The Pittsburgh Steelers launched their 2016 Super Bowl ambitions with a 17-30 preseason thud to the Detroit Lions.
Yes. It’s just the first preseason game. No. There’s no reason to panic. Not by any means.
But, dang, that was disappointing.
With QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Antonio Brown and RB Le’Veon Bell watching helplessly from the sidelines, the Steelers offense eked out only 179 yards in a yawn-filled performance.
The Steelers defense didn’t impress either, surrendering 379 yards against last year’s 20th-ranked Lions offense. The Lions had possession of the ball nearly ten minutes longer than the Steelers.
All together…this spells dominance, folks.
Then there was Sammie Coates, who is hoped to be the gangha-free version of Martivis Bryant, displaying a bad case of the hot potatoes.
And the offensive line, hyped by Roethlisberger as the best he’s ever played behind, performed in a way that must have made him relieved he wasn’t playing behind them.
The one-two draft punch of this year’s defensive secondary infusion was disconcerting as well. CB Artie Burns missed the game due to injury, most likely caused in part by the Post Traumatic Stress of getting beaten repeatedly by Brown in camp. S Sean Davis was on the field in theory, but spent much of his time chasing five yards behind receivers and whiffing at ball carriers passing by in his rookie debut.
Yet, no need to get too gloomy. Somewhere in the rubble there were a few bright spots and there were certainly lessons to be learned. So, let’s get the Spin rolling:
Pittsburgh Steelers Glee Club
Sigh. Preseason is the time of the year when any critical analysis of the team’s performance results in the same knee-jerked hackneyed responses:
It’s Just A Preseason Game. Who Cares?
Well. First of all, you do. Because you watched the game and are reading post-game analysis. Obviously, the Pittsburgh Steelers know we care or they wouldn’t be charging for seats.
More importantly, preseason games DO matter. The Steelers went 1-4 last preseason and got off to a sluggish start early in the year. As a result they needed a miracle to squeak into the AFC Wildcard Game. Last season’s other top teams? The Chiefs were 4-0 in preseason. The Vikings finished 4-1, the Bengals were 3-1, the Jets 3-1 and the Redskins went 3-1. The Super Bowl teams? Both the Panthers and the Broncos started off their year with a preseason record of 3-1.
What Do You Expect. We Didn’t Play All Our Starters.
Umm…yeah. These were the 7-9 Lions and they didn’t play their Ones for very long either. After all, it was their back-up quarterback Dan Orlovsky who generously donated half of the Steelers points with his “let me chuck the ball in the air because somebody just might tackle me” play.
Preseason matters because our Twos are playing against their Twos and our Threes are facing off against their Threes, with each player fighting for their careers. Preseason games are where the future and depth of a team is on full display.
If your Twos and Threes consistently get their lunch money stolen it can foreshadow dark clouds for years ahead.
So… for those members of the Pittsburgh Steelers Glee Club who consider any criticism of the team or players to be some form of fan apostasy…yes…the preseason does matter.
The Draft King
The large and legitimate question regarding third round draft pick DT Javon Hargrave was whether or not he could play in the NFL after dominating lesser competition in college. The answer is in. Even playing against the pros, Hargrave dances like a butterfly and stings like a bee. He’ll be a longtime Steelers favorite and will easily be the star of the 2016 Steelers draft.
Another Dancing Bear
You couldn’t say fourth round draft pick OT Jerald Hawkins had a perfect game by any stretch. However, his nimble feet in the pocket stood out. It looks like Hawkins will be a quality lump of clay for offensive line coach Mike Munchak to mold into another work of art.
The Book of Eli
Wide receiver Eli Rogers is here to stay and will add unexpected firepower into the Steelers already potent receiving corps. If you put an 84 on the back of his jersey and closed one eye…you might just…well…let’s not get carried away. After all…these preseason games don’t matter anyway.
The Most Important Catch of His Career?
