The final preseason game is here, and that means two things. One, we’re going to be watching a bunch of people who won’t be on the team very shortly, and yet it will still be fun for those who appreciate the fringe candidates. And two, the next time we see Steelers football, it will be in a game that really means something.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off an impressive showing against the Saints last week in which they won their first preseason game in three tries. The first-team offense looked excellent, and the first-team defense certainly handled itself well, overall.
But that’s not what tonight is about, and almost all of the starters are going to be sitting, short of perhaps a few less experienced players like Alejandro Villaneva, Ross Cockrell, and Robert Golden, who, given the lack of depth and the injuries at safety, would probably have to play anyway. Now that I think of it, I wonder if Doran Grant might get a long look there tonight…
Guys you should be keeping an eye on tonight: CB Artie Burns, the rookie first-rounder, making his debut; TE Xavier Grimble; ILBs L.J. Fort, Steven Johnson, and Tyler Matakevich, vying for two roster spots; defensive backs Montell Garner, Al-Hajj Shabazz, and Jordan Dangerfield, looking to take advantage of the team’s lack of depth to make the roster. A couple of second-year players could use a big night tonight to prove that they can actually contribute on defense: L.T. Walton and Anthony Chickillo. And more of Javon Hargrave is always a good thing. Of course, don’t forget about Sean Davis working in the slot, or Sammie Coates, or Eli Rogers, or…well, you get the idea. There’s a lot to pay attention to.
Among Panthers players not in unis: Cam, Ginn,Olsen, Stewart, PBrown, Kalil, Oher, Kuechly, Davis, Coleman, Short, Star, CJohnson, Bradberry
— Joe Person (@josephperson) September 1, 2016
Wheaton, Shamarko, Nix, Dupree, Wallace, Heyward and Gilbert apparently didnt make the trip to Charlotte. Or at least not on field
— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) September 1, 2016
DeAngelo Williams came out to represent the Steelers for the opening coin toss. He called tails, and it was heads. The Panthers take the ball to start. Steven Johnson was in on the tackle after a 22-yard return. From the 24, Dangerfield, getting the start, made the opening tackle on a run for a short gain, coming off the edge. Cameron Artis-Payne, however, found a crease up the middle for a 15-yard run. Another hole opened for five yards. Artis-Payne gained about three for a third-and-two. Dangerfield had a chance for a tackle in the backfield, but the back got through and got the first down.
Out of the nickel, the defense was able to swarm to stop Brandon Wegher for a short loss. O second and 11, Wegher was able to pinball off initial contact up the middle for about four yards. Arthur Moats was nearly home on the pass rush as Joe Webb threw out of bounds to force a punt. Andy Lee‘s punt bounced inside the 10 and was downed at the seven.
Fitzgerald Toussaint got the first touch of the game, but only got back to the line of scrimmage and not much more. A bit of a hole opened around left tackle as the back set up a third-and-two. Landry Jones was sacked back at the seven on third down, unable to find Toussaint, who was open, in the opposite direction. Jones had done a good job avoiding sacks. Jordan Berry‘s punt rolled out to the Panthers’ 43 with no return for a 50-yard net.
Webb stepped back and hit his receiver on a slant for a first down in front of Grant. Artis-Payne took a screen, slipping inside Vince Williams, for another first, to the 21 already. Webb went to the end zone on the next play, but Montell Garner and Davis were in good coverage. After a three-yard run, Moats got home this time for the sack. He got there first, and then he got there last, to finish off the play. A 47-yard field goal attempt from Graham Gano was good, nearly right down the middle, as the Panthers took the first lead of the night.
— Steelers Depot (@Steelersdepot) September 2, 2016
The ensuing kickoff went off the goal post, but it is interesting to note that Cobi Hamilton was back to receive it. I believe that may have been his first time lined up back there in a game. From the 25, Toussaint was able to find a crease to the right for close to five yards. Jones sent a long ball in Darrius Heyward-Bey‘s direction, but the coverage was good. The receiver was nearly able to go up and get it, but the coverage was right where it needed to be as he looked to make the catch himself. On third down, Jones was flushed out of the pocket, and just as he looked like he was going to cross the line of scrimmage, he threw across his body to find Rogers for the first down.
