The much-anticipated fourth preseason game (especially from the perspective of players on the roster-bubble) finally got under way following a short rain delay. After fans were able to kick back and enjoy last week’s beat down, the Pittsburgh Steelers turned their attention to the Carolina Panthers. There were many question marks heading into the finale, and a lot of eyes on players such as rookie CB Artie Burns.
This week’s opening drive was unlike last week’s track meet, as the lightning no-huddle was a no-show; Haley slowed things down just a bit for the evening’s signal caller, Landry Jones & co. Following a quick Steelers 3-and-out, the Panthers charged down the field before being halted by an Arthur Moats/Anthony Chickillo sack. Panthers kicker Graham Gano was still able to put the ball through the uprights for 3 points.
Rookie WR Eli Rogers continued to build on his slot role, converting another 3rd down conversion on what looked like Landry Jones’ best Ben Roethlisberger impression. Unfortunately, this time it wasn’t towards a score as the drive would eventually stall; P Jordan Berry was on full display, as he was able to get in a quite a few reps. The end of the first quarter saw the Panthers lead 3-0.
You may remember CB Doran Grant being noted as a lightning rod for big plays last week, as the same applied tonight. Alas, there were many more negative plays than positive, although positives did exist- he had a difficult time staying with his receiver, and was on the receiving end of a few stiff arms, missing tackles as ball carriers came his way. He was also bailed out by a soft call at the end of the quarter that would have put him on the wrong end of a highlight-reel touchdown catch. He really had a tough night.
It seemed as though the Steelers defense was unable to get off of their blocks, as the Carolina offense slowly moved down the field in 10+ plays. Linebacker Arthur Moats finally put an end to the Panthers’ offensive success, with an individual sack on 3rd down, halting the drive and forcing yet another field goal; this time a 42-yard variation. It must be said that this stop was thanks in part to great coverage downfield. The drive lasted 12 plays, and ate just over 6:00 minutes. Score stood at 6-0.
After yet another Jordan Berry punt (if you appreciate punting, you LOVED this game), the Steelers defense trotted back out for what would be yet another bend-but-don’t-break outing. Second year LB Anthony Chickillo finally got to Joe Webb, after narrowly missing him earlier in the quarter. He asserted his dominance against whomever he faced throughout the entire night; he should have had to pay rent for how often he was in the Carolina backfield.
Steelers fans also got a look at first-rounder Artie Burns, as he broke on an out route on a 3rd and goal, nearly snagging himself his first career interception. He seemed to warm up as the game progressed, breaking up another potential touchdown at the end of the quarter. Stop me if you’ve heard this before- the drive ended with 28-yard Graham Gano FG as the score grew to 9-0 in favor of Carolina.
The fifth offensive possession for the Panthers saw them string together another 12 play, 69-yard drive with just over a minute left on the clock. A fourth Gano FG ended an uneventful half at 12-0. The Steelers went 2-6 on third down, amounting a measly 47 total yards to go against the Panthers’ 216, and held onto the ball for only 9 minutes total minutes.
The second half picked up exactly where it left off: a Pittsburgh 3-and-out followed by a Jordan Berry punt. Safety Jordan Dangerfield was a bright spot on the defense, as he had himself quite the game; he threw his body around all over the field, swallowing up ball carriers and blockers alike. He continued this trend into the third quarter, stopping the Panthers from moving any further down the field.
The only issue would be the punt that followed, as the ball would knick the back of LB Steven Johnson’s calf after WR Demarcus Ayers failed to yell “Peter”: a code return men yell that notify surrounding players to vacate the area in fear of potential live bouncing footballs. The Steelers’ redzone defense was tout, as they forced a fifth Gano FG from 22 yards out, extending the lead to 15-0.
After another stalled Panthers drive, a missed 22 yard Gano FG seemed to have sparked the Steelers’ offense; RB Daryl Richardson took control of the drive into the beginning of the 4th quarter, as a 26 yard scamper took the ball into the Carolina redzone.
Fittingly, it would be Richardson who would be the player to punch the ball into the endzone after the ball was placed on the 1 yard line because of a pass interference call on WR Cobi Hamilton. Pittsburgh would unsuccessfully go for two, making it 15-6.
On the proceeding Panthers drive, WR Brenton Bersin caught a 37-yard pass from Joe Webb, which would eventually lead to yet another Gano FG, this time from 45 yards out, making the score 18-6.
Trying to build on their previous offensive drive was short lived, as RB Cameron Stingily would cough up the ball on a Jared Norris tackle. The Panthers would take over from their own 45-yard line, but the Steelers would force a rare appearance from P Andy Lee, and end the game with trading punts.
The Steelers would end their pre season with a record of 1-3, losing the finale with a score of 18-6 to the Carolina Panthers. That being said, it seems as though the Steelers got what they were looking for, as the final roster cuts to 53 men will be coming shortly; their 2016 regular season kicks off September 12th on Monday Night Football.