Pittsburgh Steelers: First Team Scores First


In the second preseason game for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the primary focus was on the first two minutes of the game in the 23-21 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. That’s because Mike Tomlin’s first-team offense was getting their first snaps of the season.

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After just one series, Tomlin must have been thrilled at what he witnessed. The game began with an opening touchback from Josh Scobee that placed Ben Roethlisberger and the starting lineup at the Steelers 20-yard line. Six plays later, Pittsburgh had a 7-0 lead.

In that first series, Antonio Brown was on the receiving end of a six-yard pass to begin the march downfield. Le’Veon Bell picked up another nine for a first down on another toss from Big Ben. Bell picked up where he left off in 2014 with a 16-yard romp which got the Steelers to the Jacksonville 49.

A follow-up rush by Bell provided for two more yards. On third and five, last year’s amazing rookie Martavis Bryant began his sophomore campaign with a 44-yard stinger from Roethlisberger that put Pittsburgh on the scoreboard.

Whether it is this writer’s imagination or it is true, but Ben Roethlisberger definitely looks heavier than he did a year ago. That could be a good thing for the Steelers as a bigger Roethlisberger might mean a stronger one.

With the new rule of an extra-point coming from the 15-yard line, Mike Tomlin opted to go for the two-point conversion following the touchdown. It was successful on a pass from Roethlisberger to one of the other big three receivers, Markus Wheaton. 8-0 Pittsburgh and the night over for most of the starting offense.

Once Roethlisberger went to the bench, it was expected that Landry Jones would be next to take snaps. What wasn’t anticipated by most Steelers fans is that Jones would again finish the game. After playing an entire 60 minutes last week against the Vikings, Jones was given another chance to improve on his performance in Canton.

"“As a leader of this offense, you want those guys to be selfless like ‘even if I don’t catch a ball, it doesn’t matter as long as we win” Ben Roethlisberger"

After a sluggish start in the first half, Jones began to improve in the third quarter but even more so in the final session. Like a boxer who wins a round with a flurry near the final bell, Jones used the fourth quarter to put together impressive drives. To his defense, he was not helped by several dropped passes, most notably by rookie Shakim Phillips who dropped a couple of what appeared to be easy passes.

While Phillips was an undrafted free agent, 2105 third round draft pick Sammie Coates who is expected to be a contributor also dropped a pass. Coates made up for it later in the game with some receptions and a crucial fumble recovery.

Phillips’ performance against the Jaguars could very well knock him off the roster at the end of the preseason or at a minimum land him on the practice squad. Besides, there is very little room for receivers on Pittsburgh’s depth chart after Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Markus Wheaton.

It would be a good bet that Jones’ fourth quarter performance has locked him in as at least the third string quarterback behind Bruce Gradkowski as Tyler Murphy, Devin Gardner, or Tajh Boyd have yet to take snaps in the first two preseason games. C.J. Goodwin also helped Jones look more impressive as the second-year player from California University of Pennsylvania hauled in two fourth quarter passes one of which put the Steelers ahead 21-17 on a four-yard pass play from Jones.

In the end, Jones improved his quarterback rating from a week ago (albeit not by much) to 70.9 and threw for 200 yards. While being sacked twice, he did not throw an interception. For DeAngelo Williams, he will be the starter on September 10 when Le’Veon Bell sits out for two games. In Jacksonville last Friday, Williams made his Steelers debut with six carries going for 28 yards and a nice 4.7-per-carry average.

For Martavis Bryant, he excited Steelers Nation early in the game with three receptions for 55 yards including that 44-yard bomb to paydirt. Darrius Heyward-Bey who failed to really put a stamp on his performance last season showed he wants to stay on the team by catching three passes for 30 yards while missing on just one pass.

As for the defense, the first Jaguars offensive series was a three-and-out. But the next time they got the ball back, Jacksonville mounted a 8:17 drive that took 13 plays for 45 yards but resulted in just a field goal. Kudos to that defense for standing tall in a long drive and preventing a touchdown. The Jaguars would score before the half on a Blake Bortles four-yard run and they would hold that lead until late in the game.

To his credit, Bortles showed Pittsburgh and the rest of the NFL that he truly does belong in the league and he is a big-time quarterback. With the proper tools around him, he could have major success in the National Football League. As for Landry Jones, he will probably spend his entire career as  backup, but one has to wonder how well he would do if placed behind center with the first-team offense. A guess here is that he would do very well. In the fourth quarter Jones made some very sharp passes.

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  • Unlike the Hall of Fame Game, there were no major injuries for the Steelers and only Josh Harris suffered a foot injury and had to leave the game. Hats off to newcomer Garrett Hartley who kicked two successful field goals in replacing Shaun Suisham. Ben Roethlisberger wrapped up his one series by saying:

    “We want to start fast. We got everybody involved. I told the O-line if you guys protect like that and open up holes in the run game, good things are going to happen. That’s what we need to do every time. We need to start fast like that.”


    No team ever wants to lose even if it is preseason, and head coach Mike Tomlin summed it up with:

    “It wasn’t the outcome we desired obviously, but what awesome situations for the group to be in. Some positive things, some negative things. I liked the energy and effort of the guys. We just came up short.”

    His entire post-game press conference can be found on the Steelers official web site. Even in a loss there will always be positives. Bearing in mind that the game was played almost entirely without the starting lineup that will begin the season next month, there were those who shined last Friday night.

  • Ryan Shazier played extremely well and is showing no signs of repercussions from last year’s injury. The second-year player finished with eight tackles, six of them solo.
  • Sean Spence enters his second straight season without being injured and he added seven tackles, five solo.
  • James Harrison while not having practiced at training camp got playing time in Jacksonville and had one of the team’s two sacks as well as a tackle for a loss in his three tackles made.
  • The entire defense played hard, aggressive, and finished tackles.

  • At cornerback B.W. Webb did not play well getting burned several times and making just one tackle.
  • Dri Archer played much of the game against the Jaguars and while his numbers don’t reflect it, he did show signs that for just his speed he may not be expendable.
  • Finally, we have the Steelers punting competition. Jordan Berry or Brad Wing. Wing or Berry? Last Friday, Wing punted four times for an average of 44.3 with two inside the 20 and a long of 53. Berry on the other hand had only two opportunities and averaged 42 yards on those two punts. His long was 51 and one landed inside the 20. Mike Tomlin is going to need every minute of the final three preseason games to decide who it will be. Right now it appears to be a tossup. Berry did show better hang time but Wing’s distance was just a tad better.
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