The Steelers ran a receiver end-around with Coates, but for the first time this preseason, seemingly, it didn’t work, and he had to work just for the line of scrimmage. Toussaint on the draw was stopped for about two yards. Now on third and long, Rogers got the pass again, but this on a quick slant, and with little chance of making the first. A failed completion. Berry’s second punt was a high one that bounced out of bounds inside the 20.
Daniel McCullers was in the game–meaning he was playing behind Hargrave–but Artis-Payne found daylight on the left side for a first-down run. From the 32, Dangerfield made the tackle near the line of scrimmage. Grant was slow to come on to the throw, with Webb hitting his receiver at the sticks for a first down.
From the 42, Wegher cut back near the line of scrimmage to an open right side, with Grant making the tackle after about seven yards. Fort was able to get to Fozzy Whittaker for little gain on the last play of the first quarter. Fort was part of a group of tacklers that made the tackle on Artis-Payne just beyond the first-down marker.
Anthony Chickillo drove the tight end in the backfield and nearly had a sack, but Webb escaped and got the ball off, only to see the receiver drop the ball. On second down, he zipped the ball back to his tight end incomplete, but Caushaud Lyons was flagged for roughing the passer.
Grant was unable to seal the edge before Wegher won the boundary on a run bounced out to the right for a first-down run. Williams, however, met the back in the hole for no gain. On second down, Williams made the tackle on Artis-Payne after about five yards when the initial defenders were unable to close on the back quickly enough at the line of scrimmage. On third and four, Moats got there once again for his second sack of the game, and his third significant pressure. The Panthers settled for another field goal to take a 6-0 lead.
— Steelers Depot (@Steelersdepot) September 2, 2016
Hamilton returned the kick and barely got to the 15 from out of the end zone, and ill-advised return, though the blocking was of no help. Daryl Richardson missed the lead block. After a false start, Jones tossed a screen for Richarson that was able to pick up about 10 yards. His second-down pass found Rogers a yard shy of the first. In the no-huddle, the handoff went to Richardson, but he was cut down behind the line of scrimmage as he tried to bounce to the right. Berry’s punt reached the 32, but was returned nearly to midfield.
From the 46, Grant failed to wrap up on a bubble screen to allow a few extra yards. On second and four, the pass to Brenton Bersin was enough for the first down. After a pass under duress for no gain, Webb found his receiver for 12 to the 29. Hargrave was pushed off the ball for a four-yard gain on the ground on the next play. Fort prevented Artis-Payne from bouncing out the next carry. On third and six, though, Webb handed to Whittaker on a draw for first-down yardage off the left side.
From the 13, Chickillo did a nice job of catching Webb trying to flush out on a scramble, sacking him for a short loss. Burns made his first tackle of the game I think on a short underneath pass. He came back and broke up a pass heading for the receiver in the left corner of the end zone. He got both outstretched hands on it. Gano knocked in another field goal for a 9-0 lead. Travis Feeney was taken to the locker room to be evaluated for a concussion.
With Hamilton back again, this went for a touchback. Bryn Renner checked in and threw wide on his first play. He threw the ball away under pressure on second down. Richardson gained about 15 on a draw run on third down, however. Richardson was tackled in the backfield on a blitz on the next play. After the loss of four, Renner threw underneath to Richardson for a short gain. On third and long, Renner just barely escaped pressure and didn’t even really look downfield before throwing the ball away. Berry had his best punt of the day, a 54-yarder well inside the 10, but the return came out to the 18.
From there, Webb’s receiver couldn’t hold on to the first-down pass. His second pass was off the hands of another receiver, though the pass was high. On third down, Garner’s receiver caught the ball in front of him for about 11 yards. Webb’s pass from the 29 was low and erratic, incomplete. After a gain of seven by Wegher, Webb found Bersin deep down the right sideline on a touch throw between zones.
With Fort in coverage on the tight end, the receiver stretched out away from the linebacker to make the reception on a wide pass. Marcus Lucas came up with the catch at the 13. Moats nearly got home for another sack, but Webb flushed out and threw the ball away. Webb fired a pass off knowing he would take a hit, at the goal line, incomplete. Burns bumped the receiver a bit prior to the ball arriving, but no flag was thrown. Keyarris Garrett made a fabulous one-handed effort to snare a high pass into the end zone over Grant, but he was flagged for offensive pass interference in the process. The Panthers commentators clearly did not agree. Webb’s final pass looked for Garrett in the opposite corner of the end zone, too deep and Burns deflected it out of the end zone. Gano’s field goal made it 12-0 heading into halftime.