The Pittsburgh Steelers quite frankly did not look very good in the first half, particularly on offense, where they were hardly able to muster up more than a handful of first downs. The defense was unable to stop the run, and the result is a 12-0 halftime deficit, with the Panthers notching four field goals. A couple of drive-ending sacks by Arthur Moats had a lot to do with that, as did a questionable offensive pass interference call. Anthony Chickillo also recorded a sack.
Unfortunately, the latter suffered a foot injury in the first half and is questionable to return. Ricardo Mathews briefly left the game with a stinger but returned. Travis Feeney was taken off the field to be tested for a concussion. The Steelers ran just 18 offensive plays in the first half, versus 45 for the Panthers.
Cobi Hamilton still back returning kicks, this one brought out past the 25. Bryn Renner handed off to Fitzgerald Toussaint, who was tackled quickly for little gain. On second down, the line collapsed and Toussaint was brought down for a sizable loss. On third and long, Renner dropped back, but handed off on a draw, which only gained a couple yards, though a possible horse-collar tackle was missed.
Jordan Berry‘s punt traveled 45 yards, with a seven-yard return. Tyler Matakevich almost tripped the runner up, but did not bring him down.
In the meantime, Feeney’s concussion diagnosis was confirmed and Chickillo was ruled out with a foot injury.
Cameron Artis-Payne picked up three yards on first down, but there was a hold. Matakevich and Steven Johnson checked in at ILB, as expected. It was Rasco making the tackle after Johnson engaged a lead block to the right and flushed the run back inside on the following play. On second down, Jordan Dangerfield made the tackle on the run after a few yards. On third and long, Brandon Wegher got free off the right side, but not enough for the first. Demarcus Ayers was back to return the ensuing punt, which hit off Johnson’s back leg and recovered by the Panthers near the 20.
From the Steelers’ 22, Artis-Payne plowed up the middle for about five, with Dangerfield and Matakevich on the tackle. He picked up the first down on the next carry. The middle of the defense continued to prove penetrable for Artis-Payne on the following play. On second down and seven, He slipped in for five to set up third and two. Dangerfield pressured Webb as he flushed and threw out of bounds on the third-down play. The Panthers added yet another field goal to make it 15-0.
The kickoff that followed went for a touchback, so Renner and the offense started the drive from the 25. Richardson was stopped for no gain on first down. An offensive late hit pushed the Steelers back to the 12, but then a false start kept them moving back. On first and 27, Richardson gained three. Renner threw to Xavier Grimble, but Jeremy Cash‘s hit on the tight end jarred the ball loose to force an incompletion. On third and really long, Renner deep ball was out of bounds to Marcus Tucker. Berry’s punt reached only the Panthers’ 40, with a 21-yard return. The coverage unit has been porous.
Starting from the Steelers’ 37, Webb booted out to the left to connect with his tight end for a first down, but he was shaken up on the play, hit by Sean Davis. From the 26, Daniel McCullers was in on the run stop for a loss. Wegher was stopped after a gain of one to set up the third-and-long. Al-Hajj Shabazz cut down a running back screen to force another field goal attempt. Gano was no good for the first time in six tries, and the Steelers took over from that spot.
Richardson was able to slip a tackle near the line for a nice gain of about seven on first down. He was able to beat a defender to the edge on second down, but only for a yard. On third down, Renner hung in in the pocket and was able to find Ayers coming open over the middle for the first down, covered by a linebacker.
Across midfield, Richardson finally found some breathing room and caught the hole to the left for a big gain, to the 23, for 26 yards. Ayers was given the ball on the end-around, but had to take it back inside and picked up a few yards in doing so. The Panthers have defended that play well tonight after the Steelers put it on tape a lot during the preseason. Richardson was stopped for no gain on the following play. On third and long, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Renner looked to Hamilton in the end zone, who was able to draw a pass interference call to set up first and goal at the one. Richardson pounded through for the touchdown, I believe the Steelers’ only rushing touchdown this postseason–and also the first touchdown of the game. They went for a two-point conversion, five wide, but Renner was buried for a sack in the backfield. Pittsburgh now trails 15-6.
Davis did a nice job of tripping up the returner on the ensuing kickoff inside the 20, and Johnson finished off the tackle. From the 18, Webb was able to get the ball over Matakevich to Bersin for a 37-yard play. Donald Washington struggled to bring the receiver down as he looked to jar the ball loose. From the Steelers’ 45, the Panthers gained about two on the ground. On second down, however, the back cut inside the left tackle for first-down yardage.
At the 30, a high snap yielded a handoff, and Richardson did an excellent job of making the tackle through crafty means while he was being held. The penalty was called and accepted. Now on first and 20 from the 20, Webb fired errant for an incompletion. Johnson was there to tackle Bersin after a short reception. Another short pass to the back, brought down by Shabazz, put the Panthers in better field goal range. It was good, and the Panthers extended their lead to 18-6.
A quick pass to Hamilton yielded a first down for 12 yards. Brandon Brown-Dukes was bottled up for no gain on the next play, however. A bubble screen to Tucker yielded eight. Another completion to Hamilton over the middle gained first-down yardage. From midfield, Ayers could gain no yards on a bubble screen, but a defensive offsides wiped out the play. Cameron Stingily got his first touch since the first preseason game and lost the ball, recovered by the Panthers for the second turnover.
Taking over at the 45, Johnson made the tackle after a four-yard gain. Washington was also in on the tackle, and looked to be shaken after, but stayed on the field. Another short gain set up a third down. But the defensive line leaked on third down and allowed a long run for a first down and more.
McCullers got free to make the tackle in the backfield on first down. The Steelers recorded another stop, and declined a holding penalty on the play. The drive stalled and the Panthers punted, pinning the Steelers deep.
Brown-Dukes got the carry on first down for two yards. He got another pair on second down. Renner threw deep to Renner, but the defender had enough time to recover to break up the pass, resulting in a three-and-out. Berry’s punt was fair caught on only the Panthers’ 47.
After a run stop on first down, and after the two-minute warning, Caushaud Lyons nearly had a tackle for loss in the backfield, but the back escaped for a short gain. On third and seven, the defense yielded for an eight-yard run to for first down, leaving only one play left necessary to end the game, a knee. And that’s all for the preseason folks. The next game counts.