The preseason is supposed to be the time for teams to work out the kinks, find continuity and with a little luck, a few new players who can push for a roster spot.
In a sloppy 30-17 loss to the Detroit Lions in front of an announced crowd of 44,148 at Heinz Field, it looks apparent that the Pittsburgh Steelers need all the extra time they can get.
With a number of starters held out with injuries or for extra rest, the team struggled in a game marred by mistakes and poor play in all three phases. The loss was the 12th in the past 14 preseason contests for the Steelers, and it looks like the team has a lot of work ahead of them before they host the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night.
Let’s look at some of the best and worst performances from last night.
*If there were any doubts that 38-year-old James Harrison still has it, he put those to rest in a limited appearance last night. Harrison reminded Lions first-round pick Taylor Decker that he’s no longer in college by first drawing a hold and then beating Decker badly to sack Matt Stafford forcing the veteran to fumble. The play thwarted an early drive and was vintage Harrison.
No one has ever questioned Ryan Shazier’s abilities, it’s just a matter of being healthy enough to play. There may not be a more athletic inside linebacker in the game, and in limited reps last night, he provided more evidence that if healthy, he could be All-Pro caliber.
Ricardo Mathews was very active and looks like he might be ready to add depth to the defensive line.
*Considering the defense gave up nearly 400 net yards and a number of big plays, two young defensive backs showed promise in a largely dismal performance by the unit. Doran Grant picked up some much needed momentum after a slow start in camp by picking off Dan Orlovsky and returning it 39 yards for a touchdown. Grant was fairly impressive in coverage much of the night, a good sign for a team desperate for production at cornerback.
Rookie Sean Davis did miss a tackle early on a long catch by veteran receiver Anquan Boldin but redeemed himself by doing quality work at the slot cornerback spot in the first half, then shifting to safety in the second. No one is going to compare him to Rod Woodson at this point, but it was a decent debut.
*Daryl Richardson is making the case for a roster spot and might press Fitzgerald Toussaint for the third running back position. Richardson carried the ball 11 times for 41 yards last night and couple that with his previous contributions with the St. Louis Rams, he might sneak on to the roster.
*Not a good night for Sammie Coates. Three catches, two fumbles, more of the maddening inconsistency that may keep Coates from earning the third wide receiver spot over Darrius Heyward-Bey, who had a dazzling 29-yard touchdown grab in the first half. Granted not having Ben Roethlisberger makes an obvious difference, but this wide receiver group, considered a strength even without Martavis Bryant, needs to be a lot better.
*No one is doubting the Steelers would be in a world of hurt if Roethlisberger was out for any significant time frame, but the team still continues to have real questions at quarterback. Landry Jones continues to provide little evidence he’s a reliable option as a back up after another lackluster performance. Jones once again struggled to move the offense outside of the touchdown pass to Heyward-Bey while Bruce Gradkowski continues to struggle staying on the field due to injuries, this time pulling a hamstring that could keep the Pittsburgh native out long term.
Add left tackle Alejandro Villanueva to the list of poor performances for the Steelers. Villanueva was beaten badly for a sack, was tagged for a holding call and looked slow dealing with the edge rushers. The team has to hope it was an off night for the presumed starter, but expect veteran Ryan Harris to challenge for the spot if Villanueva falters.
*Finally, way too many big plays given up both on defense and special teams. Anytime you give up a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and more than 200 total yards in returns, it’s hard to feel good about the third phase.
Just 187 net yards of offense? Come on, fellas. Add nine penalties, three fumbles and four sacks allowed, and it becomes clear the team will be facing a difficult week reviewing film and preparing for Thursday night against the Eagles.
Photo credit: @Steelers