Doom and gloom has set in for the Pittsburgh Steelers after their second straight preseason loss.
At least that is the case for some fans who believe that the season may be over before it even starts. After watching the team’s performance on Monday night, it is tough to blame them.
The offensive line looked completely disinterested in blocking for Ben Roethlisberger, and the starting offense once again struggled to put points on the board.
It did not help that the running backs were decimated with injuries.
Isaac Redman and LaRod Stephens-Howling did not dress for the game, while rookie Le’Veon Bell, Baron Batch and fullback Will Johnson all left the game with injuries.
But not all was bad. Ben Roethlisberger looked brilliant escaping pressure to hit David Paulson for a 26-yard completion, and rookie Jarvis Jones made his presence felt by forcing a fumble while working with the first-team defense.
While the game—and some of its performances—may have been forgettable, there were several players who caught some eyes with their performance. Here is a look at the winners and losers from the Steelers’ second preseason game.
All stats for this article are via ESPN.com.
Jonathan Dwyer has always had the potential to be a quality starting running back. He put that on display against the Redskins.
Not expecting a lot of action according to Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dwyer had a bulk of the carries following a foot injury to Le’Veon Bell.
In three quarters of work, Dwyer carried the ball 14 times for 68 yards. He showed good burst and was able to run to all parts of the field with success.
What made his night even more impressive was that he was running behind a struggling offensive line. The Steelers need a back to be successful even when the line has a bad week, and Dwyer did just that.
A lot of people—including myself—have anointed Bell the starting running back, but Dwyer is not ready to concede just yet.
As well as he ran, it is hard to forget his fumble. In fact, head coach Mike Tomlin pointed it out after the game, via Steelers.com. “I thought he did some nice things,” Tomlin said. “Obviously putting the ball on the ground doesn’t help him or us. Other than that I thought he did some nice things. He had his moments.”
Regardless, Dwyer has firmly put himself back into the equation as an option to start the season at running back.
Le’Veon Bell didn’t play in the first preseason game due to a knee injury and only managed one drive in his second after suffering a foot injury.
The Steelers ran Bell on the first four plays without much success.
He finished with four carries for only nine yards and didn’t have any carries longer than four yards. It was not a particularly impressive first performance, albeit a limited one. Bell was unable to get to the outside and make his own yards between the tackles as he had in practice. He also did not get the opportunity to make any plays in the passing game.
Beyond his performance, the injuries Bell has suffered so far have to be a concern. How is it possible for him to start if he can’t stay on the field?
Now with a foot injury, Bell may be out longer than he’d like, opening the door for the other running backs.
Markus Wheaton continues to improve. He had his best performance yet against Washington.
He had already been very impressive running routes and catching the ball in practice. He began to flash some of those skills against the New York Giants last week. What we hadn’t seen was his ability to make a big play.
He did exactly that on Monday night.
Wheaton used his speed to make a 45-yard reception from Landry Jones in the fourth quarter. This set up a score and was one of the few explosive plays the Steelers have had this preseason.
If Jones would have put a bit more air under the ball and hit Wheaton in stride, it would have been an easy touchdown pass. It may not have been Mike Wallace speed, but it was still impressive and good enough to beat many defensive backs.
Wheaton would finish the night with three receptions for 52 yards. He is well on his way to earning the third spot on the depth chart.
If you watched the game, there isn’t much more to say about the starting offensive line. It was pathetic to watch. Mike Tomlin summed it up nicely in his postgame interview, via Steelers.com. When asked if he was concerned about the line play, Tomlin responded, “Sure.”
One-word answers are never good, especially coming from Tomlin.
It is hard to blame him. The line was penalized, allowed constant pressure on Ben Roethlisberger and had trouble opening holes for the ground game.
Mike Adams was penalized twice while David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey were called once each.
Barry Cofield had his way with Pouncey and easily got by him once for a sack and countless other times to pressure the quarterback or disrupt the play.
On the right side, Marcus Gilbert was abused by Ryan Kerrigan, who had a sack and intercepted a screen pass and returned it for a touchdown.
Only Ramon Foster came out of the game without a significant screw-up.
Simply put, the offensive line needs to get much better in a hurry, or else it will be a very long season for Roethlisberger and the offense.
If anyone doubted LaMarr Woodley’s fitness level, they shouldn’t anymore. He came to camp in shape and looks to be as strong as ever.
He nearly got to Eli Manning last week, but he didn’t and it resulted in a touchdown pass. That was not the case this week.
Woodley displayed his power on a pass rush that resulted in a sack of Kirk Cousins. It was exactly the type of play that the Steelers need from him if they are going to beef up their pass rush.
It was not long ago that Woodley was one of the top pass-rushers in the league and wreaking havoc all over the field. But besides his ability to get to the quarterback, he can anchor against the run and be a disruptive force on the left side of the defense.
Besides Kelvin Beachum and John Malecki, the Steelers do not have any NFL-caliber linemen on the roster behind their starters.
Beachum has played pretty well this preseason. Malecki, while not ideal, can play center and guard, which should be good enough to guarantee him a roster spot. The same cannot be said for the rest.
D’Anthony Batiste has not been impressive at tackle, which should not surprise anyone. Guy Whimper was horrible.
On one play, he allowed the defender to blow right by him untouched for a sack. Often, linemen are referred to as “turnstiles” when they struggle blocking. Well, that play was the closest I have ever seen to a lineman resemble a human turnstile.
Joe Long was not particularly impressive either. However, he does have potential to improve with experience. Beyond him, it is unlikely that any third-string lineman makes the team.
Shamarko Thomas had been flashing talent all throughout camp, but he didn't make much of an impact in his first NFL action.
That was not the case in his second game.
Thomas was one of the stars of the game. He finished with seven tackles and a forced fumble—he came flying in to knock the ball free from Redskins running back Chris Thompson.
The Steelers were in desperate need of playmakers on defense. Thomas began to flash some of those abilities. He was all over the field and laying some hard hits.
He was a clear force against the run and looked as comfortable as ever against the pass. There will still be some problems when he matches up against taller receiving targets, but there was a lot to like about Thomas’ play on Monday.
Speed kills—and Reggie Dunn has it.
He may not be ready to contribute as a receiver, but Dunn is showing why he deserves a roster spot.
The Steelers lacked in the return game last season. Dunn has the potential to be an explosive returner. He has yet to break one open, but he is getting very close.
Dunn had one kick return for 30 yards and two punt returns for 37 yards, including one which went for 26. While he hasn’t been able to get into the open field to showcase his straight-line speed, Dunn has used it to get to the outside and turn the corner.
There are two more games for him to settle in as an NFL returner, but the early results have been positive. His speed is too valuable of an asset to let slip away.