By Chris Bradford
August 20, 2013
LANDOVER, Md. --- The Steelers are officially at the mid-point of the preseason and have precious little to show for it. Monday night’s not-ready-for-primetime performance won’t exactly inspire confidence but with three weeks before the start of the regular season, there is time to improve. The Steelers will need it.
“We’re going to watch this tape and grow from it and get better,” said coach Mike Tomlin. “We need to get better in a hurry.”
Today, Times Steelers writer Chris Bradford breaks down their 24-13 loss to the Redskins at FedEx Field.
The way things are going Jonathan Dwyer might be on his way to becoming the Steelers’ feature back by default. Seriously. Last week, without playing the preseason opener, Le’Veon Bell ascended from fifth to co-starter – along with Isaac Redman -- on the depth chart. After not making it through two series Monday, could Bell be headed to the Pro Bowl? Jokes aside, with the second-round pick out early with a right foot injury (to go along with a bruised left knee), the Steelers were down to Dwyer, who made a strong case for himself by rushing for 68 yards on 14 carries (4.9 average) in three quarters of action. Though he later coughed the ball up, there’s something to be said for playing. Redman did not even dress after suffering a pinched nerve late last week in training camp. “He did a great job,” said QB Ben Roethlisberger. “That’s what I’ve said from day one. Everyone talks about the backs, we have a bunch them that can do great things.”
O-NO, YOU DIDN’T
Beyond the starting five, we knew that the Steelers’ offensive line was a concern. Not to make too much out of a preseason game, but the first team was particularly brutal in their first-half of work on Monday. Maurkice Pouncey, Mike Adams, Marcus Gilbert and David DeCastro all took first-half penalties. Pouncey looked completely lost at times against Washington nose tackle Barry Cofield. Worse, the unit allowed two sacks of Ben Roethlisberger, who somehow escaped even more damage before bowing out after four series. The second unit of John Malecki, D’Anthony Batiste, Kelvin Beachum, Guy Whimper and Chris Hubbard didn’t fare much better as second-string QB Bruce Gradkowski was sacked on his first series of the second half. “We’ve got to look at the films and evaluate ourselves,” said Pouncey.
At the very least, Landry Jones didn’t fumble his first snap from scrimmage (he did that last week for a safety). Though far, far from perfect, the fourth-round pick from Oklahoma, showed some poise when he replaced Gradkowski in the third quarter Monday. On a perfect, five-step drop, Jones connected with speedy rookie Markus Wheaton on his first drive for a 45-yard gain. Later he found Derek Moye in the flat for a 10-yard touchdown, the Steelers’ only of the game. It might not have been enough for Jones to seal the third-string QB job – he probably should have been picked at least twice -- but it likely put a little space between himself and John Parker Wilson, who didn’t even play.
GETTING THEIR KICKS
Perhaps the most telling sign to date as to who was winning the competition, Brian Moorman handled punting duties in the first half over incumbent Drew Butler. However, the 38-year-old Moorman was not particularly impressive with two punts for an average of 38.5 yards. Butler handled the second half and was clearly the busier, if not the better, of the two. Butler averaged 37.2 yards on six punts. It would seem whatever advantage Moorman had held, Butler has wiped out with his strong showing.
TURN, TURN, TURNOVER
Turn the ball over three times as the Steelers did in the first half and it doesn’t matter who is playing. The lowlights: A Ben Roethlisberger interception (returned for a touchdown by Ryan Kerrigan) on a screen pass and fumbles from Jonathan Dwyer and Bruce Gradkowski. The Steelers must do a better job of protecting the ball.