The Pittsburgh Steelers had a dreadful first half against the Green Bay Packers, but not because of their 16-9 scoring deficit. Center Maurkice Pouncey and defensive end Stephon Tuitt both suffered left ankle injuries of varying severity. Pouncey’s at least called for an MRI. After Chris Hubbard sent a low snap to Bruce Gradkowski, the veteran quarterback suffered a left hand injury and should be done for the day as well.
The Steelers’ starting defense looked eminently beatable on the Packers’ opening drive, which quickly carved its way down the field to jump out to an 8-0 lead, much the way the Steelers’ starting offense did in the last preseason game. It took three drives, but Ben Roethlisberger finally responded with a touchdown of his own to Markus Wheaton. An earlier 58-yard touchdown to Antonio Brown was negated by penalty.
Landry Jones should go the distance in the second half under center. Hopefully Hubbard does not. Maybe it’s time to give B.J. Finney some in-game snaps at his natural position at center.
On the bright side for the defense, the Steelers netted three sacks, including two without blitzing. James Harrison, Jarvis Jones, and later Shamarko Thomas on a blitz, all recorded quarterback takedowns, with Harrison’s going for a safety.
Jones stepped back on play action on first down and threw down the field to Martavis Bryant, which was underthrown and intercepted. Jones hit his hand.
Scott Tolzien, from the 48, spun around and was quickly wrapped up on what seemed to be a busted play. A flag for illegal formation negated a seven-yard gain. Tolzien burned a timeout. Daniel McCullers collapsed the pocket as Blake nearly got out in front of a pass. On third down, Bud Dupree recorded a sack that was negated by an offsides on Cam Thomas. Tolzien knew that the penalty would be called, and knew it was third down, so he knew he could take the sack if he couldn’t make a play. B.W. Webb stopped the reception three yards shy of the first down, but on fourth down, from the Steelers’ 46, Tolzien completed in front of Brandon Boykin to move the chains.
After a short gain on the ground, Blake broke up a pass intended for Jeff Janis. On third down and seven, Janis completed the catch right at the sideline for 17 yards, again on Blake. Mike Tomlin challenged the call, which should be overturned, as the receiver’s toes on one foot did not land inbounds.
In the meantime, Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson‘s initial diagnosis on his early injury came in: torn ACL. It seemed rather innocuous, but it often does on non-contact injuries.
Mason Crosby was good from 55 yards out to give the Packers a 19-9 lead over the Steelers after Jones quickly turned the ball over on his first pass.
Jawon Chisholm was stopped in the backfield for a two-yard loss to start things off. Dri Archer took a delayed draw to pick up about six yards to set up a third and long, but there was a hold on the play. Half the distance to the goal, second and 19. Archer picked up three yards up the middle. On third and 16, Archer caught a pass over the middle, but only picked up half the yardage. Brad Wing booted the ball 52 yards with a 10-yard return, but a 10-yard penalty on the Packers negated that return.
With Anthony Chickillo among others now in, the Packers picked up three yards on the ground. The pack dropped a pass on second down. On third and seven, Tolzien was hit as he threw by Howard Jones. Kenzel Doe returned the punt horizontally as Ian Wild was flagged for an illegal block in the back.
On first down, Jones went deep, targeting Sammie Coates against rookie Quentin Rollins, picking up 54 yards on a throw that the receiver had to hold up for just a bit. At the 29 now, Chisholm was tripped up after just a one-yard gain up the middle. A pass intended for Shakim Phillips near the goal line was broken up nicely by the cornerback. On third and nine, the same cornerback forced Phillips to drop the ball, playing the pocket on the would-be reception, though it would have been shy of a first down. Garrett Hartley was good from 46 yards out.
Roosevelt Nix made the tackle on the ensuing kickoff, sky of the 20-yard line. Dupree recorded his first sack that counted this time, unblocked, though he had to chase down the quarterback on a roll out. On second down, the Packers regained the lost yardage on the sack. On third and 10, Dupree and Wild, with Wild getting the sack after the quarterback was flushed up the pocket, forced the Packers to punt.
