It’s been quite a while since the Steelers have played in an actual football game, so even though this one won’t count for anything, many have been salivating at the prospect of getting a glimpse at their team in any game of any form.
The offseason has been a long period of preparation, and the preseason is the laboratory experiment that confirms or denies the findings of practice research, a process that ultimately helps cut down the roster and determines what to run, with whom to run it, and when.
When it comes to tonight’s game, however, all eyes will first and foremost be on the new faces, particularly the draft picks. Some of them (Cameron Sutton, James Conner, Keion Adams) will not be playing, but some others should see extensive playing time. Joshua Dobbs will start at quarterback, and T.J. Watt will start at outside linebacker. JuJu Smith-Schuster is also likely to start at wide receiver.
There are a number of roster battles in need of clarification, and the preseason has proven over the course of time to be the best way to begin separating from the pack. Look out in particular at the cornerback and wide receiver positions tonight, as well as at inside linebacker and running back. While all such groups in competition are hindered at the moment by injuries, we should at least get some good data points here.
Knile Davis and Marcus Tucker were back to return the opening kick. Tucker took the ball out to the 18. Fitzgerald Toussaint got bottled up on the first-round carry for the loss of a yard. On second down, Joshua Dobbs found JuJu Smith-Schuster off play-action for the first completion and reception, respectively, of their careers. It went for four yards. On third and seven, with four wide, Dobbs had Darrius Heyward-Bey open over the middle, but was late in seeing him and missed his target, incomplete. Jordan Berry’s punt was well-covered by Mike Hilton to be fair-caught.
Stephon Tuitt got sealed out off the left side on first down to allow a seven-yard run in that direction. Javon Hargrave gained penetration on second down to drop the back for a loss of four. On third and long, T.J. Watt recorded his first sack after Josh Johnson was flushed out of the pocket and in his direction.
Good old Brad Wing punted to Eli Rogers, who returned it a short way. On Dobbs’ second series, from the 19, he overthrew the pass on a screen pass for Toussaint, incomplete. Chris Hubbard and B.J. Finney are starting, by the way, for Alejandro Villanueva and Maurkice Pouncey. On second down, David Johnson threw a lead block for Smith-Schuster on an end-around for nine yards. The Giants gained penetration on third and one to stuff Toussaint in the backfield.
Hilton covered the second punt of the game, chasing it down to the opposite side of the field and making the tackle. This early showing on special teams is very encouraging for his chances of making the team.
Watt recorded his second sack in as many plays as the Giants’ offense left him unguarded, dropping Johnson for a loss of eight. Cameron Heyward knocked the ball down on the next play. On third and long, Tuitt missed a first tackle attempt near the line of scrimmage on a draw, but the Giants still gained just five to force another three-and-out.
On the first play of the drive, Dobbs was under pressure off the right side and threw an errant pass that was picked off down the field by Valentino Blake. Taking over from the Steelers’ 39, play-action to the fullback picked up eight or nine yards, Jordan Dangerfield on the tackle. On second and one, Johnson attempted a jump-ball pass under pressure, incomplete, but Ross Cockrell was flagged for defensive holding. Heyward got a good hit on the quarterback.
After the first first down by either side, Johnson found tight end Rhett Ellison with Arthur Moats making the tackle for eight yards. From inside the 20, Dangerfield came off the edge to initiate contact in the backfield for a loss of two. On third and four, Ellison got in front of Tyler Matakevich for the first down. Ellison again caught the pass over the middle for seven yards, taking a shot from Vince Williams. Gay tagged the receiver down just shy of the first, and then the front seven was able to bottle up the runner on third and short. On fourth down, Perkins got the first down up the middle, doubling up on linemen to take them down.
It looked like the Giants got a touchdown on the following play, but the officials ruled that the receiver stepped out of bounds before receiving the pass, failing to re-establish himself inbounds. After finding nobody open, the quarterback hung on to the ball long enough for Moats to chase him down from behind. Gay was in front of Dwayne Harris to break up the third-down pass. The Giants got on the board first with a field goal, turning Dobbs’ interception into points.
It was Tucker again taking the return, and Davis threw a solid lead block, out past the 20, but Dangerfield was flagged for a hold. From the 16, Toussaint took the ball up around the left side for a gain of four before taking a good hit. The fourth-year back found a rare hole up the middle and hit it quickly for a nice gain, tripped up at the 33. He added another four on the last play of the first quarter.
According to reports, Smith-Schuster suffered a possible concussions throwing his body into Blake and Jesse James attempting to make the tackle after Dobbs’ interception. Rather unfortunate to be sure. Another short gain set the Steelers up with a third and four. Dobbs was picked off the second time of the game looking to get the ball over the middle, the ball being returned inside the 20.
Johnson scrambled on first down for eight yards. From the nine, the fullback picked up four yards to set up first and goal from the five. Looking for a back-shoulder throw, Lewis could not reel in the ball, with Cockrell draped on his right arm. On second down, a bad snap forced Johnson to eat the ball for a loss of eight. From the 13, Moats and Watt got the pressure on Johnson to force him to throw the ball away. They flipped sides. The Giants got another field goal, six points off of two turnovers and short fields.
Davis returned the kick this time but was tripped up shortly beyond the 10. He got the carry on first down and hesitated off the left side to pick up four. Dobbs threw high to James, who caught the pass but could only advance one yard. Not seeing anything open on third down, he took off and made a tackler miss to scramble for a first down. Davis picked up four on the next play. A delayed draw didn’t work, but Keavon Milton was flagged for holding anyway. On second and 16 now, Dobbs fired vertically, and quickly, for Cobi Hamilton, making a nice play to go up for the ball for 44 yards.
Davis got tripped up looking for the right side for a loss of one. From the 30, a blitz up the middle got to Dobbs immediately for a loss of eight. On third and 19, Davis got the ball on a draw for about eight. Chris Boswell’s first appearance of the night resulted in a 48-yard field goal attempt that was good with more distance on it.
From the 19, Geno Smith completed his first pass of the night, beating Greg Ducre to the 34. It was the fullback again picking up 11 off the left side of the defense. A wide receiver end-around off the offense’s left side picked up another first down. From the Steelers’ 42, L.J. Fort came in on the run blitz and was able to get a hand on the back’s foot to make the stop after three yards. Smith found Evan Engram in the flat for the first down.
Inside the 30, a screen to the Giants’ rookie back picked up four yards up to the two-minute warning. The Steelers sent their inside linebackers on the blitz up the middle and forced Smith to turf the ball. On third down, after burning a second time out with the game clock running down, Mike Hilton came in unblocked, but finished the play for the sack, to force the Giants to attempt a 52-yard field goal, which they made. 9-3.
From the 25 after a touchback, Dobbs completed to Heyward-Bey. Dobbs tried to scramble away on second down but was tripped up by Kerry Wynn for the sack. On third down, Dobbs looked for Heyward-Bey down the left sideline, but the ball was long and out of bounds. Berry with the punt, Hilton split the vice jammers to get the initial coverage. When the returner fumbled the ball, he recovered it. Hilton is showing up everywhere.
Dobbs on the very next play looked for Hamilton on a go route, the two connecting for the touchdown, and the Steelers taking the lead, 10-9. Colin Holba’s snap looked to be a poor one, by the way.
From the 24, with 23 seconds left, Smith under pressure found a receiver down the field for a first down. Watt was off the defensive left side and was pushed up the arc. With 16 seconds remaining, Smith this time was forced to throw it away. Steven Johnson wrestled the ball away for an interception on the next play, but it was negated by a defensive hold on Brandon Dixon. The Giants took a knee with one second remaining to end the half.