them in a meaningless game.
“You can't box without sparring," Tomlin said.
The Lions (1-2), who have spent the last month taking a rare turn in the spotlight as part of the “Hard Knocks” docuseries, have a slightly lower-profile quarterback competition going. With starter Jared Goff taking the day off, Tim Boyle and David Blough tried to provide some clarity to the backup position.
Neither exactly distinguished himself. Boyle completed just 5 of 15 passes for 64 yards while working the first half. He also threw an interception directly to Pittsburgh cornerback Cam Sutton, who didn't even have to move as Boyle hit Sutton right between the 2 and the 0 on his jersey as he sat down in zone coverage.
Blough was a little more effective while working against players who are hoping they'll still have a job in the NFL after teams trim their rosters to 53 on Tuesday afternoon. Blough finished 17 of 32 for 160 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown flip to Quintez Cephus with 30 seconds to go.
“I think (the backup situation) became very clear,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “I think we got things answered and I would leave it at that.”
The Lions could be in the market for a backup quarterback this week. There could be one available in Pittsburgh, where Rudolph appears very much to be the third-man in the three-way race.
Lions: Welcome Philadelphia to Ford Field on Sept. 11.
Steelers: Begin the season on the road for the eighth straight year when they head to Cincinnati. The Bengals swept the season series from Pittsburgh last fall.
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