The Pittsburgh Steelers were handed their first loss of the preseason Sunday night by the Denver Broncos, with a score of 34-17.
The offense looked pretty stagnant the whole game and honestly, the entire team did not look that good.
That is not to say that there were not bright spots here and that no player stood out, however, I think most fans, including me, were expecting a better performance.
Let’s face it though, this is the preseason and nothing that happened against the Broncos and nothing that will happen against Carolina will sway my knowing that the Steelers will go undefeated on their way to another Super Bowl championship this year.
Back to the article at hand, though. Here are my reactions and observations about the Steelers offensive performance in preseason game three.
Ben Roethlisberger played the entire first quarter of the game and led the Steelers to their only points of the first half and only points until the fourth quarter.
The first play from scrimmage for the Steelers was a really nice 47-yard pass from Ben to Mike Wallace. However, that was the only completion of the drive, which included Ben’s only two incompletions of the night.
Ben drove the offense down to the Bronco 15 yard-line, but then threw an incomplete pass on third down to force a field goal by Jeff Reed.
Coming back, Ben had three straight completions: two to Hines Ward, and a nice ten yard pass to Emmanuel Sanders which ended the first quarter and ended Ben’s time in the game.
Overall Ben ended 4-6 for 67 yards and a 104.2 passer rating. His performance just further solidifies my belief that he will step in after his suspension and carry the Steelers to another Super Bowl.
This was supposed to be the game where Dennis Dixon validated all of those fans saying that he should be the Steelers' week one starter.
Unfortunately this wasn’t the case as Dixon never really got into a rhythm and probably crushed any chance he had at winning the starting job.
These are the endings to the five drives that Dixon quarterbacked, in order: punt, interception, punt, interception, turnover on downs.
I am not saying that everything was Dixon’s fault however he was not sharp at all and looked uncomfortable pretty much the entire time he was in.
The interception in the endzone just cannot happen and the only two positive plays, in my opinion, were Dixon’s 29-yard scramble and a nice pass to Tyler Grisham for 13 yards.
Dixon’s final numbers were 9-16 for 94 yards with a passer rating of 33.9 and 33 rushing yards on 3 carries.
Well Byron Leftwich certainly did nothing against the Broncos to make Steelers fans confident in him, because Leftwich, in fact, did nothing in the game.
Byron Leftwich final stats were 0-4 for 0 yards with a passer rating of 39.6 (still higher than Dixon’s).
We have to take into account that Leftwich did not enter the game until about six minutes left in the third quarter and was with Steelers' second and third teams.
The two series that Byron was in the game ended with punts, and he was taken out after that.
There really is nothing you can take away from this game about Byron and I believe that his play in the first two preseason games and Dixon’s bad play against the Broncos has made it a lock that Byron Leftwich will be the starter for the Steelers in week one against Atlanta.
One of the most exciting topics going into the game against the Broncos was the fact that first round pick Maurkice Pouncey would be starting at center in place of Justin Hartwig.
In my opinion, he did a really good job and was one of the bright spots in the game for the Steelers.
Pouncey looks to be one of our best offensive linemen already and looked good against a tough opponent in Denver’s Jamal Williams.
This isn’t to say that Pouncey was perfect and I did see a few plays where he got beat. However, that is going to happen to everyone.
Overall I was very pleased to see Pouncey taking hold of that center position and Steelers fans should be as excited as I am to have this guy for the next ten years or so anchoring our offensive line.
There were other guys on the line other than Maurkice Pouncey, and I actually thought they did pretty well (at least to start the game).
When Ben was in the game, the running game moved the ball and Ben was not sacked.
As soon as Ben left, it seemed like the offensive line play started to diminish; the low point, in my opinion, being when Max Starks and Flozell Adams were flagged for false starts on back-to-back plays.
It was painful to watch Trai Essex get completely beat on a sack by Robert Ayers and there were a few holding penalties in the game as well.
Discounting what happened late in the game with our backup players, the offensive line did not do that badly and actually, we should be encouraged at what we saw from the starters.
Were they dominant? By no means. However, now that Pouncey is at center, the line looks like it is starting to gel and barring any injuries, I believe it is set for the season.
