The Pittsburgh Steelers have arrived at the midpoint of their preseason, facing the Green Bay Packers in their third of five exhibition games before the wins and losses start counting. the starters are expected to see more time this afternoon, with only a few players formally ruled out, those being linebackers Lawrence Timmons and Vince Williams, running back Josh Harris, and wide receivers C.J. Goodwin and David Nelson.
Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski returned to practice last week, and should see some time in this game according to Mike Tomlin, contrary to earlier reports, but there should still be plenty of time left for Landry Jones. This game should also mark the first preseason appearance of Daniel McCullers, and possibly Ross Ventrone, the latter of whom is desperately clinging to a fifth safety spot that may not exist. He will need to break out his special teams mastery in order to force the team’s hand.
For the Packers, the following players did not travel with the team to Pittsburgh:
10 WR Javess Blue
39 CB Demetri Goodson
41 DB Kyle Sebetic
52 LB Clay Matthews
53 LB Nick Perry
69 T David Bakhtiari
76 DT Mike Daniels
80 TE Justin Perillo
84 WR Jared Abbrederis
The Packers called tails and the coin landed tails, with the visiting team choosing to receive. The Steelers got the ball first in each of their first two preseason games. Many of the Steelers’ special teams regulars were on the field, but I did notice Ian Wild and Jordan Dangerfield.
The Packers methodically drove down the field on their opening drive for a touchdown, taking advantage of a couple of open holes in the secondary on passes to Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, while also finding holes in the running game for Eddie Lacy and James Starks inside the red zone, with Lacy running in from seven yards out. Starks’ two-yard carry on the two-point attempt made it a 8-0 lead.
Dri Archer got just his second opportunity to return a kickoff of the preseason and managed to bring the ball out to the 28-yard line before being brought down from behind. One thing that the team would still like to see from him is the ability to stand up through more contact.
Le’Veon Bell was stopped at the line of scrimmage on first down. He gained just two looking for space outside on second down. On third and eight, Ben Roethlisberger found Antonio Brown over the middle for 17 yards.
From the 47, David DeCastro was flagged for a false start, making it first and 15 from the 42. The line gave Roethlisberger lots of room in the pocket to find Brown on a deep strike for a touchdown of 58 yards, but Brown was flagged for pass interference to negate the huge play. Now first and 25 from the 32, Bell got seven yards back on a screen.
On second and 18, Brown hauled in a pass over the middle, but he cut back looking for extra room and ran about 20 yards to pick up six. On third and long, Roethlisberger found Markus Wheaton for another 17-yard gain and another third-down conversion through the air.
Back to the ground, Bell got the carry and took the ball up the left side for about five yards. Roethlisberger’s pass to the side to Wheaton was wide. On third and five, Roethlisberger took a sack looking to buy time. Jordan Berry got the opportunity to punt the ball, sending one just to the left corner in front of the end zone, which Blake expertly saved for a very good special teams play all around.
Bud Dupree made the run stop near the Packers’ own goal line on first down. Rodgers was incomplete on second down. James Harrison sacked Rodgers for a safety in the end zone.Archer took the safety kick out to around the 25. The Steelers used a timeout before running a play. A designed pass to WilL Johnson picked up seven yards. Bell picked up six yards, but Maurkice Pouncey‘s foot got trapped beneath some large bodies out in front blocking. He is certainly done for the day, and perhaps the preseason.
Cody Wallace was blown off the ball on first down against B.J. Raji, with Bell picking up two yards. On second down, Brown was blown up on a screen pass for a three-yard loss. Roethlisberger, scrambling, nearly hit Bell on the move for a first down, but the back couldn’t handle the very difficult pass. Berry sent a booming punt down the field for a 48-yard net after a 10-yard return, with Thomas making the stop.
Scott Tolzien checked in at quarterback for the Packers. Sean Spence stopped Lacy after a one-yard gain on first down. Blake made the tackle on Jeff Janis after a seven-yard pickup to set up third and short. Jarvis Jones beat the backup left tackle inside to sack Tolzien. The punt was short and downed at the Steelers’ 48.
Roethlisberger stayed in the game for a third series. DeAngelo Williams in the backfield. Brown took a short pass for four yards across midfield. Roethlisberger sidestepped pressure for a 20-yard pickup to Wheaton to the 28-yard line. Bell up the left side for about three yards as the offense looked to pick up the pace. On second and seven, Bell used his linemen to pick up nine yards on a screen pass.
Inside the red zone at the 16, Martavis Bryant had the pass broken up near the goal line on a back shoulder throw. Heath Miller got his first reception of the preseason I believe for 11 yards up the middle to set up first and goal at the five. Easy touchdown pass to Wheaton shallow right in the end zone out of a bunch set, with the nickel back getting picked off. The extra point try was good to give the Steelers a 9-8 lead.
After a short kickoff by design, it looked as though Wild missed an opportunity for a special teams tackle, with Robert Golden recording the stop just beyond the 20. Thomas came up to cut down the tight end for a short gain. Tolzien picked up 17 on a throw to Andrew Quarless. From the 42, Lacy made Tuitt miss in the backfield, who stayed down. Cam Thomas came in to replace him.
Thomas helped push Starks’ run to the sideline for a two-yard loss, with Dupree making the tackle. On third and three, Cameron Heyward broke up the Tolzien pass at the line to force a punt. Dupree and Harrison both lined up on the left side on that play. The punt went for a touchback.
Gradkowski took over for Roethlisberger, seeing his first playing time of the year, with all second-team personnel now coming in as we near the halfway mark of the game. Gradkowski rolled out and was chased and forced to throw into the dirt at his fullback’s feet. On second down, Williams got a head of steam for 12 yards, showing some quickness.
Williams couldn’t seem to find the hole on the following play for a gain of just one. Gradkowski did a good job to get the pass out quick as the Packers blitzed, connecting with Darrius Heyward-Bey for five yards. On third and four, with three wide, pressure broke up the play, forcing the Steelers to punt. After a good punt from Berry that induced a fair catch, Brandon Boykin inexplicably went for the tackle to draw a special teams penalty.
Boykin made the tackle on first down, and Thomas blitzed off the edge for the third sack of the day by the team on second down. On third and 10, after a false start, Tolzien’s deep throw to Janis was well covered by Blake and incomplete. Good three-and-out for the defense.
A pair of penalties on the Packers gave the Steelers the ball on the 25 with 3:30 remaining in the half. Williams was unable to bounce the run on first down for no gain. Finney pulled. On second down, the back did find some room, first horizontally, then vertically, for six or seven yards. Tyler Murphy hauled in the third-down conversion at the two-minute warning.
From the 40, Gradkowski hung up a pass short that was popped into the air, but Bryant made the second-chance catch. Chris Hubbard at center and Gradkowski fumbled the exchange and the Packers recovered with 1:30 to play, as the quarterback got his hand looked at on the sideline. Then went to the locker room.
After a six-yard pickup, the Packers used a timeout. After a drop, Janis converted against Blake inbounds. Janis again close to the 20-yard line. Another timeout with 30 seconds remaining. Under pressure, Tolzien threw the ball away, but the Packers were called for holding, pushing the ball back to the 33. Penalty was going against Shayon Green. On second and 11, however, a 12-yard catch on Blake converted. Tolzien hit tight end Richard Rogers for the touchdown, going down untouched with 12 seconds left in the half. The two-point conversion run made it 16-9.
Landry Jones was under center to hand off on a draw to end the half. Jones will surely play the entire second half after Gradkowski’s injury.