The Pittsburgh Steelers wrap up their preseason schedule tonight against the Carolina Panthers. They have lost three of their previous four, but more significantly, they have lost a pair of kickers for the year, as well as their starting center for most of the season.
The majority of the significant contributors to this upcoming season will either be heavily limited or sidelined tonight, however, so, ideally, the health of the team’s key players will not be in much jeopardy.
Among those from whom we should expect to see extended looks is Michael Vick, who was yet another recent acquisition, stepping in to fill the void left by Bruce Gradkowski‘s season-ending injury. He played just two series last week after just a few days of practice. He should have a better grasp of the offense now.
Also limited last week was the newly signed Doug Legurksy, who figures to be the primary reserve interior lineman behind Cody Wallace until Maurkice Pouncey can return. Both have been out of football and can use the work.
There are still a few spots on the roster up for grabs tonight, and that will of course be the headline. It could also help determine whether or not the Steelers pick somebody up off the waiver wire.
The Panthers called heads on the coin toss and won, but deferred, so the Steelers will start the game off with the ball.
Shockingly, the opening kickoff went through the back of the end zone for a touchback. Vick took the field. No starters. Offensive line, left to right: Palmer-Legursky-Hubbard-Finney-Villanueva. Josh Harris got the first carry for four yards. Vick found Martavis Bryant, who picked up some yards after the catch for a first down. Darrius Heyward-Bey evidently not playing.
After a short pass, Vick faked the handoff for a keeper, but the Panthers were not fooled and tackle him for a five-yard loss. This time Vick tucked it and ran, gaining close to eight yards to set up a fourth and short. Jordan Berry smacked one down to the 11-yard line, with L.J. Fort ultimately making the tackle. A hold made it half the distance to the goal, however.
On defense, the only starters to take the field were Shamarko Thomas and Arthur Moats. With Bud Dupree nicked, that shouldn’t be a surprise. The Panthers picked up about four yards on first down off the defensive left side. It looked like Antwon Blake and Thomas were in the same gap to give up an 18-yard run on the following play. B.W. Webb tried to play the pocket from behind on a nine-yard curl on the next rep. The fullback, Mike Tolbert, converted for first-down yardage.
L.T. Walton was blown out of his gap on first down, with Anthony Chickillo not able to get to the back in time for another hole. On second and two at midfield, Chickillo made the stop after three yards. The defense was finally able to make a run stop on first down, however. On second and eight, in the nickel, Vince Williams made the running back pay for trying to bounce a run outside. Chickillo shed and nearly made the tackle himself. On third and four, Derek Anderson‘s pass fell incomplete. The ensuing punt went for a touchback.
Villanueva was flagged for a false start, his third of the preseason if I recall correctly, before the first play. Harris was stopped well short of the original line of scrimmage on first and 15. Legursky got outside to throw a block after Vick dumped a pass off to Harris to set up third and six. Vick tried to scramble up the middle, but Van Dyk was skated back into Vick, knocking him down for a ‘sack’. Fort for some reason spiked the Berry punt after 47 yards. Kind of amusing really, but those yards don’t count.
Taking over at the 35, the defensive line got washed down for a seven-yard run. Williams came in through the hole on second and three to make the tackle, but after a three-yard gain. On first and 10, there was yet another hole up the middle, with Walton getting easily displaced. Sean Spence nearly made a tackle for loss, but the defense gave up another first down.
Following a 10-yard gash up the left side, Ethan Hemer was able to finally make a play and blow up the left guard to make a four-yard loss tackle to end the first quarter. Spence had yet another opportunity to make a play, but failed, leading to a first down on a dump off screen. Not sure what to make of Spence’s recent showings.
A couple of receptions set up first and 10 at the 13. Williams made the tackle on a third consecutive pass at the six. Now second and three, Cam Thomas ultimate was able to chase the back down after a short gain. Mike Thornton had the initial penetration. On third down, Anderson’s pass to Devin Funchess was wide and only got a hand on it. Blake was in coverage. A field goal got the Panthers on the board for a 3-0 lead.
Following yet another touchback, Harris got yet another carry with little room to run, quite the opposite for the Panthers on offense. Roosevelt Nix was unable to hold on to Vick’s pass on second down. Vick fired wide to Tyler Murphy near the sticks, but the receiver could not hold on before allowing the ball to touch the ground, resulting in a quick three and out. Berry’s punt was muffed and Ross Ventrone just secured his roster spot by making a nice special teams tackle.
Following another long run, Anderson found his target for a first down near midfield. Robert Golden played the pocket very well to deflect a pass about 15 yards down the field, playing behidn the receiver. On second down, Howard Jones, on the right, and Shayon Green, on the left, both crashed in for a run stop to set up third and 10. But Jones missed the tackle on the following play, and Thomas, among others, were not able to recover for a 49-yard touchdown run.
Bryant took a run outside for six yards. On second down, however, Dri Archer was tackled for a loss, with Murphy missing a block. Van Dyke was flagged for a false start to make it third and 12. Vick was sacked, with Van Dyke giving up the sack. Another good punt from Berry was saved by a nice chase-down tackle by Alden Darby.
Webb and Kevin Fogg came in at cornerback with Darby and Jordan Dangerfield at safety. Funchess was able to hold on to a pass at the stick through a hit from Darby. Darby and Jones combined for the tackle on the ground on the following play. On second and four, the Panthers back churned his feet for three yards, pushing Williams back. On third and short, Jones was able to trip up the back close to the line of scrimmage, short of the first down. But Joe Webb was able to convert on a keeper. An illegal shift negated the gain, however, resulting in a punt.
Archer called for a fair catch at the 10-yard line. Landry Jones entered the game for the last three minutes of the half. Archer found just a small crease at the sideline for five yards. Following a one-yard carry from Harris, Jones scrambled for a short gain. The Panthers used a timeout to stop the clock.
The Panthers muffed yet another punt, resulting in a 57-yard punt with a -5 yard return. Cam Thomas made the run stop on first down for a three-yard loss. Dangerfield escorted the receiver out of bounds a couple yards shy of the first down. On third and three, Webb allowed the conversion. Another completion for nine yards followed, with a short out for a first down. Joe Webb overthrew his pass, but Fogg dropped the interception.
A completion made it third and six, but Webb avoided the rush and found his tight end in space for a sizable gain down to the 30. A quick pass to the sideline gave way to a 23-yard touchdown over Doran Grant to end the half, with the Steelers trailing 13-0. The rookie was shown getting coached up by Will Allen on the sideline.