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Saturday night the Steelers lost 26-20 in overtime to the Kansas City Chiefs at Heinz Field, dropping their record to 0-3. The encouraging news is the starters played longer and better than they have to this point in the preseason. Like all NFL teams, the Steelers will have to trim the roster from 90 to 75 by Tuesday, but this first cut is unlikely to bring any surprises as the backend of the 90-man roster is not very strong. The team will turn right around and wrap up their exhibition season Thursday night at 7:30 on the road against the Carolina Panthers. Don’t expect to see many key players on the field for that one. I’ve listed my expected cuts at the bottom.
Steelers linebacker and first-round pick Jarvis Jones, who was excellent in extended playing time, suffered an undisclosed injury to his chest in the fourth quarter. Jones intercepted a pass (overturned by penalty) and was tackled on the return appearing to land awkwardly, possibly on the ball. After staying down for an extended time Jones was able to walk off on his own although he appeared to have some continued discomfort on the sideline and did not re-enter the game. After the game Jones was taken from the stadium by stretcher and went to a local hospital by ambulance. The team has not updated his condition. Curtis Brown left in the second half to be evaluated for a concussion but was able to return.
(UPDATE:Sunday afternoon Steelers head of PR Burt Lauten tweeted: "The @steelers Jarvis Jones (@SacManJones_29) has been released from the hospital. Tests are negative." That would appear to be positive, but it is believed that he suffered a deep bone bruise, mostly likely of the sternum. We'll see if Jones dresses on Thursday for the final game.)
11 Steelers sat this one out including running backs Le’Veon Bell, Isaac Redman and LaRod Stephens-Howling. The missing players who probably suffered the most from not being able to go are linebacker Stevenson Slyvester, who has missed the past two games and is in a very competitive battle at the position, corner Isaiah Green and defensive end Nick Williams. At this point the latter two are most-likely headed to the practice squad.
*The Steelers season is likely to hinge on Ben Roethlisberger and Ben showed all the skills that make him one of the best in the game Saturday night. He finished 13/19 for 166 yards and a touchdown in one half of playing time. He showcased his repertoire of throws connecting into tight windows, on touch throws over defenders and hooking-up on a deep ball to Antonio Brown for a 49-yard gain down the left sideline. On that pass and several others Roethlisberger stood in the pocket against heavy pressure and delivered the ball on-time and on-the-mark. The few instances Ben had time to survey the field he made it look easy. This was the most important performance of the night and there is no reason to think that this offense won’t be productive if he stays healthy.
*It’s hard to imagine the Steelers receiving core could be more talented this year than last having lost Mike Wallace to free agency and adding only rookie Markus Wheaton, but it isn’t a stretch to think they will be more productive. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders have looked good throughout training camp and Brown was finally part of the action last night with three catches in four targets for 61 yards. Wheaton is going to contribute right away and may soon supplant Jericho Cotchery as the number three wideout. He made a nice touchdown catch, getting behind the defense to haul in a 34-yard score from back-up QB Bruce Gradkowski. 40 catches in his first season doesn’t seem to be a stretch.
*The fifth wide receiver spot is still up-for-grabs, but Derek Moye made a strong case for himself with 3 catches for 41 yards while showing surprising elusiveness as a runner after the catch. At 6’5” Moye’s height could be a deciding factor in what now appears to be a battle between him, sixth-round pick Justin Brown and possibly return-man Reggie Dunn.
*The health of the running game continues to be a question mark. Presumptive starter Le’Veon Bell has had four carries and is out an indeterminate length of time with a mid-foot sprain. Co-number one on the depth chart Isaac Redman carried the first two plays of the preseason and hasn’t been seen since and free agent signing LaRod Stephens-Howling has seven preseason carries and, like Redman, has missed the last two games. Neither Jon Dwyer nor new-acquisition Felix Jones did much Saturday night. The Steelers may have the talent to have a good running game and the offensive line’s run-blocking has improved as camp has progressed, but the health of the backs is a major concern.
*The tight end position continues to be a problem. Rather than turn to the newly-activated David Johnson, Jamie McCoy or Michael Palmer to line up as an in-line blocker early in the game, the Steelers repeatedly had Kelvin Beachum line up as a tackle-eligible at the tight end position. It can certainly serve as a stop-gap measure and may be the Steelers best alternative at the moment, but it certainly isn’t ideal.
*The short passing game. Last week I mentioned that the screen game has been ineffective. To be kind, the Steelers offensive line has been a work-in-progress in pass protection. An effective screen game can be an important element in slowing down opposing pass rushes. So far we haven’t seen it.
*Ziggy Hood, Lawrence Timmons, Jarvis Jones and Troy Polamalu, one player from each position group if you will, were all outstanding Saturday night. Hood made his presence felt stuffing the run, but also registered a sack. He has noticeably upped his game the past two weeks. I don’t know if Lawrence Timmons will register enough sacks and/or interceptions to be Defensive Player of the Year, but he was the Steelers best defender last year and appears to be even better this preseason. Jarvis Jones continues to make plays and looks to be part of a rotation at OLB if he is healthy. There was some question coming into camp whether Jones would see even 100 snaps with the defense this season. 500+ now seems likely as he has flashed an ability to make big plays and has improved every week. Now hold your breath for a medical update. Troy was Troy Saturday night. He appears to be in great shape and has flashed his incredible anticipation and football instincts throughout the preseason. He committed a questionable personal foul on Chiefs QB Alex Smith, but Troy appears to be the Troy of a few years ago. His closing speed is remarkable and he’s always around the football, recovering a fumble Saturday night.
