The Steelers play their final game before they actually start to matter just a bit tonight in Carolina. They went 2-1 in their two previous games, coming up just short on Saturday following a goal-line interception.
Of course, most of the team’s most valuable players (i.e. the starters) will not be participating tonight, nor will their two new talents, tight end Vance McDonald and cornerback Joe Haden. But the individuals they are likely to be displacing on the roster should be competing in hopes of retaining their spot. McDonald will be in uniform but I doubt he will play. Perhaps I’m wrong.
The Steelers are actually in an interesting position in that they have some talent on their roster not likely to make the team that could potentially be trade bait, and may result in them being showcased tonight. Such examples could include wide receivers Justin Hunter and Demarcus Ayers (the latter they no doubt would prefer to keep on the practice squad of course), offensive lineman Matt Feiler, and even cornerback Ross Cockrell.
There are still a few roster battles to be settled, including the back end positions at running back, defensive line, cornerback and wide receiver. It also must be determined how many linebackers they will carry, and where they will take the extra spots from.
Among those who are counting on having a big game would be rookie cornerback Brian Allen, who is looking to make the Steelers carry seven at his position. His best bet is to make a few plays on special teams. If I’m not mistaken, the majority of his work in that area has come on the return units, rather than coverage.
Update: McDonald is expected to play a handful of snaps.
The Steelers received the ball, with Landry Jones, Terrell Watson, Justin Hunter, and Darrius Heyward-Bey the starting offense. The reserve offensive line is also in the game. The first play was a quick pass to Hunter for about 11 yards. Eli Rogers the lone ‘starter’ in the game caught the second pass between the numbers for about six. On second down, five wide, a high pass went to Hunter, looked like it could have been catchable. On third and three, Heyward-Bey on a crossing route got swarmed after two yards to force a punt.
On the punt coverage, James Conner was flagged for hitting the returner out of bounds, setting up the Panthers at the 44. Lavon Hooks got the start over Johnny Maxey. The defensive line made the stop for no gain on first down. Tyson Alualu got a pass batted down on the second. On third and 10, T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree both got pressure, with I think Dupree there to knock the ball loose, similar to what happened with Roethlisberger last week, for a sack fumble. Upon further review, however, it was determined that Derek Anderson’s arm was coming forward, thus just an incomplete pass.
Now on the punt, Trey Williams back to return, he bluffed a fair catch toward the left sideline while knowing the ball would be bouncing toward, and into the end zone. Helps prevent the coverage team from downing it.
On first down, following Xavier Grimble and Keavon Milton, Watson picked up about six yards off the right end. In the no huddle now, Watson got the ball on a pitch-and-catch throw lined up outside for the first down.
From the 33 now, he had a hole up the middle for about five, landing a hit on the safety but still getting tackled. Back at it again, he dove forward for six yards. On third down, Jones got hit from behind just as he was throwing, resulting in a lame duck floating pass that was comfortably intercepted and returned to about the Steelers’ 30.
Nine yards up the middle on first down. Coty Sensabaugh was there to keep the runner just short on second down to set up third and inches. Anderson kept the ball and just barely got over the line on second effort.
Sean Davis slipped off a tackle on the following play but Vince Williams was there in cleanup for two yards. Facing little pressure, Anderson got off a low pass between two defenders for five. On third down, Fozzy Whittaker was left open for the check down pass, getting by Tyler Matakevich for the first down. Dupree was flagged for unnecessary roughness after the play. First and goal from the four, Whittaker carved through the middle of the defense, leaking out of the other side in the end zone, putting the Panthers up 7-0.
Joshua Dobbs already took over for Jones. Off the bootleg, he found David Johnson for a nifty little catch and run for first-down yardage. He got rocked right in the knee, but the defender took the worst of it. Johnson–a better receiver than he is given credit for–picked up 18, and is hopefully no worse for the wear after taking the shot to the knee. The defender remained down, and is probably going through the concussion protocol.
After a false start call on B.J. Finney, Watson followed up with a couple of nice runs for 15 combined. Another bootleg for Dobbs didn’t lead to anything, forcing him to tuck and run for about a yard or two. Watson getting a lot of burn picked up another four yards to set up third and four from the Panthers’ 40. Dobbs checked down to Hunter camping at the line for the first down, quickly tackled after the catch was made.
