Steelers vs. Eagles: Report Card Grades for Each Steelers Unit
The Steelers defense experienced a culture shock going up against the Eagles offense, which ranked second in the NFL last season with 417.2 yards per game, according to NFL.com. The New York Giants (28th) and Buffalo Bills (19th) offenses did not prepare them for this.
Philadelphia (1-2) churned out 482 yards of total offense with 36 first downs. Nick Foles completed 19 of 29 passes for 179 yards, a touchdown and an interception to lead the Eagles to a 17-0 halftime lead.
Mark Sanchez entered the game in the third quarter and orchestrated two more touchdown drives against the Steelers' first-team defense as the Eagles built their lead to 31-7 after three quarters.
Meanwhile, the Steelers couldn't get on the board until their first-team offense got a second crack at the Eagles' second-team defense.
Ben Roethlisberger completed 8 of 17 passes in the first half for 60 yards with an interception. He spruced up that line a little bit against the Eagles second-stringers in the third quarter. He finished 15-for-24 for 157 yards with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Heath Miller and the interception.
Bruce Gradkowski threw touchdown passes to Darrius Heyward-Bey and Martavis Bryant as the Steelers outscored the Eagles 14-0 in the fourth quarter. Landry Jones saw no action.
The best Steelers on the field, at least statistically, were the ones who caused so many headaches the day before. Le'Veon Bell ran the ball four times for 19 yards in the first half, and LeGarrette Blount carried five times for 22 yards in the half. Both running backs fared better against the Eagles starters than they did against the second unit.
On the injury front, which is all that really matters in preseason games, defensive end Cameron Heyward and linebackers Jason Worilds and Sean Spence all were hurt. None of those injuries appear to be serious, however.
Heyward hurt his ankle, and Worilds and Spence suffered knee injuries. Spence's injury was to his right knee, not the one that was torn up in a preseason game two years ago.
I meant #Steelers Sean Spence. He's supposed to be ok
— Jason Cole (@JasonPhilCole) August 22, 2014
I asked Cam Heyward if his ankle injury was anything to worry about... "No"
— Ken Laird (@Ken_Laird) August 22, 2014
Jason Worilds came jogging off the field into the locker room without anything visible on his knee. Looks fine
— Ken Laird (@Ken_Laird) August 22, 2014
Ben Roethlisberger was off-target on a lot of his throws, completing just two of his first seven.
Trailing 14-0 early in the second quarter, the Steelers reached the Eagles' 40-yard line when Roethlisberger threw the interception. He was flushed out of the pocket, and there didn't appear to be a receiver in the area.
Roethlisberger couldn't even move the Steelers past their own 31 against the Eagles' second unit in the opening series of the second half. He finally strung together five straight completions on a six-play, 79-yard drive that culminated in a 27-yard touchdown pass to Heath Miller.
Bruce Gradkowski had an affinity for the long ball when he entered the game. He threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey and a three-yard TD pass to Martavis Bryant for the game's final margin. Gradkowski completed eight of 11 passes for 105 yards with no interceptions.
The third preseason game is regarded as the dress rehearsal for the regular season. Nowhere was that more apparent than at running back. Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount combined for 16 of the Steelers' 17 runs Thursday night despite their charges for marijuana possession and Bell's additional charge for driving under the influence of marijuana.
Bell and Blount combined to run the ball nine times for 41 yards in the first half for a decent average of 4.6 yards per carry. Blount also caught three passes for 14 yards in the game.
Bell wasn't as effective in the second half. He ran five times for four yards against the Eagles' second unit. Blount added two carries for 10 yards in the second half to finish with seven carries for 32 yards. Bell ended up with nine carries for 23 yards.
Both backs returned to the game in the fourth quarter and ran behind the Steelers' backup offensive linemen.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
It's tough to be too hard on the Steelers wide receivers, considering how off the mark Ben Roethlisberger was with many of his passes.
Markus Wheaton, who is trying to nail down the No. 2 receiver spot behind Antonio Brown, was the target of some of Roethlisberger's worst throws in the first half. He finally caught two passes for 24 yards in the second half.
Brown led the unit with 59 yards on three catches. Darrius Heyward-Bey was a close second with 54 yards on three catches, including a 33-yard touchdown reception from Bruce Gradkowski. Heyward-Bey missed time in training camp with a concussion and is trying to make up ground in an effort to win a job. He took a step forward while Martavis Bryant took a step backward.
