Pittsburgh Steelers’ lack of depth shows in first preseason game


Aug 10, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jarvis Jones (95) looks on from the sidelines against the New York Giants during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The New York Giants won 18-13. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ first preseason game has come and gone and like most fans, I am a bit worried about the depth of this team.

I’ve mentioned it before in a previous piece about the lack of depth and I think that coach Mike Tomlin or anyone else on the team would be lying if they said they expect the next guy to be able to step in without losing. Plain and simple, if injuries happen anywhere on this team – except perhaps running back – the Steelers will be in big trouble.

Granted, if the Steelers lost a defensive player at any position, that would probably equal an extra three points per starter out so the offense would need to step it up and close the gap or surpass it for a win. If an offensive player went down, the defense would have to stop another three points per game. I know three points doesn’t sound like a whole lot but you figure the Steelers can score about 20-23 points per game but their defense may give up 17-20 points per game, so three points is very significant.

The Steelers got their first pieces of bad news this past week when wide receiver Plaxico Burress and tight end Matt Spaeth both went down with injuries. While Burress’ injury is worse (out for the year), Spaeth will probably be gone well past the return of Heath Miller.  This makes Spaeth pretty useless and unless one of the new tight ends can step up and play decently, the position is absolutely a weakness. As the fans got geared up for the first exhibition game, we learned that rookie running back Le’Veon Bell would not play due to a sore knee.

Thankfully, Bell has returned to practice and should play against the Redskins next Monday night, but I believe everyone could tell what kind of night last Saturday would be. In surprisingly good news, another back stood up and showed something that most didn’t expect: LaRod Stephens-Howling did quite well and showed quickness and nifty footwork that led to 40 yards in seven carries. Equate that to a full game and it’s 28 carries for 160 yards. That’s a great day and a Steelers victory.

Aug 10, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers guard John Malecki (62) pass blocks against New York Giants defensive tackle Marvin Austin (96) during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The New York Giants won 18-13. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Among other Steelers to show some positives was rookie receiver Markus Wheaton. While not having a great day statistically, he showed some spark that really can carry over to big games. On the defensive side of the ball, tackle Al Woods had a really solid game and we got to see plenty of first-round pick Jarvis Jones. Jones looked very tentative out there and a bit lost at times but the kid’s got a motor and I’m very excited for what he might be able to do once he gets comfortable.

On the flip side of the coin, some players who didn’t perform very well would include cornerback William Gay in his first game back with the Black & Gold. Jonathan Dwyer looked pretty average at best and quarterback Landry Jones took his first NFL snap, turned the wrong way on a handoff and ended up being sacked in the end zone for a safety. He was OK the rest of the time he was in, though.

Gay’s miscue led to being burned by Giants wideout Victor Cruz on a 57-yard touchdown strike. Left guard Ramon Foster was beaten pretty badly to allow a sack but was solid the rest of the time.

This game absolutely showed the Steelers’ lack of hope if a starter were to go down. If all the Steelers starters stay healthy all 16 games, their record would be 11-5 at worst because the offense and defense both can be very highly-rated. As we all know, injuries are part of the game and while the Steelers should get Miller back possibly the week after the bye, it’s hard to say how effective he will be right away.

The second-string offensive line is scary but I’m really digging the zone-blocking scheme and that should help take away some of the injuries that have been occurring under the previous offensive line coach.

All in all, the Steelers looked pretty flat the entire game and minus a couple nice plays on both sides of the ball, there is much work to be done. The good news is, it was only the first preseason game and there is plenty of time to fix some of the problems. The bad news is, some of those problems are the exact same problems the Steelers had last year: too many penalties and a serious lack of depth.

Can the Steelers overcome that and shock the world? Possibly, but let’s hope that Game 2 is a much smoother ride.