The Steelers were terrible last season in the redzone and were not much better on Sunday going 2-6 with two fourth quarter touchdowns.
In my opinion the Steelers’ struggles in this situation are more a product of Bruce Arians being one of the worst offensive coordinators in the NFL than the players on the field.
Ben had the first shot in the redzone and had two pass plays, one run, and one field goal.
In the three opportunities that Dixon had in the redzone, Arians called five passes to one run and Dixon threw two interceptions and was sacked twice, including that horrible fourth and one play.
Byron came in after the interception by Crezdon Butler and Arians immediately called a passing play which was almost intercepted. He then called a run which went for a touchdown for Jonathan Dwyer.
Batch had one shot at the redzone as well and again a pass was called, but this time it was good for a touchdown to Antonio Brown.
So let’s recount: 6 total trips, 3 rushing attempts – one touchdown, nine passing attempts – one touchdown, and one field goal.
In all that bad play in the redzone by the Steelers, there was one play in particular which stood out to me.
Dennis Dixon had just thrown a nice pass to Tyler Grisham for 13 yards and it was fourth and one on the Denver 17 yard-line.
The Steelers called timeout and I’m at home just praying that they just run it right up the middle.
What happens? Instead of again taking the opportunity to keep improving in short yardage, which we struggled with last season, Arians’ brilliant call was some kind of roll out draw for which Dennis Dixon was sacked for a six yard loss.
Again I get that we are trying out new things in preseason, however, when did we get good enough in short yardage to warrant us trying those new things?
We need to be able to keep drives going, score touchdowns, and just get better in all short yardage situations. But, yet again, another opportunity was wasted to see how much better we are.
Antonio Brown quickly became a fan favorite after his exciting play in the Steelers’ first preseason game against the Lions.
Making more of a buzz was the fact that Brown would then be challenging Stefan Logan’s spot as the return man against the Giants in week 2.
In my opinion Brown was better than Logan in that game even though they had pretty much the same stats. I was excited to see how he would carry that into the game against the Broncos.
Well Brown did not really light it up and made a bad decision to try to return a punt from the one yard line and only got three yards.
Brown had one kickoff return for 24 yards and two punt returns for 14 yards and has shown sure hands fielding the kicks in both games.
I still believe Brown has outplayed Logan who had only one kickoff return and punt return in the game for 18 and 6 yards respectively and deserves to make the 53-man roster.
I am in denial and believe that Hines Ward will play forever, however, just in case that doesn’t happen, I think the Steelers have a great group of young receivers in waiting.
Mike Wallace was great as a rookie and has looked ready for a huge breakout season as he takes over for Santonio Holmes as the starter.
Emmanuel Sanders has been solid all preseason and continues to impress me with every game. He has been sure handed and has impressed coaches with his blocking ability.
Even with all the talk about his route running against Denver, I believe Sanders will overtake Randle El for that number three receiver spot by the end of the season.
Lastly we have Antonio Brown who is the most raw out of the three. However, he has shown bursts of speed and has shown better hands than I expected.
Stats against Denver.
Mike Wallace - 3 receptions for 59 yards.
Emmanuel Sanders – 2 receptions for 29 yards.
Antonio Brown – 2 receptions for 17 yards and a touchdown.
With these three receivers the Steelers could be set for a long time. Don’t forget Tyler Grisham could still develop into a solid slot receiver as well.
Could it be possible?
Did the Jonathan Dwyer all of us were waiting for actually show up on Sunday?
All kidding aside it was a welcome sight to see what I had hoped to see the whole preseason which was Jonathan Dwyer actually in the game.
Dwyer had the best night by far of any Steelers running back and finished the game with 13 carries for 89 yards and a touchdown.
His five yard touchdown run in the third quarter was the first touchdown for the Steelers; the first points since Ben Roethlisberger drove down the field for a field goal in the first quarter.
At this point everyone, including myself, had counted Dwyer out and it was great to see him break one for 40 yards in the fourth quarter.
I don’t know if it's too late for Dwyer to make the team, however, I would not be surprised to see him make the team to keep other teams from signing him off the practice squad.
I have been rooting for him since he was drafted and even though I have him being cut in my 53-man roster article, I would be happy to see him make the team.