The Pittsburgh Steelers ended their 2013 preseason schedule much like they started it. The 25-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers was yet another game filled with “some positives, some negatives,” to quote Mike Tomlin.
Sure, 0-4 isn’t the way Tomlin and Co. wanted to roll into the 2013 regular season, but the absence of a preseason major injury is the real sign of a successful preseason. Right?
Well, and of course, finding enough talent to field a 53-man football team. If anything, the Steelers will struggle to find enough spots to keep all the talent they have picked up. After all, they have already cut two veterans, Sylvester Stevenson and Baron Batch, in order to find room for the additional talented rookies and free agents. But not all positions are deeply stocked — case in point, last night’s loss.
Carolina opened up with backup quarterback Derek Anderson, a former Cleveland Browns Pro Bowler, under center. Anderson and sidekick Ted Ginn, Jr. did their best to show head coach Ron Rivera they are ready to cover in case Cam Newton and the anemic first-team Carolina offense continues to be stuck in neutral. Ginn beat struggling Steelers cornerback Curtis Brown for an 35-yard opening drive touchdown.
Brown is currently competing with rookie Terry Hawthorne and Josh Victorian for the fourth corner spot. Hawthorne hasn’t seen many snaps due to a knee injury in camp but the preseason play by Victorian and Brown has defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau seriously considering rookie safety Shamarko Thomas and second-year safety Robert Golden as better options for the dime defense. In fact, Brown and Victorian played poorly enough that Hawthorne and free-agent corner Devin Still have a chance to bump them both from the roster.
One guy who has already secured his spot on the 53-man is rookie fourth-rounder Landry Jones. The former Oklahoma QB started out firing on the run, connecting with Heath Miller’s temporary replacement David Paulson for a 13-yard precision-pass TD, tying the score 7-7.
A combination of Steelers’ first- and second-team defense kept Carolina out of the end zone until the second quarter, when Carolina went up 10-7 on a 19-yard Graham Gano FG. Then the depth of the Steelers secondary was again questioned when Ginn, Jr. blew past Brown and safeties Robert Golden and Damon Cromartie-Smith for a 87-yard score.
Jones and the Steelers offense eventually countered with a 37-yard Shaun Suisham field goal, ending the first half down 17-10. That was thanks in large part to the excellent field position the Steelers defense provided. At the half, Tomlin spoke with the sideline reporter about the “aspiring Steelers who aren’t doing much for their cause by letting the ball go over their heads” (See: Cromartie-Smith and Brown) and mentioned the “encouraging” play of Jones – a compliment that was spoken a bit too soon.
As the third quarter wound down, Jones reverted to rookie form, throwing back-to-back interceptions. The first was in the red zone, as Derrick Moye, one of four battling for the fifth WR spot, saved a touchdown by chasing down cornerback Josh Norman on his 70-yard INT return. Add in Moye’s 55 yards on two catches and it looks like we may have a winner for the final WR opening, and a 6-foot-5 receiver for Ben Roethlisberger to see in the red zone.
With Anderson on the sidelines, Carolina third string QB Jimmy Clausen struggled to get past rookie linebackers Alan Baxter (three tackles, two solo, numerous quarterback hurries) and Vince Wiliams (six tackles, three solo). There was also a sighting of veteran Chris Carter, who finally put some positive stats on his resume with two sacks and a forced fumble. Clauson was unable to find the end zone after twice being set up on the Pittsburgh side of the field by interceptions.
Rookie punt returner Reggie Dunn made the final error of the night, electing to return a punt from the end zone and ultimately handing Carolina another two points on a safety.
Notes: The Steelers finally got control of the penalty party they have been having this preseason. They were only flagged twice for 15 yards…Fullback Will Johnson exited the game with what appeared to be a hamstring issue…Recently added running back Felix Jones led the Steelers in rushing with 56 yards on 12 carries. His quick assimilation into the Steelers and Dwyer’s fumbling issues may shake up what looked to be a set running back depth chart…Dwyer’s first-quarter fumble was his second of the preseason.