After a 38-7 drubbing of the Buffalo Bills, the Pittsburgh Steelers have successfully completed their dress rehearsal for the 2012 regular season. With only the final preseason game standing between the Steelers and their first showdown of the season with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, we've learned a lot about this roster.
Saturday night's action may have impacted the impending roster cuts. That will play out over the next few days, but the winners and losers from this game may turn out to be particularly important in the team's reduction to 75 players early this coming week.
Here's a look at who won and who lost on Saturday night in Orchard Park.
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I've seen a lot of comments from fans who've said that Antonio Brown can't be the big play machine he was last season unless Mike Wallace is opposite him on the field to take away double teams and open up space.
Well, those fans seem to be getting their wish. Wallace is due to return this week. But Brown has put on quite the show in the preseason and has shown that he doesn't need anyone taking away double teams. Against the Bills, he was a one-man wrecking crew with two big touchdown catches and over 100 yards.
Wallace will take some time to get back into game-ready shape. He needs to get some time in the offense and he needs to get his conditioning fully on track. Brown will still need to be the top dog for awhile. In all reality, he has probably taken the top receiver spot from Wallace for good.
DeCastro has really worked to improve and I felt coming into this game that he had solidified himself as the right guard for 2012 and hopefully the decade after that. Unfortunately, that may have to wait. The knee injury he suffered early Saturday night could be severe. It may be a combination of ACL and MCL injuries and could end DeCastro's season.
This is not just a loss for DeCastro, who was pumped to be a starter in 2012, his first season in the NFL. He was out to prove that the 23 picks that went ahead of him were a mistake and that he should have been selected much higher. Now, he'll hopefully be able to make it back this season.
This is a loss for the Steelers too. They were set to have a much improved, younger line in 2012. Now, with left tackle still not completely comfortable, the Steelers may have to move back to Ramon Foster at right guard. While that's not terrible, it's not where the team wants to be.
Last week against the Indianapolis Colts, it was David Gilreath having the impressive game at receiver once the starters exited. This week it was former Penn State receiver Derrick Williams. To this point, they have the inside tracks on jobs at the position.
The Steelers will keep either five or six receivers. With Mike Wallace likely coming back, that means that only two spots are potentially open for new players. Gilreath and Williams fit the mold. They can play special teams and they can contribute on offense when necessary.
Williams showed some nice skills late in the game and looked much more effective with an experienced quarterback delivering the football. That and his NFL experience should place him on the roster for the Steelers.
Carter is going to be very important to this season. Jason Worilds, the previous top backup at outside linebacker, shelved for an indefinite amount of time. James Harrison may miss at least the first couple weeks of the regular season. That means Carter is now the starter opposite LaMarr Woodley.
This is bad news. Carter, who was mildly impressive as a rookie, has been very inconsistent this preseason and had another up and down game Saturday night. He simply doesn't have the ability to make consistent plays for the Steelers. That's not good for a defense that needs a healthy pass rush.
Carter's biggest issues seem to come in the run defense. He simply doesn't make smart choices and gets out of position. He again had trouble diagnosing plays this week. We can only hope that Harrison is back healthy quickly and that the Steelers can find some more solutions at the backup spots.
Returning from an injury that nobody seemed really sure about, Redman had a very nice game and has once again solidified his standing as the starting running back. He's playing for a contract this season, so every carry is as important to him as it is to the Steelers.
Against the Bills, Redman showed a couple of the things that make him so valuable to the Steelers. He can gain yards even without a good hole to hit. His feet never stop moving. Finally, he is possibly the best candidate on the team for carries at or near the goal line because he can work without space.
The Steelers have a talented stable of backs right now and all four should find their way onto the roster once the team gets to Denver. Redman should lead that pack and will probably continue to lead the team once Rashard Mendenhall returns. He just offers the team a more consistent back at this point.
Once considered a rising talent that had a good chance of cracking this roster, Maze has fallen off sharply as the preseason has unfolded. Against the Bills, he had a very poor game. He generated nothing offensively or on special teams and made some poor choices on field.
Maze was signed with an eye toward his ability to create splash plays, a Tomlin staple. He hasn't flashed that yet and his time is running out. Along with Toney Clemons, he is now staring up at David Gilreath and Derrick Williams. They've been more consistent thus far.
Maze may survive the first cuts this week, but he will need a big game against the Carolina Panthers next Thursday if he's to make the final roster. At this point, he's not close to a spot. There's just too much competition and too little room for error.
Hood is one of those players that some fans just can't get on board with for whatever reason. I've always been a fan and I think he is a player who's destined to have a big season. He can penetrate the backfield, put pressure on a quarterback and make big plays when needed.
He's benefited from some pressure from the impressive Cameron Heyward, but he's still the better choice to start. He's big and he takes up space. He had an excellent game against Buffalo in which he seemed to be in on almost every big pressure play.
Hood's success, particularly with the injury to Brett Keisel and the uncertainty at outside linebacker, is going to be very important come the regular games. He's going to have to continue to be a big part of the success of the defense. If he can continue to be a pressure player up front, the defense will continue to force mistakes.
Now expected to potentially start at left tackle for the Steelers, Starks showed he still has some catching up to do before he's ready for prime time in Todd Haley's offense. Starks wasn't terrible, but he is still in the early stages of knocking the rust off, especially in pass protection.
Starks was in his first game action of the season Saturday night. The worst of his plays was one in which he blocked the wrong guy and allowed linebacker Nick Barnett to get a free run at Ben Roethlisberger. This predictably resulted in Roethlisberger making a close acquaintance with the turf in Buffalo.
The Steelers have enough issues along the line. At this point, they may be better off with Trai Essex starting at left tackle until Mike Adams is fully ready to go. We didn't get to see a ton of Adams against the Bills, but we'll likely get a good look at him next Thursday. We'll need a long look at Starks too. He needs as many reps as possible.
This was the week where we finally got a good look at Todd Haley's new offense. Ben Roethlisberger has looked comfortable throughout the preseason and he did it again tonight. Antonio Brown looks to be the star of the show in this system and Emmanuel Sanders seems made for it as well.
The running game is undergoing a comeback and could be back among the most effective in the league. The Steelers don't need to rely as heavily on the run as they did ten years ago, but they do need it to be their cornerstone.
The no-huddle system looks great and Roethlisberger seems to be enjoying the freedom it gives him. The big development is the return of regular screen passes. With Chris Rainey and Baron Batch to help run them, they have a chance to be very, very effective against defenses trying to account for Mike Wallace, Brown and Roethlisberger.
I've received a lot of notes about how there's no way that Drew Butler has been impressive enough to beat out Jeremy Kapinos and that he's just keeping the seat warm for the injured punter.
Well I'm here to tell you that there's virtually no way that Kapinos still makes this roster. None. The only way he could still get in is if Butler gets hurt. Kapinos hasn't punted at all this year. He's been the one hurt. And with only one game to go, he's running out of time fast.
Meanwhile, Butler has been excellent. He had another impressive game on Saturday. He booms kicks and can place them just about anywhere he needs to. He is great at getting the ball inside the 20 and deadening it there.
If you're still riding the Kapinos bandwagon, you may want to consider jumping off soon. That one's on its way out of Pittsburgh.