Taking over at the 47, Jones was hammered for a sack. On second and 18, Coates snagged an off-target pass for six yards. On third and 12, Hubbard allowed pressure up the middle for another sack. Wing’s punt was muffed by Janis, with Kevin Fogg getting the initial chance to recover, then recovered by Doran Grant. The officials ruled that Janis never touched the ball, however, with Mike Tomlin challenging the ruling. The ruling on the field stood.
After a four-yard gain, Terence Garvin made the stop in the backfield for a loss of five. On third and 11, Garvin was the first to make the tackle after a six-yard reception. Doe was quickly wrapped up on a 46-yard punt, losing two yards on the return.
Coates could not snag a second-down pass from Jones to open the fourth quarter. On third and 10, Jones forced a pass to Jesse James that was intercepted. The pass was well behind his target. The ruling on the field was an incompletion but the Packers challenged the call. Surprisingly the ruling stood. Looked like a clean interception to me.
Wing’s punt was boomed 64 yards and bounced into the end zone for a 44-yard net, but the Packers were penalized for roughing the kicker. The Steelers offense resets.
Braylon Heard was bottled up behind the line for a loss of one yard on first down near midfield. On second down, Alejandro Villanueva was flagged for his second false start of the preseason, this time at right tackle. On second and 16 now, Coates dropped his target. The rookie can certainly be frustrating. Phillips dropped his pass as well. Another punt. This time induced a fair catch at the 14-yard line.
Jordan Dangerfield with his first tackle of the day on a run off the left side. On second down, he got his second to set up third and four. The rookie Grant broke up the third-down pass to force a punt. Doe’s return went three yards vertically and about 25 yards laterally off a 39-yard kick, to about the Steelers’ 44-yard line.
Heard took the ball up the middle for a one-yard gain on first down. Nix could not hold on to his target. On third and nine, Jones found Phillips for the first down on a 16-yard connection. The Packers were also tagged for roughing the passer, adding 15 yards to the end of the play. At the 23, Heard was leg tackled for a one-yard gain. On second down, the former quarterback Tyler Murphy recorded the 22-yard touchdown, shaking two defenders near the goal line. The Steelers went for the two-point conversion, with Murphy being targeted, but he could not haul in the difficult pass.
On the kick return, the Packers found the left sideline, but Kevin Fogg made a nice tackle as the return began to cut back inside, stopping progress at the 36. Gerod Holliman forced the receiver out of bounds for no gain after a first-down reception. On second down, the Steelers induced a intentional grounding after two rushers got in free. On the third and 18 screen pass, the Packers came up well short and were forced to punt.
After a poor punt that took a favorable bounce, Jones and the offense took over with good field position. From the 40, pressure up the middle induced a throw into the dirt. On second down, Jones found Heart over the middle for four yards. On third and six, Jones found Murphy as he scrambled, eluding one defender to find the edge for a 20+ yard reception.
Murphy was targeted again from the Packers’ 31 for a short gain. On second down, Chisholm was stuffed in the backfield with his helmet coming off for a loss. On third and long, Jones converted to Phillips for 10 yards. Heard was chased from behind for a loss on first down. In the back of the end zone, Phillips grabbed a Jones pass off the helmet of the defender for the go-ahead touchdown. Jones has two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. However, his two-point conversion try was intercepted, targeting Murphy in the left corner. The Steelers lead 24-19.
L.J. Fort was in on an incompletion on first down after the Steelers took the lead. On second and 10, the Steelers had a chance for an interception thrown into a double team, but could not convert the opportunity. On third down, Dangerfield, Fogg, and Grant all conspired to hold the pass to nine yards. On fourth and one, Fort came off the edge for a sack. The Steelers got a lot of those today. Jones was also there. Turnover on downs.
Chisholm was good for a yard on first down inside the 20. The back backed his way to the 15 on second down. After the two-minute warning, Jones was under pressure and forced a quick throw wide of Nix, but the Packers were flagged for roughing the passer for the second time today. Also had a roughing the kicker.
Resetting at the eight, Jones took a couple of knees to secure the Steelers’ first win of the preseason. Outside of the injuries to Pouncey, Tuitt, and Gradkowski, there was a lot of value to take out of the game.