Bryant, a rookie fourth-round draft pick, caught two passes for 28 yards and a touchdown, but he couldn't hang on to some balls that should have been caught. Justin Brown, who has been impressive during training camp and the preseason, was held without a catch.
Heath Miller looked solid with five catches for 53 yards.
Ben Roethlisberger appeared to have ample time to throw most of the night. He was sacked twice. One of those came on the last play of the first half, and the other came in the third quarter.
The line also deserves its share of the credit for the holes Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount enjoyed early in the game.
Only two holding penalties were called on the unit, with Ramon Foster and backup Guy Whimper the culprits.
The Steelers' defensive woes in this game begin here.
The Eagles ran the ball 35 times for 182 yards, an average of 5.2 yards per carry. It's not like Eagles stud LeSean McCoy ate up a lot of that yardage. He ran just four times for 24 yards before leaving the game with a thumb injury.
Pittsburgh's defensive line left a lot to be desired in short-yardage situations. Three of the Eagles' four touchdowns were on one-yard runs. In the first quarter, on 3rd-and-1 from the Eagles' 46, Matthew Tucker picked up six yards to sustain a drive that ended with a Darren Sproles touchdown run and a 14-0 Eagles lead.
Ethan Hemer, an undrafted rookie from Wisconsin, managed the Steelers' only sack of the night.
Nick Foles wasn't sacked and was rarely pressured. Neither was Mark Sanchez, who completed 7 of 9 passes in the third quarter.
Jason Worilds had a quarterback hurry early in the game, but no linebacker registered a sack. Jarvis Jones was the only Steelers linebacker to hit the quarterback, and he did it just once, according to ESPN.com.
Rookie Ryan Shazier came crashing down to earth after his impressive debut. He was burned by Eagles tight ends Brent Celek (two catches for 41 yards) and Zach Ertz (two catches for 24 yards).
The linebackers also could have provided a little more help on the game's opening score, a 22-yard screen pass to LeSean McCoy.
Fourteen different Eagles caught passes. Eagles quarterbacks completed 31 of 43 passes for 309 yards, although Troy Polamalu did intercept a pass in the second quarter.
There wasn't much to salvage from Mike Mitchell's performance. He missed a tackle on the Eagles' first scoring drive and was blocked out of the play when Brent Celek caught a 23-yard pass on the drive.
The Steelers allowed the Eagles' three backup quarterbacks, Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley and G.J. Kinne, to complete 12 of 14 passes in the second half.
The illegal contact and defensive holding point of emphasis went both ways in the game, but Ike Taylor was flagged for roughing the passer to aid a touchdown drive that increased the Eagles' lead to 31-7 in the third quarter.
Cortez Allen, Polamalu and Taylor all broke up one pass, according to ESPN.com.
Shaun Suisham missed a 46-yard field-goal attempt, his only try of the game, and Brad Wing averaged an underwhelming 39.8 yards on five punts.
The Steelers showed a little life returning kickoffs. Lanear Sampson returned two of them for 74 yards, and LeGarrette Blount matched his uniform number with a 27-yard return.
Suisham's missed field goal is a little unnerving considering he also missed a 38-yarder in the preseason opener and an extra point against Buffalo.
Mike Tomlin deserves credit for playing Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount following Wednesday's marijuana incident. Not only that, but he put them back in the game in the fourth quarter to toil among the scrubs.
Tomlin said he deemed playing Bell, Blount late into game as part of punishment. Said not playing wouldn't have been punishment #Steelers
— Dale Lolley (@dlolleyor) August 22, 2014
Tomlin and his staff deserve their share of the blame, however, for the Steelers' flat performance. The Steelers committed 13 penalties for 92 yards. The Eagles committed more (14 for 110 yards), but that's something the Steelers have to clean up.
While it can be argued that the starters should have been kept in the game until they did something remotely encouraging, it was a bit risky to keep Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu in there against players who are fighting for jobs.
Let's give the Steelers the benefit of the doubt and assume their game plan would have been a little more elaborate had this game counted. We'll spare them the failing grade and give them a D for their overall performance.
They showed evidence of a productive running game if Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount can stay out of trouble, and the offensive line was respectable. However, there's no sugarcoating the clunkers turned in by Ben Roethlisberger and the defense.