*Cortez Allen was back and showed no ill-effects from the knee injury that had kept him out the first three weeks of training camp. Allen took a spot on the team’s opening kick coverage unit and took all the reps with the first team defense. A healthy Allen should quickly make fans forget the loss of Keenan Lewis.
*If the Steelers want to go with youth at their back-up linebacker positions several rookies continued to impress and made a strong case to at least be kept on the practice squad. 6th-round pick Vince Williams registered four tackles and an assist and always seemed to be around the football. UDFA Alan Baxter, an early camp sensation who didn’t do much in the first two preseason games, was all over the field Saturday with two tackles, an assist and two sacks, consistently applying pressure in the Chiefs backfield. Baxter’s progress made Adrian Robinson expendable, now the question is whether he’s done enough to make the 53. UDFA Terence Garvin was the longest of long-shots to make this team when he was invited to rookie mini-camp on a tryout basis. He’s still a long-shot, but he continues to do good things and is making Keith Butler’s job very difficult.
*I don’t think it’s anything to be alarmed by, but Ike Taylor had a tough night. Chiefs standout receiver had Dwayne Bowe had six receptions for 73 yards, most with Taylor in coverage. Taylor also uncharacteristically missed a few tackles.
*Josh Victorian blew a tackle on kick coverage that led to a 109-touchdown return. He’s a fringe 53/practice squad guy. Plays like that may cost him his job as it has David Gilreath.
*Alameda Ta’amu Steelers days appear numbered. Al Woods has shown he’s a capable NT and will fill that role if needed on gamedays behind Steve McLendon. Ta’amu didn’t see the field Saturday as Loni Fangupo got the extra reps late in the game. Ta’amu showed some good things in the first preseason game, but now might be lucky to survive the first cut this week.
*The Steelers defense, while generally solid, gave up 83 yards on 6 carries by KC QBs, almost all on scrambles from the pocket. While AFC North QBs Flacco, Dalton and Weedan aren’t the scrambling types, the Steelers have to do a better job when the opposing quarterback breaks the line of scrimmage.
*Much is going to be made of the Steelers poor special teams. Ignore most of it. The Steelers first team kick coverage unit was outstanding in the first half. The Chiefs started their first three drives at the 20, 12 and 8. The 109-yard TD return came after wholesale changes were made on the coverage team.
*Mike Tomlin said before the game that Reggie Dunn would get an extensive opportunity in the return game. He lied. Antonio Brown returned punts in the first half and Felix Jones returned kicks. Dunn did get a couple opportunities in the second half. He fair caught a punt and in his one opportunity to flash he returned a kickoff 43-yards. He may be a roster-luxury, but he is someone the Steelers have to consider.
*Brian Moorman may well have lost the punting job with his 31-yard effort at the end of the first half which contributed to the Chiefs late touchdown.
*The Steeler attempted a 52-yard FG near the end of the first half and it looked like a jailbreak over the right side of the Steelers line leading to a block and points for the Chiefs. Not acceptable.
*Both coordinators dialed it up a bit with good results.
*Penalties. After none in the first quarter the Steelers racked them up again. As mentioned below, more than a few appeared to be bad calls, but the team, and the coaches, have to do better.
*The Steelers have to get from 90 to 75 by Tuesday. Most likely the cuts will come Sunday afternoon or Monday morning. Here are the 15 players I expect to go listed alphabetically:
OT D’Anthony Batiste, OG Justin Cheadle (waived injured), OT Mike Farrell, OT Mike Golic, C Joe Madsen, WR Kashif Moore, P Brian Moorman, TE Nathan Overbay, TE Michael Palmer, WR Tyler Shaw, CB Ryan Steed, TE Peter Tuitupou, QB John Parker Wilson, WR J.D. Woods, RB Jeremy Wright
(If Moorman gets a chance to compete Thursday I would add CB Devin Smith.)
Big Officiating Calls:
*This crew was terrible. The personal foul chop-block call on Jon Dwyer was about as bad as it gets. There was also a phantom pass interference call, a questionable personal foul Cortez Allen as he got blocked into the QB and a few others which all seemed to go against the Steelers. It’s preseason for the refs as well.
Up Next: The Steelers close out the preseason with a Thursday night game in Carolina against the Panters. Kick-off is 7:30.
Reminder: You can hear me and Tom Bradley on the postgame show on the Steelers Radio Network after every Steelers game. You can listen on the Steeler Gameday app, the Steelers Nation Radio app on iHeart Radio or DVE or 970 ESPN in Pittsburgh. You can hear me weekdays on 970 ESPN from 4-7 pm and you can follow me on twitter @DavidMTodd.