The last significant preseason game is in the books with the Pittsburgh Steelers handling the New Orleans Saints handily by a score of 27-14.
What was learned is the Steelers offense is Super Bowl worthy, its back-up quarterback is back in good graces with the fan base and the defense continues to develop nicely.
With the summer winding down, the chilly airs of final cuts upon us and the thrill of opening day rapidly approaching, here is your weekly Spin:
Che Bella La Testarossa!
Coach Mike Tomlin finally allowed the team’s offensive Ferrari to be pulled out of the preseason garage and oh what a glorious ride!
Despite the fact the Saints defense isn’t exactly the NFL’s bellwether of excellence, the Steelers starting offense made it look like a Harlem Globetrotters show.
QB Ben Roethlisberger appeared unstoppable and as motivated for brilliance as ever. His throws were not only impressive, but his pocket movement was youthful and efficient.
RB Le’Veon Bell simply looks quicker and stronger than all of the other kids on the playground and WR Antonio Brown kept stealing candy from the babies who dared to cover him. The offensive line was dominant and reminded the league they should be in the conversation as one of the league’s elite.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
After two magnificent possessions, Big Ben tossed the keys to the Ferrari to beleaguered backup QB Landry Jones and said, “Here son, this is how it’s supposed to ride.”
Then Jones went about answering what will be the most pressing question of the 2016 season, “Will Ferris ride his friend’s Ferrari into the swimming pool?”
Beyond a doubt, the four-year player had one of his best ever preseason performances. As has been the case this entire summer, his poise is improved, his arm looks lively and his decision-making is crisp. His completion percentage was phenomenal and his bravery in taking a hit while lofting a 58-yard pass to WR Sammie Coates was one of his finest career moments.
But, a reality check is in order when he is judged by points scored. His first two possessions faltered. His second half play against a secondary where most of the players have already purchased their copy of “How To Survive A 9-5” amounted to a total of one field goal. In three quarters he lead the team to 10 points. This amounts to 14 points if he played the whole game, and everyone knows that with the Steelers young defense, this won’t win too many games this year.
Still, Jones’ bounce back was impressive and he continues to show he is relentless in trying to prove he belongs at this level. Can he be a quality NFL number two quarterback? Apparently, it’s a done deal that we’re going to find out this year.
Not What I Hoped For
You have to feel bad for newly signed quarterback Bryn Renner. You can imagine the celebrations of his family and friends when it was announced last week he was signed by the Steelers. “Hey dude, isn’t that the place where the backup quarterback threw four interceptions in a half? You got this, bro!”
One can only imagine Renner’s rising emotions at halftime when he anticipated getting his chance to show his stuff. While Coach Tomlin was giving his halftime hurrah speech you can only imagine Renner in the back doing stretches and jumping jacks and giving the head coach one of those, “Have you noticed how limber and ready I am” glances.
Poor fellow. The fix was in. The Steelers were clearly bent on restoring Jones’ confidence. Renner wouldn’t get in until deep in the fourth quarter and virtually the only two plays he got from Haley were handoff left and handoff right. Despite Tomlin declaring Renner a quick study, the Steelers had no interest in fanning the flames of a backup quarterback controversy.
Do The Right Thing
Antonio Brown will finish the 2016 season being talked about as one of the greatest receivers in Steelers history. As a sixth round draft selection he already is rated as one of the team’s top value picks ever. Between his work ethic, his passion for the game, his stunning charisma and his Hollywood talents, it’s time to write up the new long-term contract he’s earned as the league’s top receiver.
On the subject of contracts, G David DeCastro needs to get his deal wrapped up in the next week as well. With C Maurkice Pouncey, T Marcus Gilbert, G Ramon Foster and T Alejandro Villanueva under contract this unit has the ability to not only be the league’s best, but the most stable for years to come. This is especially critical as the Steelers need to cash in on the remaining glory years of Big Ben.
Another player whose future is being watched closely is LB Lawrence Timmons. Timmons is a player who still has several quality years left to share with Steelers Nation. However; Timmons, who has already been paid heavily for his services through the years, would be wise to negotiate a “hometown discount” so he can finish his career in Pittsburgh. His agent may be able to squeeze a few more dollars out of another city, but Timmons should focus on legacy as the Steelers defense is on the rise and the team will be in Super Bowl contention for rest of his career.
New Coate of Paint
WR Sammie Coates has certainly had an uneven preseason thus far. That being said, he remains the shiniest new object in a crowded galaxy of offensive stars. He’ll claim the starting role opposite Brown before the year is over.
In P Jordan Berry and K Chris Boswell, the Steelers have a young, talented duo who could collectively be among the league’s best for years to come. What a difference a year makes. If Steelers Special Team Coach Danny Smith can get his coverage teams in line this could be a major strength for the team.
One of the more intriguing preseason battles is for third string running back. In terms of receiving handoffs, RB Daryl Richardson and RB Fitzgerald Toussaint have been interchangeable parts, with little distinction between the two of them. The tiebreaker clearly goes to Richardson as he’s been…by far…the most dynamic kick returner on the team.
Mr. Rogers Neighborhood
WR Eli Rogers may end up being the sleeper star of the Steelers offense this year. His ability to get open, and then respond explosively with the ball once received is going to add another dimension to Offensive Coordinator’s Todd Haley’s playbook. His talents, and the TE Ladarius Green’s murky status should dictate the Steelers employ more three and four receiver sets this season.
Everybody Gets A Trophy
Linebacker Jarvis Jones looked like a guy in the last year of his contract. He looked formidable against quality—albeit injured—left tackle Terron Armstead. However; the real show began when James Harrison came in and obliterated former Steelers and now Saints left tackle Tony Hills. Which begs the question: Are we going to pretend that Harrison isn’t one of the best defensive players on this team again this year? The first drive of any game is a critical statement for the defense which is exactly why you want Harrison’s steely gaze in that opening huddle. Yes, he’s 38, and sure, have him rotate out to stay fresh…but why don’t they start the man?
On The Horizon
Although it lacks star power the Steelers secondary is clearly deep on rising talent. Once Artie Burns and…eventually…Senquez Golson get fully into the mix this will be a deep unit that could develop into a team strength. How the Steelers respond to the waiver wire in the next couple of weeks will be the strongest statement regarding their true assessment of their youth.
Ice, Ice, Baby
The stars of the Steelers offense showed they are fully locked and loaded for the upcoming season. This Thursday’s game against Carolina Panthers is about as meaningless as it gets for the starters and the only thing they could gain is ill-timed injuries. Time to put the starters on ice. As for the Steelers defense, the squad is still young, and very much a work in progress—especially in the secondary and defensive line. Keeping most of the starters and key backups in for the first half is a necessary gamble.
Last Chance Flash Dance
This doesn’t mean the Panthers game is meaningless by any stretch. For many of the Twos, and all of the Threes and Fours this is the last chance for them to flash under the big lights. Good luck gentleman. Show us what you got.