Steelers vs. Eagles: Steelers Week 3 Game Preview
The Pittsburgh Steelers play their third game of the 2014 preseason Thursday night at Philadelphia (7:30 p.m., NFL Network).
Just as the third of four downs is so pivotal in football, the third NFL preseason game often is the most telling.
Starters traditionally play the longest in the third preseason game. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin tends to keep his starters on the field for at least a half in the third preseason game.
In golf, the third day of a four-day tournament is referred to as "Moving Day" as players try to move up the leaderboard to get into contention for the final day.
In the NFL, the third preseason game is a moving day for players fighting to make the roster. Teams must trim their roster from 90 to 75 by 4 p.m. Tuesday, according to Steelers.com.
It's already been an eventful week for the Steelers (1-1), and they'll reveal a lot about themselves Thursday night against the Eagles (0-2).
Steelers' Week 2 Recap
The Steelers notched their first preseason win since 2012 with a 19-16 victory over the Buffalo Bills at Heinz Field.
Even though it means nothing in the standings, the Steelers took a step toward avoiding another winless September. They went 0-4 in the 2013 preseason and started the regular season 0-4. Now, they're guaranteed to go into the 2014 season with a little more momentum than they did last year.
Ben Roethlisberger, operating exclusively out of the no-huddle, threw for both of the Steelers' touchdowns against the Bills. The first one came on a 76-yard pass to Antonio Brown, with Brown picking up 68 of those yards after the catch. Markus Wheaton caught Roethlisberger's second touchdown pass for 16 yards in the corner of the end zone.
According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Wheaton has the inside track on the No. 2 receiver spot to complement Brown. The second-year player has caught three passes for 43 yards during the preseason.
Ryan Shazier, the Steelers' first-round draft pick in May, was unveiled on Saturday after missing the preseason opener with a knee bruise. Shazier made nine tackles, five more than anyone else in the game, and picked off a pass. The Steelers' first-team defense played into the second quarter and yielded two field goals.
News and Notes
Bell, Blount Likely to Face Marijuana Charges
Steelers running backs Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount both are expected to be charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession after a car Bell was driving was pulled over Wednesday in Ross, Pennsylvania, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Ross police told the Post-Gazette that they also expect to charge Bell with driving under the influence of marijuana.
Facts: Steeler Le'Veon Bell was NOT on the team charter yesterday. He did make his way to Philly on his own. Blount was on the team charter— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) August 21, 2014
It's unclear how this incident will affect their playing time against the Eagles.
Bell and/or Blount could face discipline under the NFL's substance abuse policy if they are charged, according to NFL.com.
Bell, who set a Steelers rookie record with 1,259 yards from scrimmage last season according to ESPN.com, has the starting job nailed down at running back. Blount, signed as a free agent during the offseason, is expected to complement him. Dri Archer is a running back-wide receiver hybrid and fullback Will Johnson is the only other running back expected to make the team.
No one among Jordan Hall, Tauren Poole, Stephen Houston, Josh Harris and Miguel Maysonet have made a strong case to make the team.
Keisel is Back
Brett Keisel's career isn't over yet. The Steelers signed the veteran defensive lineman Tuesday, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Keisel, who turns 36 on Sept. 19, became a free agent in March after 12 years with the Steelers. He flew to Arizona to sign with the Cardinals, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but the Steelers called him and he flew back to Pittsburgh.
The Steelers have some promising young defensive linemen, including rookie second-rounder Stephon Tuitt and undrafted rookie Josh Mauro, who had two sacks in their win over Buffalo. Apparently, that potential isn't comforting enough right now, so the Steelers brought back Keisel, who started 12 games last season and had four sacks. Keisel was a Pro Bowler in 2010 when the Steelers reached Super Bowl XLV.
Keisel isn't likely to play Thursday, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Steelers Lock Up Another Offensive Lineman
Scratch another free-agent concern off the list.
The Steelers don't have to worry about Marcus Gilbert hitting the open market after the season. They signed him to an extension that keeps him under contract through 2019, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
After investing high draft picks on offensive linemen in recent seasons, the Steelers are now investing money. They signed three-time Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey to a $48 million contract that takes him through 2019, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Gilbert's deal is worth $30.8 million.
Gilbert has the highest grade among Steelers offensive linemen through the first two preseason games, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He's allowed no sacks, quarterback hits or quarterback hurries.
Position Battle at Tackle
In a lower-income bracket on the offensive line are Mike Adams and Guy Whimper. They are competing to be the top backup at tackle, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. That doesn't necessarily mean the loser of this battle won't make the team.
Adams, entering his third season, has been charged with four quarterback hurries in the first two preseason games, according to Pro Football Focus. Whimper, who entered the league in 2006, is responsible for one sack, a quarterback hit and a quarterback hurry.
The Steelers' no-huddle offense produced 13 points in the first quarter of their preseason victory over the Buffalo Bills. They'll have a chance Thursday to see how it operates in a hostile environment.
Ben Roethlisberger has quizzed the offense on the no-huddle, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The three lowest scorers have to buy pizza and wings for the entire offense.