The opportunity facing WR Darrius Heyward-Bey this year is one he hasn’t had for years. Following the suspension of Bryant, Heyward-Bey can be THE deep threat and a potential star for the Steelers. After an early drop against the Lions, he was close to reclaiming his former persona. That is…well…just a fast decoy who can block. His athletic 29-yard touchdown reception may give him the early confidence he needs to surge toward a season of his dreams. His willingness to carry the lunch pail for his team the past few years has earned him many fans who are fervently hoping those dreams come true.
Longtime members of the Big Daniel McCullers fan club got served a jumbo-sized portion of the jumbo-sized defensive tackle. McCullers got so many snaps against the Lions there were a few too many plays where all he could do was work on his standing technique. If the big fella wants to get heavy playing time this season he’ll need to discard his copy of the Casey Hampton “Fitness My Way” video. If he can get in shape, he may be able to give the defensive line a level of push and line plugging it hasn’t enjoyed since Big Snack retired.
The Definition of Insanity Is…
Here is what I wrote one year ago:
With Ben Roethlisberger healthy the team could reasonably target a 12-4 record. Without him, they are a 7-9 team. Time for a wake-up call Steelers. There are three preseason games left. There is plenty of opportunity to bring in some new quarterbacks to camp (raw and talented and/or experienced veterans) to address this situation immediately.
CTR+ C. CTRL+V. Cut and paste for 2016.
Landry Jones is such a nice guy you want him to succeed. Following his tremendous college career the Steelers hoped they got a late round steal in the likes of Tom Brady. But the only trait Landry shares with Brady is that when he enters the field the air goes of the football. Some fans seem to think 2015 was the year Jones proved his naysayers wrong. In truth, after four seasons of the best training on the planet, he is a 27-year-old quarterback who is pretty much what he is going to be. Last year he completed less than 59% of his passes with 3 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. It’s a reach at this point to expect a whole lot more.
And QB Bruce Gradkowski? When an older, injury-plagued player is grasping his hamstrings after being on the field for just a few plays, it’s probably time to shop for another insurance plan.
This one is squarely on General Manager Kevin Colbert. If the season collapses due to a Big Ben injury, Colbert will be guilty of roster malpractice.
Taken For Granted
CB Doran Grant flashed some promise in his rookie preseason last year. It’s a bit baffling why he didn’t get more game time experience to develop. Especially since he wasn’t playing behind All-Pro cornerbacks. If he plays as well as he did against the Lions, he might be one of this year’s camp surprises.
The Bos Is Back
K Chris Boswell set off to prove last year’s sensational career debut was no fluke as he coolly rocketed his first field goal and point after touchdown firmly through the uprights. Even on the ill-fated Lions kickoff return, Boswell did his part by executing a perfect high lofting kick to the three yard line. Just a year ago, after Shaun Suisham got injured, the Steelers ensuing kicker circus was an affront to the sport and cost them games until Boswell arrived. The significance of his importance to the team should not be understated.
Under The Bright Lights
This is the second year in a row LB Anthony Chickillo has teased coaches and fans by going Hollywood in camp practices. But, he’s going to have to demonstrate he can also give Oscar-worthy performances under the big lights of game day if he’s going to be a difference maker this season.
In the first six years of his NFL pro career DE Ricardo Mathews has amassed a whopping total of four sacks. So you could excuse Steelers fans for holding their applause when he was announced as a free agent acquisition this year. Yet, Matthews had the best day of any Steelers defensive lineman against the Lions which may hint the team has discovered a free agent gem.
This Year’s DeAngelo Williams?
Another notable free agent is Daryl Richardson. He exploded through holes against the Lions and looked a threat to cause serious damage every time he found space. He had 44 yards on the ground in just 11 attempts, 2 receptions for 16 yards and a 25-yard kick return. It all adds up to a great first day at the office.
The Steelers host their last home game of the preseason this Thursday against the Philadelphia Eagles. The highlight will be the first look at the Steelers offense this year with all of the stars in alignment. This will be a second chance for the team to clearly state its case of being one of the best in the league. The Spin here says Big Ben will make sure the NFL takes notice.