The good news? The Pittsburgh Steelers preseason from hell is over. The bad news? Boy did it end as abysmally as it began.
Pittsburgh was beaten soundly by the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night at Heinz Field, by a final score of 23-6. The defense, albeit featuring almost all backups, was gashed for 454 total yards and a whopping 226 yards on the ground by the Panthers reserves, a beating that lasted all four quarters and couldn’t end quickly enough.
Yet even when the ending came, it was slow and cruel. With the Steelers two yards from pay dirt and attempting to end their preseason on a high note with just 18 seconds left in the game, Will Johnson’s rush came up short of the goal line and may have seriously injured two reserve offensive linemen.
Both Mitchell Van Dyk and B.J. Finney were down for an extended period of time after the play, appearing to be in significant pain. The cart came out for Van Dyk right away, as the trainers quickly immobilized his right leg. Finney was helped off the field slowly, but was in obvious pain. The replay showed that both players were rolled up on during the play, a horrific way for a dismal preseason to come to a close.
Just a few plays earlier quarterback Landry Jones was injured while throwing an interception, although the turnover was nullified by a defensive penalty. The blow knocked the Steelers third-string passer from the game, just the latest in a rash of injuries that have plagued the team this preseason.
And we haven’t even begun to talk about the actual game.
The Panthers rolled up 17 second quarter points on the Steelers, marching the ball down the field in 13 plays for the game’s opening score on a 23-yard chip shot field goal by Graham Gano. Carolina would add to their lead after a quick three-and-out by Pittsburgh, as Jordan Todman scampered up the middle of the field for a 49-yard touchdown run. Shamarko Thomas and Howard Jones both missed tackles on the play.
The Steelers two-minute defense, which has been atrocious this preseason, allowed Joe Webb to march Carolina 80 yards down the field in 1:37 for a 23-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Lucas to make it 17-0 with five seconds left in the first half. Both teams would add two field goals in the second half to complete the scoring.
The Steelers offense wasn’t much better than their defense, as the unit managed just 191 total yards on 44 plays for a morose average of 4.3 yards per play. With Michael Vick and Jones running the offense, the Steelers were just 1-11 on third down, while allowing five sacks and countless pressures. The offensive line depth was a major concern heading into the night, and after four quarters of below-average play and injuries to Van Dyk, Finney, and offensive tackle Kelvin Palmer (also taken off with a leg injury earlier in the game), Pittsburgh has been absolutely ravaged in the trenches.
The night’s few bright spots were a 42-yard contested catch by Sammie Coates that was reeled in despite tight coverage, and a 46-yard bomb to a wide open Jarrod West on the Steelers next drive. Both plays came courtesy of Jones’ arm in the fourth quarter, and accounted for almost half of the team’s yardage total for the game (191).
Final cuts (due by September 5th) could come tomorrow for the Steelers, as they’ll likely be looking to jump on potential waiver wire additions along the offensive line and possibly other positions as well. The depth on this team is a huge question mark right now at several positions outside of the offensive front, such as running back and safety. The Steelers face the New England Patriots in Foxboro in just one week, and while getting prepared and healthy needs to be a major priority, fortifying the roster depth will be vital as well.