Wide Receiver Stock Report
Justin Brown is "solidly entrenched as the fourth receiver," according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, even though the newspaper buried that nugget in a notebook that led with the no-huddle quiz.
Brown, drafted in the sixth round last season, spent all of 2013 on the practice squad. He has two catches for nine yards in the preseason.
Martavis Bryant, the Steelers' fourth-round pick this year, probably doesn't have to worry about making the team, but he has some work to do to move up the depth chart.
He hasn't played yet with the first team and won't until he improves his practice habits, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Here's what Roethlisberger told the paper:
He’s got to kind of earn his way onto the first group. That’s just the way it is. We have guys right now who are ahead of him on the depth chart that are playing at a high level. He’s going to have to really bust his butt to earn that spot with the first group.
Bryant has caught three passes for 37 yards in the preseason. He fumbled twice, losing one of them, in the opener.
Pro Football Focus has given Bryant the third worst overall grade among all Steelers offensive players for the first two preseason games. The only players who have graded lower are backup quarterbacks Bruce Gradkowski and Landry Jones, who have combined to complete 28 of 51 passes for 240 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions.
|Cody Wallace||OL||Out (finger)|
|Eric Waters||TE||Out (concussion)|
|Shaquille Richardson||CB||Out (knee)|
|Jordan Zumwalt||LB||Out (groin)|
|Greg Warren||LS||Out (knee)|
|Will Allen||S||Game-time decision (hamstring)|
|Will Johnson||FB||Game-time decision (hamstring)|
|Tauren Poole||RB||Game-time decision (hamstring)|
|Devin Smith||CB||Game-time decision (hamstring)|
Long snapper Greg Warren had surgery on his torn meniscus and should be back at some point in September, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Rookies Eric Waters, Shaquille Richardson and Jordan Zumwalt are on the roster bubble and their absence is a major blow to their chances of making the team. Waters was undrafted. Richardson was drafted in the fifth round and Zumwalt in the sixth round.
Jarvis Jones is returning from a groin injury, so for the first time this preseason the Steelers figure to have all their starters ready to go, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Injury statuses are from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
LeSean McCoy vs. Steelers Run Defense
The Steelers defense ranked 21st against the run last season, the first time since 2003 they failed to rank among the top 10, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
To make matters worse, they didn't even face the NFL's top rusher. LeSean McCoy, who led the league with 1,607 yards last season, is expected to play Thursday despite missing one practice with turf toe, according to CSNPhilly.com.
The Giants and Bills have combined to gouge the Steelers for 321 rushing yards on 69 carries, an average of 4.7 yards per carry, during the preseason. That's part of the reason Brett Keisel never made it out of the airport in Arizona.
Steelers defenders will have to buckle up to contain McCoy.
Eagles No-Huddle vs. Steelers Defense
The Steelers won't be the only team running the no-huddle Thursday. The Eagles ran it 68 percent of the time last season, more than any other team in NFL, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
While the Steelers defense has become younger and faster, it remains to be seen how much better it has become. The Eagles' high-octane offense will put it to the test.
Jordan Matthews vs. Steelers Secondary
Jordan Matthews, a rookie drafted in the second round, has 13 receptions for 118 yards in two preseason games. The Steelers secondary has been a mixed bag during the preseason. Shamarko Thomas, Robert Golden, William Gay, Brice McCain and Ike Taylor all have received positive grades for their pass coverage by Pro Football Focus. Golden intercepted a pass against the Bills.
Antwon Blake, Cortez Allen, Mike Mitchell and Troy Polamalu all have negative pass coverage grades. Allen, Mitchell and Polamalu are projected starters.
The Steelers defensive backs will have their work cut out for them trying to stop Matthews, who could immediately fill the void left by DeSean Jackson in Philadelphia.
Dri Archer vs. Eagles Defense
Rookie third-round pick Dri Archer has receptions of 46 yards against the Giants and 40 yards against the Bills. He'll try to extend that streak of receptions for 40-plus yards against the Eagles.
Steelers' X-Factor of the Week: Howard Jones
What exactly does Howard Jones have to do to be assured of a roster spot?
The 24-year-old rookie outside linebacker, undrafted out of Division II Shepherd University, has recovered three fumbles in the first two preseason games. He returned one for the Steelers' only touchdown of the game against the Giants, and returned another to the 1-yard line to set up Shaun Suisham's game-winning field goal against the Bills.
Jones is competing for a roster spot with Chris Carter, who is sackless in three seasons, and Vic So'oto, who turned 27 on Tuesday and is playing for his fifth NFL team.
Jones shares the team lead with two special teams tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. He can secure a roster spot with a few more of those. Or another splash play or two on defense.
Meanwhile, the Steelers have made the job pretty easy for whoever figures out the over/under. They lost 20-16 on the road against the Giants and defeated the Bills 19-16 at home.
These two no-huddle offenses will move the ball as long as the starters stay in the game, and the Eagles will get a jolt from playing in front of their home fans for the first time in 2014, even if the game doesn't count.
Prediction: Eagles 30, Steelers 25