By Jeremy Hritz
Man, maybe Ed Bouchette was right. Maybe the 2013 edition of the Pittsburgh Steelers is just “okay.”
There wasn’t much to celebrate on Monday night against the Washington Redskins, but there were some highlights worthy of recognition.
With that said, here are my notes from last night’s game:
A completion given up by Jason Worilds for a decent gain prompted him to be pulled from the game and be replaced by rookie Jarvis Jones, who responded by forcing a fumble and recording two tackles. While he didn’t get to the quarterback, he did force some pressure, but he needs to seal the deal and record the sack. On the other hand, LaMarr Woodley earned a sack, and he was very active in his limited number of snaps.
I’ve got a feeling that after tonight, Jones will be the starting right outside linebacker against the Tennessee Titans.
The starting offensive line looked terrible, and Marcus Gilbert, David DeCastro, Mike Adams, and Maurkice Pouncey were all guilty of committing penalties, something that was characteristic of the line in 2012 that cannot follow the team into this season. Additionally, Ben Roethlisberger was under constant pressure, and it did not allow for any continuity to develop in the passing game. Roethlisberger did not look sharp, and his throw on the pick six was predictable.
Le’Veon Bell got his first work of the preseason, and while he didn’t look amazing, he didn’t look hateful either. He simply did not get enough snaps for anyone to make an accurate prediction about what he can contribute this season. And unfortunately, Bell was injured, and was forced to come out of the game after only four carries for nine yards.
Troy Polamalu looked fresh and his burst was reminiscent of his early days, especially when he closed in on Rex Grossman and delivered what could have been considered a late hit.
Reggie Dunn had a decent kickoff and punt returns. But more than anything, Dunn demonstrated that he can field the ball cleanly and without error. Mike Tomlin values that, and if Dunn can break a return for a touchdown in one of these last two preseason games, he may earn a spot on the roster.
Jonathan Dwyer ran hard and carried the ball 14 times for 68 yards, and at times, looked explosive, physical, and decisive. However, at other times, he looked hesitant, and his fumble cannot be ignored This is the kind of mixed-bag performance that we came to expect from Dwyer last year, and he must be able to play mistake-free football if he is to be a major contributor to the team in 2013.
Against the first team defense, Grossman had an awful lot of time to throw, and he made some big plays. If the Steelers defense doesn’t generate more pressure, imagine what Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers will do.
William Gay got beat for a one-handed touchdown grab. He is still a liability to the team no matter where he lines up and no matter how well he understands the defense.
Emmanuel Sanders made some very athletic catches and is a reason for optimism in the passing game. He ended the night with two catches for 39 yards with a long of 20. Antonio Brown had a decent night as well, collecting three passes for 35 yards, though he tried to get too fancy on a catch in the red zone.
Shamarko Thomas had a solid night, delivering big hits, including forcing a fumble that was recovered by fellow rookie Terry Hawthorne. The Steelers have to find a way to get Thomas on the field and soon.
Markus Wheaton also had a good night, catching three passes for 52 yards, including a 45-yarder from Landry Jones that was reminiscent of a Roethlisberger deep ball to Mike Wallace. It appears that Wheaton is growing more confident, and it will be exciting to see him get some reps with the first unit.
Derek Moye had a decent night as well, and may have jumped ahead of Justin Brown in the battle for a roster spot. Moye caught two passes for 19 yards, including a touchdown on a fourth down. On Moye’s other reception, he showed good second effort as he worked hard to try and get a first down.
To close up what was a good night for the rookies, Nick Williams had a sack, and even though it came late in the game, it was good to see him making a play after missing significant time in camp with an injury.
Key takeaways? The Steelers absolutely have to get better in every area of the game, most importantly on the offensive line. It may be time for the Steelers to take a look at Kelvin Beachum at right tackle to see what he can provide over Gilbert. And as far as depth is concerned on the offensive line, if it was a worry before, it is a full-blown crisis now, as the second team o-line was a sieve.
Lastly, the defense has to get pressure or 2013 will be a repeat of last year. The Steelers cannot afford to give QBs time to make plays, and what Grossman did tonight simply cannot happen.
The good thing is, it still is only the preseason, and there is plenty of time for things to come together.
But if it doesn’t, we may be yearning for the days of 8-8.