By Matthew Marczi
The Pittsburgh Steelers opened the second half on defense, with Baron Batch making a special teams tackle. Josh Victorian was beaten for a first down on the second play, but he came up to make the tackle after a short gain on the next play. Al Woods was in at nose tackle with Brian Arnfelt at left defensive end and Cameron Heyward on the other side, presumably because Nick Williams was dressed today. Rex Grossman’s pass was deflected on third down for the incompletion.
Reggie Dunn was back to receive the punt, which he caught on the run for a small gain. John Malecki was the second-team center once again. Guy Whimper allowed pressure immediately for a sack. A dump-off pass to Jonathan Dwyer on the next play set up a manageable third down. Bruce Gradkowski’s pass to Markus Wheaton was off the mark, however, forcing a punt. Ross Ventrone was flagged on special teams for interfering with the returner.
Robert Golden laid a nice hit in the secondary, but the pass was still caught. A porous right side allowed a big gain on the ground on the next play for 16. However, the next pass was targeted directly at safety DaMon Cromartie-Smith, who made the pick near the goal line and returned it 17 yards to the 23.
Rookie quarterback Landry Jones once again came in ahead of John Parker Wilson, who did not get into the game. His first play was a handoff to Dwyer, which went for a short gain, but it initially seemed like it could have gone for more before the holes closed quickly. Dwyer took the next carry seven yards after a quick cut to get north for the first down. He gained two and then lost a couple on successive carries, setting up third and 10.
The last play of the drive was a misdirection handoff to Alvester Alexander, who gained eight yards to bring Drew Butler on the field again. Alexander was seemingly in the game due to the fact that Batch suffered a stinger. Only Dwyer and Alexander are healthy backs now with Le’Veon Bell, Will Johnson, and Batch all leaving the game and Isaac Redman not dressing. The punt went deep, but was returned to around the 20. It is not entirely clear why Jones was not given the chance to throw the ball on his first possession.
Arnfelt made a nice play to make a tackle in the backfield on the next Redskins drive. If he continues to play well, he could earn himself a spot on the practice squad at worst. The play set them behind the chains and they could not recover, resulting in a punt.
Jones was finally given the chance to throw the ball with receivers Derek Moye, Markus Wheaton, and Justin Brown, but his first pass fell incomplete. On third and 10, Jones found Jamie McCoy on a check down and he made a linebacker look bad out in space. He got the first down, setting up the opportunity for Jones to go down the field, which was complete to Wheaton for 45 yards.
Jones missed his target on the next pass, but on second down he showed nice pocket awareness, pushing up, resetting, and hitting Moye, who did a nice job to stay on his feet for extra yardage to set up third and one. Alexander was just short on the carry, but the Steelers scored on fourth down. With the defense set up for the run, Jones dropped back to pass as Alexander picked up the rush. Jones found Moye near the goal line, who was able to walk in untouched for the score to bring the Steelers to within 17-13. Jones showed significant improvement from the first preseason game on that drive, which is nice to see out of the rookie.
Kion Wilson had good coverage on the first play of the next drive, though it was complete for seven yards. Many third-team players were now in, including Nick Williams, Alan Baxter, and Adrian Robinson. Shamarko Thomas laid a hit on running back Chris Thompson, forcing the rookie back to fumble, which was recovered by cornerback Terry Hawthorne, who has finally recovered from a knee issue that he has dealt with throughout the offseason.
The Steelers were set up on the Redskins’ 40-yard line after the turnover. On third and eight, Wheaton converted the first down, but Whimper was penalized for illegal hands to the face. On the second third down attempt, Kelvin Beachum allowed pressure on the left side, forcing Jones to dump the ball off to McCoy, who was not able to bring it in; the play had little chance of converting, however, after the penalty set them back.
Pat White entered at quarterback for the Redskins, hitting on his first pass for a first down. He took a bootleg to the left on his first two snaps, both times fooling the defense. His second pass was too tall for his receiver, however. Thomas had good coverage on third down to stop the completion for a short gain well short of the first. Dunn got the opportunity to return his second punt of the night, and again flashed his speed, going for 26 yards to the 41-yard line after a 54-yard punt.
Jones was almost picked off on the next drive trying to get a ball to Wheaton. It was difficult to see if Wheaton slipped or not, however. Jones’ next pass sailed over everybody’s head on third down, resulting in another punt. Some poor tackling allowed a 24-yard return to the 32.
On first down, the Redskins were flagged for holding, which negated a big run. White’s pass on the next play fell incomplete when his receiver dropped the ball. On third and 14, a blitz got to White, with Vince Williams getting initial pressure and Nick Williams finishing the sack for a five-yard loss. The ensuing punt touched Moye, and the Redskins recovered it. However, the ball first touched a Redskin’s arm, so the Steelers maintained possession.
Jones attempted a shovel pass after being flushed out of the pocket by Whimper’s assignment, which fell incomplete to Alexander. His second down pass was about a half-step away from being a pick six, as the corner was on the run when he broke up the pass. A delay of game set up a third and 15. Jones hit Wheaton on the pass, but for just seven yards. Yet another breakdown on punt coverage allowed a good return, and yet again tight end Michael Palmer saved an even bigger return.
Shamarko Thomas continued to live up to his reputation as a physical tackler, who seemed to be all over the field. White was able to get to the outside for a first down run to midfield, however. He did it again on the next play to close in on field goal range. Roy Helu took a handoff right up the middle for a touchdown soon after, with Ventrone missing a tackle down the field. The inside linebackers played up against the line, and Nick Williams was flushed to the left side of the defense, leaving a gaping hole in the middle for 30 yards.
On first down of the Steelers’ ensuing drive, Jones threw to Brown, but the pass was not on target. On second down, three rushers broke free to meet at the quarterback for a 12-yard loss. An attempted deep pass on third down cleared everybody’s head for a quick three and out. On the plus side, Ventrone made an excellent tackle on Butler’s ensuing punt.
Devin Smith made a diving acrobatic interception of a Pat White pass at the sideline to give the offense another chance to close the deficit early in the drive. However, Jones once again found himself running for his life after Joe Long was beaten off the line; still, he almost hit Alexander for a first down.
On second down, he hit McCoy, who used his body to shield off the defender and put in the extra effort to get the first down. McCoy has had a good showing for himself tonight, and would likely be the favorite as the fourth tight end while Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth, the latter of whom may be put on injured reserve, recover from injuries.
Once again, a Landry Jones pass was nearly intercepted. However, Moye secured the deflection and got a first down out of it. On the next play, Markus Wheaton tried to break a short gain, turning all the way to the other side of the field, but he only netted less than a yard for his efforts. On cue, McCoy was unable to hang on to a pass that may have gotten a first down, and then Brown gained just five yards on third down. On fourth down, Jones’ pass was deflected twice before falling incomplete. A couple of kneeldowns ended it, with the Steelers losing once again by the score of 24-13.