Still more work for Watson, he added another four and a half yards off the left side. He plowed full steam ahead for seven and another first down. Dobbs rolling to his left on second down, he threw out of bounds targeting Hunter. On third and eight, Watson picked up about six on an inside draw. Colin Holba’s snap was good for a field goal that made it 7-3.
Watson and JuJu Smith-Schuster were down on kick coverage at the 19. Cameron Artis-Payne dropped a checkdown over the middle from Joe Webb. Alualu did a nice job of holding on as he slipped through a gap on second down, limiting him to two yards. On third and eight, in the dime with Hilton and Sutton, James Harrison got the sack after Webb was essentially chased into him as he pushed the pocket. Now fourth and 19, Trey Williams just sealed his fate of not making the team by muffing the punt, though the Steelers recovered it.
From the 42, Dobbs hit Hunter in stride for the 58-yard touchdown, a good throw from the rookie quarterback, and Hunter, naturally, able to do things against third-string cornerbacks. Worth noting that he beat Cole Lucas, a rookie undrafted free agent. Kameron Canaday’s snap seemed a bit inside and Chris Boswell almost kicked the point after wide left.
The Steelers did allow a return out to the 32 following the one-play drive for a touchdown. After a one-yard run on first down, L.J. Fort blitzed and batted down the screen, the second batted pass he has had on a blitz this preseason. On third and nine, Hilton did an excellent job of making the tackle through a blocker on a screen to the right. Sutton got the chance on the punt return after Williams’ fumble last time around and signaled for a fair catch.
From the 18, Watson was kept at it, running off the right side but limited to a yard. He lowered his shoulder and spun through a tackle for about six on second down. Dobbs threw to Watson in the flat, but he was rocked for a loss on third down. I think Dobbs made the wrong read on that throw with another receiver open that would have converted. After a nice punt from Berry, a hold on the left gunner set the Panthers back deep.
An eight-yard hitter in front of Sutton led to a 35-yard run up the middle on second down. Fort came flying in to make the tackle after a short gain on the next play. Following a short screen for three, a false start made it third and 11. From the 35, Webb tried to scramble out of a sack, but Hilton eventually got to him after finding nothing down the field. His teammates didn’t help him out, but it’s ultimately the quarterback’s responsibility to avoid losing yardage in that situation. The ensuing punt resulted in a touchback.
Watson still toting the ball, the first-year back added three yards on first down. Another three on second down set up Dobbs to throw on third and four. Feeling pressure, Dobbs didn’t get off a good throw outside the numbers to Sammie Coates, the ball falling low and incomplete. Berry’s punt was short, fair caught at the Panthers’ 38 from the 26.
On the second play of the drive, Artis-Payne caught the left sideline for a nice gain of about 15 or so, but a holding call on the wide receiver blocking on the edge brought it back. Brian Allen was the player held. On second and seven, Sutton was burned on a post for 58 yards and the score. Malik Golden was too late to help and ended up helping take Sutton out of the play, letting the receiver get back up and run in for the score.
Upon further review, it was ruled that the receiver was down by contact, but still they move up to the 11-yard line. Matakevich came off the edge for the run stuff on first down for a loss of four as the two-minute warning hit. Artis-Payne got about two on second down, setting up third and long. Five wide, it was their returner, Byrd, finding the open space in the end zone off a blitz, getting in between Allen and Jacob Hagen for the score. The Panthers seized a 14-10 lead with 1:18 left in the half.
Dobbs impressively managed a delay of game penalty before the first play of the ensuing drive. He telestrated a bubble screen all the way, resulting in Cobi Hamilton getting buried for a loss of a yard. On second and 16, the rookie quarterback couldn’t connect with Hamilton down the left side on a corner route. Now third and long, Dobbs snagged a low snap and handed off to Watson for a draw that picked up several yards, but well short of the first. Carolina called a timeout with 41 seconds remaining.
A short pass over the middle and a quick timeout left 26 seconds remaining from the 41. Malik Golden appeared to injure himself making the tackle on a defender after giving up a first down, but he stayed in. Looking deep, Webb threw a duck that was picked off by Hagen. There was no real target in the line of the throw, just a bad play to end the half, but with minimal risk.