For the first time since 2019, NFL preseason football was played on Thursday night. Though many of the teams' brightest stars did not see action, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys still had plenty of talent on center stage. First-round rookies Micah Parsons and Najee Harris made their debuts for Dallas and Pittsburgh, respectively, but it was veteran running back Kalen Ballage who tallied the game-winning score for the Steelers in a 16-3 win Thursday in the Hall of Fame Game.
1) The Cowboys struck gold with Micah Parsons. Even if it was rather brief, the first-round selection had quite a debut, flying all over the field and getting in on the action on nearly every snap he played. Parsons recorded three tackles, recovered a fumble, and constantly chased down ball carriers no matter the location. Three tackles might not be all that impressive on paper, but the tape does not lie, and gave this writer the feeling he'd be headed toward 10 tackles before halftime. When watching Parsons live, it was impossible to overlook No. 11. Just wait until he gets a full game's worth of action.
2) The Matt Canada era is underway in Pittsburgh, and it might mislead you. The Steelers rolled out the very beginnings of a new offense on Thursday night and proved rather quickly just how novel it is. Plenty of motion preceded the snap and, on one occasion, such motion contributed to a botched snap, leading to a fumble and Parsons recovery. The Steelers offense is clearly novel to all of its personnel, and it's going to take some time before they get acclimated enough to run it smoothly. Thursday was an incomplete sample, of course, considering Ben Roethlisberger spent the game in a hoodie and baseball hat, and Pittsburgh's offensive line is still finding its footing. But if we learned one thing about the Steelers when they possess the ball, it's that they still need the weeks of practice and preseason games ahead.
3) We didn't get a whole lot out of the reps from Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins, but if we had to choose a takeaway, it's that the status quo remains true. Rudolph reaffirmed his greatest strength -- the deep ball -- when he connected with Chase Claypool for 45 yards, but didn't do much else overall. Haskins entered and looked much like he did the last time he was on an NFL field in Washington, struggling to accurately place passes and sailing one over the head of undrafted free agent Isaiah McKoy down the sideline just shy of the end zone. Haskins enjoyed the benefit of a short field (as did Joshua Dobbs in the fourth quarter) and was able to get the Steelers into the end zone, but didn't do much of anything to change the current perception of him.
Speaking of Claypool, his exit provided the football world with its first scare of 2021. Inexplicably still playing in the second quarter, Claypool caught the aforementioned pass from Rudolph and came down on top of the ball, spending some time being attended to by trainers before walking off. Rookie running back Najee Harris was also on the field in the second quarter before he was removed. With the Steelers still figuring out a new offense, it seems they were fine with leaving a few key guys out there longer than usual, but it wasn't without some hand-wringing on the part of Steelers fans watching.
Oh, and a bonus note even though it doesn't quite fit in here, but deserves to be mentioned: The Steelers have found themselves a stud of a punter in Pressley Harvin III. He dropped his second punt of the night on the Dallas 1, where it bounced straight up in the air and practically adhered itself to the turf. A later punt went out of bounds at the Dallas 11, eventually leading to a short field and touchdown drive for Dobbs and the Steelers offense. And finally, a fourth-quarter Harvin punt was fumbled and recovered by Pittsburgh. It seems the Steelers may have found their punting future with Harvin.
4) Football is back -- well, preseason football. Dallas and Pittsburgh each made their fair share of avoidable mistakes Thursday night, which is typical of a couple of teams that have only practiced for a few weeks. The aforementioned pre-snap motion led to a botched snap from Pittsburgh, and the Cowboys had a field goal attempt blocked. Steelers kicker Sam Sloman missed a field goal and PAT before converting from 48 yards out, and Cowboys kicker Hunter Niswander ended the first half with an ugly field goal attempt. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert also fumbled inside the red zone after he took too long to made a decision with the ball, leading to a strip sack. Malik Turner caught a pass for a long completion, then fumbled it away. Isaiah Buggs was flagged for an avoidable roughing the passer on an incomplete pass during a two-minute drill. The list goes on. This is typical of preseason football. But it's still football, and boy, are we glad it's back.