UPDATE: Steelers’ Shaun Suisham has suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament as well as a cartilage tear, and will be undergoing surgery and placed on injured reserve.
Following a raucous Hall of Fame speech in front of thousands of crazed Steelers fans on Saturday night, the weekend did not end well for the Pittsburgh Steelers. On Sunday night’s NFL preseason opener, the Black and Gold fell to the Minnesota Vikings 14-3.
The loss should be easy to shrug off for not just Mike Tomlin and his staff but for Steelers Nation as well. After all, it doesn’t count in the standings for one, and obviously because the first-team offense and most of the defense witnessed the game from the sidelines.
"“Obviously it wasn’t good enough to win” Landry Jones"
As starters sat, guys like Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams, Josh Harris, and the three big receivers, Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, and Martavis Bryant all did not play. On the other side of the ball, some key faces were also on the bench. Vince Williams, Cortez Allen, Mike Mitchell, Shamarko Thomas, Jarvis Jones, and James Harrison will all have to wait until Friday in Jacksonville when the Steelers take on the Jaguars and even then some of those aforementioned may not play.
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With Bruce Gradkowski not able to play just yet, Mike Tomlin’s decision to allow Landry Jones to play the entire 60 minutes last Sunday night was a curious one. Jones is entering his third season with the Steelers and has yet to show that he can surpass Gradkowski for the backup role to Big Ben. Sunday night’s performance did not help his case.
With a quarterback ratiing of just 61.3, Jones missed on half of his 32 passing attempts and threw for just 135 yards while being sacked twice. There were a few drops by his receivers, but overall, Jones was far from impressive. Why none of the other quarterbacks received any playing time is a decision Tomlin obviously made. It seems he is interested in giving Jones as much opportunity to move up on the depth chart and remain with the team as possible.
Rookie Tyler Murphy did get in the game for one play, a “wildcat” sort of play that gained him just two yards on the ground. Announcers Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels made reference to ex-Steeler Kordell Stewart and his Slash moniker on the play.
Said Landry about his performance: “It’s hard to look back at it without watching the film. There were good things and bad things. I’m interested to see what it looks like on tape. I will learn from it. Obviously it wasn’t good enough to win. That’s the ultimate goal. We have to grow from this one and move on.”
The Steelers also have rookie Devin Gardner and veteran Tajh Boyd on the roster at quarterback. Expect to see more from them in the next four preseason games. For the record, in the preseason, Minnesota and Pittsburgh have played 10 games to date and the Vikes have taken eight of those. Playing in the Hall of Fame game, Pittsburgh has been an opponent six times and hold an even 3-3 record. The last time they played in this game was 1998 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Steelers also took part in 2007 (New Orleans Saints also in 1983), 1964 (Baltimore Colts), and 1963 (Cleveland Browns). Let us not forget either that these two teams met in Super Bowl IX for the Steelers first-ever Lombardi Trophy a game won by the Black and Gold 16-6.
Perhaps the biggest news from Sunday night’s game and the most unfortunate is what took place after Shaun Suisham attempted to make a tackle on a kickoff return to start the second half and “Suishi” injured his left knee.
Following the game, Mike Tomlin called the injury potentially significant. If Suisham’s knee becomes more serious where he can’t play, then the Steelers are obviously going to have to go fishing for a new kicker.
Rookie running back Cameron Stingley got the call to start at running back and the product of Northern Illinois who is 6’1, 235, ended up with a right knee injury that Tomlin called “possible meniscus.” Stingley as a rookie is hard pressed to make the team anyway with Josh Harris, DeAngelo Williams, and starter Le’Veon Bell ahead of him.
Despite the loss and the inability for the offense to get in the end zone there were some highlights and lowlights. Rookie tight end Jesse James will want to remove this game from memory. Not a good start for the former Penn State Nittany Lion. From dropping a sure touchdown pass a few yards from the end zone to dropping a second pass in his bread basket that turned into a Minnesota interception, James will have to improve greatly on that performance if he is to earn a spot on the team that includes four other tight ends including incumbent Heath Miller and his primary backup Matt Spaeth.
Fellow rookie Cameron Clear will give James all he can handle in the competition. A third rookie that went undrafted is Ray Hamilton who appears to be the odd man out in the battle for a possible third tight end spot on the roster.
“That wasn’t the type of performance we were looking for” Mike Tomlin
Rookie Sammie Coates could be a dark horse receiver and on Sunday night he showed a solid ability to get open, and finished with a reception for 12 yards while being targeted four times. A few of those passes from Landry were off the mark. Asked about his NFL debut, Coates said the following: “I got to compete for the first time and play my first NFL game. I know I have a lot to still work on. I’m going to continue to get better and continue to fight to get my job done. It’s a great opportunity, a great blessing to be here. Keep taking advantage of all the chances I get and I gotta get better each day.”
Another player on the hot seat is running back Dri Archer. Expected to do big things in 2014, Archer instead appeared to be too small to be effective in the pros and his amazing speed was never put on full display. On Sunday night Mike Tomlin gave him plenty of opportunities, and it seems Archer did learn from his mistakes and mediocre play from last season.
Archer ran the ball four times for an average per-carry mark of 6.0. One run came for 15 yards. In the air, Archer hauled six more passes for 33 yards including a 14-yarder and was thrown to 11 times. Archer was also the kick and punter returner for the Steelers and on his only return during a kickoff, Archer ran the ball back 34 yards nearly breaking it to the house on the way.
Boston’s College’s Shakim Phillips ended as Pittsburgh’s leading receiver in the game as the rookie pulled in just two receptions but they were good for 43 yards on the strength of a 35-yard pass play. Defensively, sophomore Ryan Shazier made his return from injury and was impressive. Shazier led the team with five tackles and four were solo.
The only sack of the game for new Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler’s unit came from Ethan Hemer. Without the most of the starters playing, it would be hard to judge the effectiveness of Butler’s “new look” defense. There were only two quarterback hits and just that one sack. No interceptions and several missed tackles.
The entire game boxscore can be found on ESPN’s NFL site. Following the game, Mike Tomlin met the press and provided the following summary:
“That wasn’t the type of performance we were looking for. There were some things we were trying to get done, things that I shared with you guys, that we thought were going to be important for us to play well. Quite frankly, we didn’t do it. We had some pre-snap penalties that defeated us. We talked about that the other day. Third-down-and-10 became third-down-and-15. We had delay of games and things of that nature in several instances. We lost the turnover battle. We made ourselves an easy team to beat because of some of those things. We missed some opportunities, including a scoring opportunity in the red zone. We didn’t capitalize on it. We turned the ball over. We didn’t produce points off of a turnover when we had a short field. There was some shoddy tackling at times.”
Tomlin continued; “These are not things to be excited about, but they are things that we will own, correct and get ready for our next opportunity, which is right around the corner as we go to Jacksonville. On the injury front, we have a couple of significant or potentially significant ones. Shaun Suisham has a left knee injury. I don’t have any more information at this time. We are going to evaluate him. I will get the information to you as soon as we get it. Cameron Stingily has a right knee injury, a possible meniscus, but again, none of those things are definitive at this point. We have to get those guys evaluated. When we do, we will get any information to you. We have some bumps and bruises associated with playing, but I don’t think those are significant at this point.”
The entire transcript can be read on the Steelers’ official web site.
As indicated, the Steelers travel next to Jacksonville, Florida to take on the Jags and this time you may see Ben Roethlisberger suiting up as well as other starters. It probably won’t be for too many snaps, but it’s a solid guess that Landry Jones will be receiving far less significant playing time.