In their first preseason game of the season the Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the New York Giants, 18-13. Thankfully preseason games don’t really matter but we can still analyze and talk about the performance of the team. The Steelers had their starters on the field for two series and there were many good and bad things to take away from their play.
Steeler fans unfortunately didn’t get to see the second round pick Le’Veon Bell who was deactivated before the game as a precautionary measure with tightness in his left knee. So in place of Bell, Issac Redman got the start for the Steelers and while he had a couple good carries, the running back who stole the show in the early parts of the game was LaRod Stephens-Howling.
The Pitt product ran the ball seven times for 40 yards, averaging close to six yards per carry. Stephens-Howling looked fast and he was hitting the hole hard. His small size and his toughness at the point of attack was helpful for the Steelers’ running game. He lead all running backs for the Steelers in both yards and attempts; Jonathan Dwyer was the only one close to Stephens-Howling, carrying six times for 11 yards.
Although Bell didn’t get a chance to show his stuff the Steelers already had a healthy competition for the starting running back job and if Stephens-Howling can keep playing like he did against the Giants then it will make this competition even more interesting as the preseason progresses.
Throughout the offseason the talk around Steelers camp was how improved the offensive line would be, in this game I saw both good and bad things from the o-line. The good came from the way they played the zone blocking running scheme. To play this you need to have athletic linemen, which the Steelers have, and they proved it in the first two series that they were on the field.
Stephens-Howling may have played well but that’s because he had great holes to run through. The best part for me was David DeCastro making me eat my words. In my last article I mentioned that DeCastro needed to play well and if he plays the whole season like he did against the Giants then it will be a good year for the Steelers’ running game. There was one play where DeCastro drove his guy five yards down the field and Stephens-Howling ripped off an eight yard gain.
The final good thing that I took from the first preseason game was the ultra competitiveness of the competition between Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds for the starting job at strong side linebacker. Both played very well against the Giants. Worilds was the one who got the start and he recorded two tackles and a sack. Jones on the other hand had one tackle and a fumble recovery. Worilds and Jones seem to be neck and neck for the starting job but one thing that could work in the favor of Jones is the penalties that Worilds took that extended a couple drives for the Giants.
Just like there were good things that happened for the Steelers, there were also a couple bad things that they need to work on. The first thing that stuck out was the pass protection. On one of the first plays of the game Cullen Jenkins flew by Ramon Foster and sacked Ben Roethlisberger. Unfortunately the pass protection didn’t get much better. The Steelers allowed five sacks to a Giants team that played without their top two pass rushers. For now I’m going to chalk it up as the first actual game action they have seen in a long time but if it keeps up, don’t expect a whole lot of good things from the Steelers passing game this season.
On the Giants second offensive possession they scored their only touchdown of the game. It was a 57-yard catch and run by Victor Cruz. I put this in the bad category because on that play Cruz blew by the whole secondary. Nobody was able to catch him and he made the Steelers’ defense look really old on just one play. Polamalu and Clark were both diving at his feet but were only getting air. This scares me because if the defense had a hard time catching Cruz on a play that early in the game how are they going to look when the regular season starts and they are playing against receivers of Cruz’s caliber every week?
Last year the Steelers were one of the most penalized teams in the league and in their game against the Giants it looked like they were beginning right were they left off. The Steelers had seven penalties against the Giants for 50 yards. And many of the penalties led to good plays for the Giants. Like the ineligible man downfield on the first Drew Butler punt that led to the Giants blocking the second attempt. Also there were roughing the passer penalties that extended a couple Giants drives. Penalties kill in the NFL and if the Steelers play undisciplined this year like last year then they will be digging themselves many deep holes that will be hard to get out of.