What Did We Learn About the Pittsburgh Steelers This Week?
Week 3 of the NFL preseason is vital. This is the week where starters get the most significant reps and decisions are made. If you don't play in this game, there is a good chance you are not part of your team's plans.
The Steelers lost in overtime to the Chiefs 26-20, but it's never about the final score. Breaking down individual performances is far more important. Even looking at roster pairings among various units is much more worthwhile than which team finishes with the most points.
After reviewing the game closely, there are some enlightening things to take away. The team as a whole played much better than last week. It was not a perfect game, but there is hope as the season approaches.
Let's take a look at the 10 things we learned about the Steelers this week.
Mike Adams Continues to Struggle
The Steelers have to come up with a way to help the left side of their offensive line.
Mike Adams in particular is too slow to handle speed rushers, getting caught flat-footed against Tamba Hali several times. This has become a disturbing trend.
The key to the Steelers having a successful year is protecting Ben Roethlisberger, and that left side looks to be a significant liability. The team may need to sacrifice players they would normally send out on pass routes to help Adams in pass protection.
Jonathan Dwyer Wants the Starting Running Back Job
Jonathan Dwyer looks like a young man who is fighting for a job. However, that doesn't always translate to great play.
On more than one occasion last night, Dwyer took what could have been a very nice run and tried to turn into a great one.
He lacks the speed to be that type of player. Dwyer is a good football player, but he needs to play within himself. He also struggled on passing downs—he missed two key blitzes. These are the little things that he must improve on for the start of the season.
If rookie Le'Veon Bell misses extended time, Dwyer looks to be the guy. He may not be an elite back, but he fights hard for extra yards and knows the offense. It could be his job to lose.
Offensive Line Depth Is a Huge Concern
The Steelers kept their starting offensive line on the field to get plenty of reps last night. Once they left the field, the team's lack of depth really showed.
Even against third-string Chiefs players, the backups for the Steelers struggled.
It is clear that the key to this season is the offensive line. The starting five must come together quickly, and they must stay healthy. If they cannot do that, nothing else will really matter. The Steelers let most of their veteran depth leave in free agency, and it doesn't look like they did enough to replace them.
Ben Roethlisberger Is an Elite Quarterback
When talking about the upper echelon of quarterbacks in the NFL, Ben Roethlisberger often gets left out. Nonetheless, there are few quarterbacks who do more with less than Roethlisberger.
In a single half of play, Roethlisberger went 13-of-19 for 166 yards. On its own that is tremendous, but when you consider three of those incompletions were obvious drops, you understand just how good Roethlisberger is.
We saw a wonderful mix of the Steelers offense as it should run and how Roethlisberger can make plays when things break down.
This new system is really showcasing what Roethlisberger does well. Fans can fully expect a career year from Big Ben if things fall in place at other positions. If this team wants to win, it will take a big dose of Roethlisberger to make it happen.
The Steelers Wide Receivers Are Built for Speed
The Steelers might have the fastest group of wide receivers in the league. Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Markus Wheaton are a lightning-fast trio. Looking at the depth of this group shows even more speed.
In addition, youngsters Justin Brown, Derek Moye and Reggie Dunn are also very fast. I'm not sure how many of these guys will make the final roster, but whichever do will just make this group even faster.
If the Steelers offensive line can protect Roethlisberger, this is a group that can get behind an opposing secondary.
The Steelers Need More Al Woods
Al Woods needs to be on the field more. In the prior two preseason games, Woods has stood out on film. He has an exceptional burst and violent hands.On more than one play, Woods tossed the offensive lineman aside and worked his way to the backfield with ease.
Looking ahead to the final preseason game, Woods needs to be on the field early and often.
He could end up a valuable part of this defensive-line rotation during the regular season.
Lawrence Timmons Is a Special Player
Steelers fans already know how good Lawrence Timmons is, but this year the rest of the league will as well.
Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau used Timmons all over the field last night. One play he might line up on the inside and work a stunt with an outside linebacker. The next play they put him on the outside at the line of scrimmage and let him rush.
He dropped into coverage, stuffed the run and appeared to be everywhere at once.
On one play, Timmons was in coverage on speedy wide receiver Donnie Avery. Avery made the catch with a full step on Timmons. That should have been enough for Avery to pull away, but Timmons stuck his foot in the ground and caught him in four steps.
Youth Abounds in the Steelers Secondary
The future of the Steelers secondary is in safe hands.
A major criticism of the Steelers defense has been the age of its players. However, you can see the future and it is bright. Cortez Allen is going to be the cornerback everyone is talking about at the end of the season. He finds the football quickly and is a very good tackler.
The rest of the youth in the secondary is solid as well.
The future of the safety position is exciting in Shamarko Thomas and Robert Golden. Both have shown flashes the last two weeks. If and when the veterans in the secondary break down, these players are ready to step up.
The Steelers Don't Care About Their Third-String Quarterback
The Steelers look like they will only carry two quarterbacks.
I fully expected to see both Landry Jones and John Parker Wilson to get reps last night, looking for their third quarterback.
Instead we saw neither, which leads one to believe the decision has been made. Veteran Bruce Gradkowski has secured the backup spot. Honestly, Gradkowski has played very well this preseason, and his mobility in particular has been a plus.
It's likely Jones at the third, but he won't be activated for games unless there is an injury. There was a point in the preseason where it looked like Wilson could have made Jones expendable, so if both are on the roster for the final preseason game, we could see a battle.
The Starting Punter Job Is Still Up in the Air
Drew Butler appears to be winning the punter battle for the Steelers. Butler has been embroiled in a battle for the starting spot with veteran Brian Moorman.
If last night was any indication, Butler has the distinct advantage.
If Moorman survives cuts to play on Thursday, he will need a monumental effort to win the job. Having gone to college with Moorman, I am rooting for him. However, things don't look good.