Pittsburgh's Preseason Opener Leaves Tomlin Steely-Eyed
By Marc Jenkins
What can be learned from the Pittsburgh Steelers 18-13 loss in their exhibition opener against the New York Giants? Very little. However, here are some observations that can be used as building blocks or viewed as potential holes which could linger throughout the entire season if not corrected.
Coming into the season, the one thing that the Steelers needed to get on track on the offensive side of the football was the running game. Rookie RB Le’Veon Bell missed the game due to a left knee bruise and, much like last season, the rushing attack sputtered, collecting only 94 yards on 27 carries.
The offensive unit as whole looked as if it was the first week of the preseason, gaining 218 yards of total yards on 65 plays in 11 drives. On those 11 drives, they only managed to score six points from two Shaun Suisham field goals. On seven of those 11 possessions, the offense was forced to punt. And even that didn’t always end well as Drew Butler had one blocked by Giants rookie Damontre Moore.
The offense looked a bit stagnant at times and coach Mike Tomlin summed up the effort perfectly following the game when he stated that this game was “just the Steelers beating the Steelers” and then with “don’t get me wrong, sometimes it can be characterized as part of August football…I’m not buying that. I think we can set the bar higher than that for the first time out.” The offensive line allowed five sacks (including one of Ben Roethlisberger with the entire starting offensive line playing), which could possibly become a huge issue down the road if not corrected sooner than later.
One bright spot for the offense was the solid play of rookie WR Justin Brown, who is expected to compete for the third or fourth receiver job (especially with Plaxico Buress out for the year). The fifth-round draft pick out of Oklahoma hauled in team-high four catches for 32 yards and was targeted six times during the game. If Brown can consistently show that he will make receptions, he’s got a great chance to make the team and contribute immediately.
The defense played pretty solid football with the exception of one huge play, a 57-yard touchdown strike from Giants starting QB Eli Manning to WR Victor Cruz late in the opening quarter. Outside of that, they allowed just three successful field goal attempts by New York K Josh Brown (along with a touchdown after rookie QB Landry Jones fumbled in the end zone) to result in the Giants’ final point total. Pittsburgh allowed just 275 yards of total offense on 14 drives.
The defense was able to cash in on a turnover, accounting for the team’s lone touchdown when Giants C Matt McCants sailed his shotgun snap over the head of rookie QB Ryan Nassib and Steelers LB Adrian Robinson recovered the loose ball in the end zone. The other positive on the defensive side of the ball was the solid play of first-round LB Jarvis Jones, who recorded two tackles and also recovered a fumble.
Special teams was a mixed bag for Pittsburgh. While they converted two field goal attempts, they watched a punt get blocked on their very attempt.
Pittsburgh will look for a better effort on August 19 at 8 pm when it travels to Washington to meet the Redskins minus Robert Griffin III in front of a nationally-televised audience on ESPN.