Cause For Concern
The performance by the Steelers first team offense against the Washington Redskins in week two of the pre-season, showed little sign of improvement and raises some major questions. The first of which is, what have they been doing all camp to fortify the offensive line for game time action? The organization has made a concerted effort over the last several years to draft young talented lineman, hiring Todd Haley as their offensive co-ordinantor, and acquiring Jack Bicknell from the Giants to replace Sean Kugler. All this with the focus towards improving the running game, and foremost protecting their franchise quaterback from major injuries. The pass blocking is abysmal, the run blocking sporadic, and the individual talent is lacking in both technique and toughness. Big Ben is not helping his own case either, escaping from a quickly collapsing pocket, Ben dashes towards the sticks, instead of sliding like a quaterback is supposed to, Ben opts to land squarely and awkwardly on his newly repaired knee. Several plays later Ben escapes another collapsing pocket then starts darting towards three waiting Redskins defenders, bringing back memories of last years sack which put him out for three crucial games.
The embarrassing moment came when Big Ben, a ten year veteran, lofted a designed screen pass right into the waiting arms of defensive tackle Ryan Kerrington, who in turn waltzed into the end zone. Of course right tackle Marcus Gilbert didn’t help matters much by giving up on the play, you would’ve liked to think that it was Gilbert who knew what the play call was and not Kerrington. That was only one notch on Kerrington’s belt, as he also caused a fumble, had a sack, and totally abused the Steelers front line on each possession. What’s most troubling is, not only was there no improvement from week one, the offense took a step or two backwards, which is exactly the direction they’re heading during pass protection. The Steelers will be facing some very tough defensive fronts when the season starts, if Todd Haley’s screen pass happy offense does not improve, and improve quickly, we will be seeing Big Ben watching from the sidelines, with one or more of his limbs in a cast.
As stated last week, the defense seems ready to play football every time they take the field. The talk in the media is always that this unit is old and slow, I’ll take the experience of a defense that’s played together for as many years as this one has any day. It’s safe to assume this years team will be ready to compete once the season starts, we may see some minor changes or substitutions on opening day, otherwise it’s Dick Lebeau and his veteran crew taking care of business as usual. There are some questions however with respect to the health and effectiveness of Cortez Allan, he’s been injured throughout camp and given he is the projected starter, we’ll have to wait and see how his effectiveness plays out come opening day. His replacement, the newly re-signed Will Gay, has been getting beat and turned around on touchdown passes in games one and two, bringing back bad memories of Super Bowl #45. Time will tell….
It’s been a bit hit and miss for the rookie class in the first two pre-season outings. After missing game one with a sore knee, Le’Veon Bell returned to the sideline with an injured ankle after only four carries for 9 yards. Not much to evaluate from Bell’s performance, we just have to hope he stays healthy and can contribute in the regular season. Jonathan Dwyer certainly looked like his old self in replacement. Number one pick Jarvis Jones looked good in his second outing for the black and gold, slashing in to make tackles, playing tight coverage on passing downs, and making a superb read and bust up of a sweep play. Jones is showing good field awareness and athleticism, swatting the ball from the running back and creating a turnover for his team, this a week after he recovered a loose ball against New York. This kid seems to be the real deal, he is a naturally gifted player and should serve us well for years to come, certainly a sound first round pick for the Steelers.
Other rookies starting to show promise are quaterback Landry Jones, who although only 9 of 22 for the night, led the only drive resulting in a touchdown. Jones executed a beautiful play action on 3rd and goal hitting tight end Jamie McCoy #82 perfectly in stride for the only offensive touchdown of the pre-season. McCoy also had some key grabs later in the game, making a case for himself either on the 53 man roster or at least the practice squad. Second year safety Robert Golden #21 has been playing solid, as well as corner back Isiah Green #39, both finding themselves consistently around the ball, making tackles and providing decent coverage. Rookie Shamarko Thomas got himself on the stat sheet with a forced fumble, he is also showing some of the toughness he displayed at Syracuse, slashing in and making some hard hits, good to see Thomas asserting himself.
The player we’re all rooting for is Markus Wheaton, his natural abilities and speed are something the Steelers are hoping will enhance their offensive either immediately, or further into the season depending upon his development. He made a nice catch on a deep ball from Landry Jones, but didn’t get an opportunity to return any punts, having to opt instead for fair catches. There was another screen pass where he started to move up field, then for some unknown reason turned and started heading across field. He went backwards almost ten yards then skirted to the other sideline, loosing about four yards on the play. Though I can appreciate his moxie, certainly not a wise decision on his part, hopefully these types of misgivings will be corrected before the regular season arrives.
Another nefarious outing for the special teams unit, riddled with penalties and the inability to return punts, there is still much improvement needed from this young group.
Game two of the 2013 exhibition season is behind us and will quickly be forgotten, how the team responds in the next two weeks will certainly be of far more importance. When you look around the league and see how other teams are performing, as well as see some of the improvement from week one to week two, you can’t help think the Steelers should’ve come better prepared, especially given the marque nature of the match up. All one can hope for is that the time spent at camp was productive and players are making strides in the areas they fell short of the prior week. Unfortunately, the offense is showing little signs that it is evolving in the right direction. Looks good on paper, but on the field is another story altogether. We understand it’s pre-season, we understand it’s a young group of men who are working together for the first time. However we also recognize the importance of this unit gelling, and it needs to happen sooner rather than later.