If you’re one of those people who hates the preseason and just wants it to go by as quickly as possible, then this is probably the one half of football in August you actually bother to watch. Just about everybody is expected to play tonight short of Joe Haden and Benny Snell, and perhaps one or two others due to injury, but nobody is being held out, to the best of our knowledge, solely for the purpose of protecting them for the regular season.
The Steelers have won their first two preseason games, but that doesn’t mean they’ve gotten all their questions answered. There are still roster battles to be decided, particularly at wide receiver, as well as the backup quarterback position. The team hopes to start to see further clarity at these spots and others over the next few hours.
The Steelers started the game with the ball, opening with a short James Conner carry and a short connection to Donte Moncrief. Ben Roethlisberger completed for a third-down conversion to Vance McDonald on third down, but after two incompletions, a third-down pass to Conner picked up only eight yards, forcing a Jordan Berry punt that went 56 yards into the end zone.
As in his first game, it was Devin Bush making the tackle on the first defensive play of the game from the 25-yard line following an encroachment. However, Stephon Tuitt was flaged for illegal hands to the face, negating the play.
The Titans’ first official play was Marcus Mariota pass to Corey Davis down the right sideline, incomplete with Artie Burns in coverage. A screen pass was juggled and dropped, setting up third and 10. Dion Lewis got the handoff and was buried for a loss by Kameron Kelly and others. Ryan Switzer was back to return the punt, which bounced into the end zone, a 70-yard boot.
Conner found an opening for 21 yards on first down, the first mention of him having had cancer coming immediately after that. Following an incompletion to JuJu Smith-Schuster, Roethlisberger went back to him for a short gain of six over the middle. Now third and four, he fired behind Eli Rogers, incomplete. Switzer was on the first possession, Rogers the second. Another Jordan Berry punt, this from the 47. It reached the four, where it died and was downed. Great punt.
Off play-action, Mariota threw incomplete with Terrell Edmunds in coverage. Mariota was sacked by Tuitt for the safety, the first points of the game.
The free kick was fielded at the 25 by Switzer and returns to the left side out past the 40. Starting at the 42, Roethlisberger fired short and incomplete to McDonald. To the ground this time, Conner picked up eight yards before the defense slowed him down. On third and two, it was Conner picking up about five.
From the Titans’ 44, Roethlisberger checked the ball down to Conner for about six. He seemed to go down a bit awkwardly as he was tackled, hit in the back, Jaylen Samuels coming in for the next play. You could see the crossing route for Smith-Schuster develop from the snap for the easy first down.
Another crosser to Smith-Schuster for a short gain as the Steelers approach the red zone. Conner was able to get to the outside ahead of pursuit to pick up three yards, setting up a third and one. At the 20, it was Trey Edmunds in, getting the conversion.
Now at the 17, Roethlisberger took a shot to the end zone, a pitch and catch to Smith-Schuster, throwing a touchdown on his 19th play of the game. Going for two, Roethlisberger had nobody open and ultimately dumped it off to Samuels, who tripped on the wet turf trying to get to the outside, so it’s a 8-0 lead.
Ryan Tannehill is now in at quarterback. After a short run, and an incompletion on second down, Tannehill was sacked, Tuitt there again and Bud Dupree also getting home. Nice rep by Dupree, but with Taylor Lewan not in. The ensuing punt vastly outkicked the coverage, and everybody else, Switzer turboing backward to retrieve the ball 81 yards later near the 10. The Titans were flagged for holding as well, Tomlin choosing to rekick. This time Switzer fielded it 62 yards away around the 30, returning it near midfield.
After starting last game, Rudolph was the first quarterback in after Roethlisberger, still in the first quarter. Samuels off the left side for 12 on a play that was busted by inside penetration. One pass, one score, Rudolph connecting 41 yards to James Washington for the score. Another big game already for the second-year receiver, and finally a legitimate deep shot from Rudolph. Exactly what I’ve been waiting to see. Chris Boswell’s extra point makes it 15-0.
The ensuing kickoff was returned just out past midfield. The first play of the ensuing drive saw T.J. Watt dropping, making the tackle on a nine-yard reception against the slot receiver. It was Watt making the stop on the second-and-one carry as well for no gain. The back stayed down injured. Phenomenal play by Watt. Off play action, Tannehill rolled out to complete to Davis for 24 yards. Good play design.
The defense was ultimately able to tighten up after that, holding a third-down pass just short of the first, forcing the Titans to settle for a field goal, now 15-3.
Derwin Gray got earlier playing time this week, but he was flagged for holding, so not ideal there. A short carry by Samuels went for three. Now second and 17, it was Rudolph to the back with a short dumpoff, setting third and long. Rudolph threw short of the chains to Rogers, who fought for extra yardage but was stymied a yard shy. Berry back on the field punts, dying exactly on the 20. An okay punt, not great nor terrible.
Cameron Heyward on the tackle on first down makes the tackle after a short gain. Bush checks back in. Steven Nelson was in coverage on second down to influence an incompletion. Now third and long, a completion for a first down was negated by an illegal hands to the face. Tennessee played it safe on third and 17, a short screen with Heyward making the stop again.
Rudolph threw incomplete to Samuels on a screen on first down. He was cut down after a one-yard gain on second down. Now third and nine, he was intercepted by Amani Hooker, looking for Washington but intercepted. It looks like there was probably a miscommunication on the play for sure.
Vince Williams in playing with the second unit gets the sack for a nine-yard loss on first down. Bush and Edmunds on the second-down stop. On third and 12, Kelly and I think Cameron Sutton ripped the ball out from A.J. Brown as he looked like he was going to get the first down. Titans recovered but were forced to punt. Switzer has been doing all of the returning throughout the first half.
Samuels takes another handoff for just a yard from the 15. Rudolph checked it down to him on second down for six. Now third and three, Rudolph looked for Johnny Holton in a jump ball situation. Holton made the catch but was forced out of bounds before he landed. Berry’s punt rolls out of bounds at the TItans’ 24.
After a pair if solid runs picked up a first down, Sean Davis walked off holding his left thigh, assisted by the athletic trainer. Great blocking left a big hole for 25 yards for the back across midfield.
Heyward crushed Tannehill for the sack on third down deep into the first half. Why is he in the game? I don’t know, but I think the quarterback as much as anybody wishes he were already on the bench. Switzer bluffed fielding a punt as it rolled in for a touchback. Lots of touchbacks in this game.
With 33 seconds to play, Rudolph completed short to Holton, who broke a couple tackles. Following a timeout, he completed over the middle to Holton for a first down, but they decided not to use a timeout and allowed the half to run out.