Sunday, August 25, 2013

What we learned: Steelers better but not good enough

By Chris Bradford
August 25, 2013

Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu (43) dives to tackle Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (25) in the first quarter of an NFL preseason football game on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, in Pittsburgh. Photo: Don Wright
Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu (43) dives to tackle Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (25) in the first quarter of an NFL preseason football game on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, in Pittsburgh. Photo: Don Wright/AP
PITTSBURGH -- Better but not great. That, in essence, was the Steelers’ performance Saturday night.
If the third preseason game is indeed the most important of the four, as conventional wisdom holds, the Steelers have shown themselves to be a rather middling bunch. Or worse.
With the benefit of game-planning, something they hadn’t done in their two previous losses, the Steelers “did some nice things” as Mike Tomlin said, but not enough. Again.
Today, Times Steelers writer Chris Bradford breaks down Saturday night’s 26-20 overtime loss against Kansas City. It was the Steelers’ first overtime game in the preseason since 1986.
If nothing else, Felix Jones provides the Steelers with depth at running back for the rest of training camp and the preseason. Whether the former Dallas standout can make the 53-man roster, let alone be the feature back that the organization pines for, remains to be seen. With Le’Veon Bell sidelined for the immediate future with a foot injury, one thing has become increasingly clear: Mike Tomlin is not comfortable with Isaac Redman or Jonathan Dwyer (Read below) being the No. 1 back again. You might recall that the Steelers went 8-8 with Redman and Dwyer carrying the load last season. Jones was used mostly in the second half against the Chiefs, however. He rushed for 29 yard carries on eight carries (3.9 yard per). “I have to show that I still got it, still can run and block, still can do everything,” Jones said.
In one half, we saw the best and worst of Jonathan Dwyer. The running back accounted for 45 yards of offense (25 on the ground) and the Steelers’ first touchdown. However, Dwyer was negligent on both Kansas City sacks in the 30 minutes after failing to pick up the blitz. It’s that type of maddening inconsistencies in Dwyer’s game – last week it was a fumble -- that likely had Kevin Colbert seeking a trade for Felix Jones a day earlier. Those sacks marred an otherwise decent showing from the first-team offense, which needed it after a less-than-stellar outing against Washington. The Steelers put points on the board on each of its first two possessions.
For the first 27 minutes of the first half, the Steelers showed why they’ve boasted the top-ranked defense the last two seasons. It was the final three minutes that’s concerning. The Chiefs put up 10 points on their final two drives of the half, marring what had been an impressive showing from the first-team defense. Penalties, more than anything, was the problem. One of those flags was on Troy Polamalu, who otherwise played his best game of the preseason.
Due to a plethora of injuries, tight end and cornerback have been two areas of concern in training camp. With the return this week of David Johnson (knee) and Cortez Allen (ankle), the Steelers are getting healthier at the right time. So, at least there’s that.
Allen, who saw time at defensive end and on special teams, was a presence. He led the Steelers with six solo tackles but was whistled for a questionable personal foul on a late hit on Kansas City QB Alex Smith. Johnson, coming off major knee surgery, was just glad to be back. “It just felt good to get in there, and start to get things going,” said Johnson, who reported no problems.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery and Markus Wheaton will form the Steelers’ receiving corps. Though still young, Brown and Sanders are proven commodities as is Cotchery, who has played twice as many seasons than the starters combined. Rookie Markus Wheaton has star potential – see his 34-yard catch in the third quarter -- and the benefit of being a draft pick. That leaves the fifth and, likely final, roster spot between Rochester’s Derek Moye, Justin Brown and David Gilreath. Moye, who received the bulk of the snaps last week, was targeted six times and had three receptions for 41 yards. “There’s some plays I would like to have back out there, but other than that, I thought I did OK,” he said. Gilreath, who appeared in 15 games last season mainly on special teams, didn’t play last week and might be the odd-man out. He had no catches Saturday.

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