It has been an ugly start to the preseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The fact the Steelers are 0-2 in their first two preseason games is depressing, considering how positive the reports out of training camp were.
Many reporters covering Steelers training camp said they were getting physical, some players looked noticeably slimmer and most guys—especially the young ones—looked good running drills. It looked like a bounce-back from that 8-8 season was inevitable.
Then Pittsburgh suited up against actual football teams, and things got real. Too real for some players; there were more penalties in those first two games than Antonio Cromartie has children.
To be fair, this is only the preseason. A few years back, the Detroit Lions went 4-0 in preseason play and proceeded to finish the season 0-16. It has been hard to judge a team too harshly based purely on games played in the dog days of August.
What is making some people nervous is that this is the Steelers, a franchise not known for such obvious mistakes as we have seen so far. Those missteps derailed last season, and the Steelers faithful fear that it might do the same thing this year.
Moral of this story: Though nothing is carved in stone, the Steelers need to step up their collective game. There are a few parts of the game where Pittsburgh really needs to show improvement, and it better happen quickly.
That 0-2 Preseason Record
Losing is never acceptable—no matter what time of year it is. Even if the Steelers had looked fantastic in its first two games, those two big "L’s" are not what Pittsburgh wants to see.
Ben Roethlisberger looked relatively sharp, the defense only let up that one touchdown, and Pittsburgh even wound up with a few turnovers. Still, a loss is a loss.
That 24-13 loss to the Washington Redskins, however, showed that the Steelers are not progressing as quickly as they need to in order to stay competitive.
Big Ben threw a bad pick-six, the offensive line was discombobulated all night and the defense gave up 24 points. No Steelers defense, preseason or not, should be giving up that many points.
Hopefully, the Steelers can show they have some pride and beat the Kansas City Chiefs at Heinz Field on Saturday. Just like a loss is a loss, a win is a win.
Le’Veon Bell’s Health
Remember when Bell was going to usher in a new era of ground success for the Steelers? Well, those expectations have been put on hold.
Bell rushed four times for nine yards against the Washington Redskins before leaving the game with a foot injury. The Steelers announced Wednesday that Bell will be out six weeks with a Lisfranc injury.
This is obviously a huge blow to Pittsburgh’s offense. Bell was brought in to rejuvenate a terrible rushing attack. It looks like we will have to wait to see if he can live up to potential.
The one positive here is that Jonathan Dwyer carved up the Redskins’ defense, rushing for 68 yards on 14 carries. Maybe he has the potential to be a featured back, but who knows.
Get well soon, Bell. Pittsburgh is counting on you to be the next Jerome Bettis. No pressure.
The Loss of Plaxico Burress
I never thought I would say this, but Burress’s season- (and possibly career-) ending rotator cuff surgery is probably more significant than Bell’s injury.
Besides the fact Bell will heal much more quickly, the Steelers have more depth at running back than they do at receiver. Yes, I know saying we have depth at running back is a bit of a misnomer. But I trust Dwyer and Isaac Redman more than Jerricho Cotchery and Markus Wheaton.
SB Nation’s Rebecca Rollett reported that Burress was beating defenders and catching balls during training camp. Any impact he could have made in a shoddy receiving corps would have helped.
Now the Steelers are left with Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders solidified as the best two receivers on the team with Wheaton, Cotchery and a group of scrubs fighting for playing time.
Considering Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth’s injuries, Big Ben may have a tough time with this group. Speaking of problems he might face…
The Offensive Line
I swear, one day Big Ben is going to take a hit he cannot get up from. The fact he is still alive after playing behind this patchwork offensive line for all these years is nothing short of a miracle.
This was supposed to be the year he finally had a healthy, capable offensive line to protect him. Judging from those first two games, that dream might still be far from a reality.
In those first two preseason games, Big Ben was getting sacked and hurried as much as ever. Luckily, he is the master of extending plays; otherwise, Pittsburgh’s offense would be even more ineffective.
Giving up eight sacks in two games is like opening a gate and just allowing the quarterback to be pummeled. Maybe they should consider investing in a padlock.
During his time as a Steeler, Big Ben has had an appendectomy, motorcycle accident a sad amount of concussions, and, last year, he had one of his ribs pointing dangerously close to his heart. That man needs maximum-security protection.
Hopefully, the only reason for these O-line lapses is that most of them have been shuffled from their original positions. If this is the best they can do, Big Ben is toast.
Against the Giants, the Steelers tallied seven penalties for a total loss of 50 yards. Against the Skins, they earned eight penalties for a total loss of 95 yards.
Now I am, by no means, an expert on football strategy, but I am pretty sure the point of the game is make progress down the field. Going backward is still a bad thing, right?
Right. The Steelers know better than this. Unnecessary penalties are how teams implode, not how they make Super Bowl runs.
Again, the offensive line has been a big culprit. When you cannot block opponents, the next best thing is to hold them I guess.
Pittsburgh’s focus before the Chiefs game should be on eliminating penalties. Right now, this sloppiness is, by far, the most disappointing thing about the Steelers’ preseason.