Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Landry Jones (3) throws a pass during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Philadelphia Eagles in Pittsburgh, on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016.(Don Wright/AP)
PITTSBURGH-- An array of boos came down from the Heinz Field crowd when Landry Jones exited his final drive of the first half against the Eagles Friday night.
It was certainly a forgettable night for the Steelers' backup quarterback as he threw four first-half interceptions, two of which came in the red zone and one that led to a pick-six touchdown, while starting in place of Ben Roethlisberger.
Jones finished 12 of 20 for 111 yards with the four glaring turnovers, and the rest of the team wasn't much better. The Steelers went on to lose 17-0 and fall to 0-2 in preseason play.
"The performance is an opportunity to reiterate what we already know, how important the turnover and possession of the ball is," Mike Tomlin said after the game. "We turned the ball over four times, as we were going in, and they had interceptions in their end zone."
On his first interception, Eagles cornerback Nolan Carroll III read Jones' eyes perfectly and jumped a Sammie Coates curl route to go 38 yards untouched for a touchdown. The return put the Eagles on the board first with 9:27 left in the first quarter. Jones' next interception wasn't exactly his fault, however. Jones threw a back-corner fade on the Eagles' 8-yard line that was tipped up by wide receiver Cobi Hamilton, while in contention with cornerback Leodis McKelvin, that fell right into the hands of Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins.
Jones was intercepted in the end zone again on the Steelers' next drive, this time by Aaron Grimes. And on his fourth interception, Jones was hit during his throw after Jesse James missed a block on the edge.
"(I have) to make it a learning experience," Jones said. "Things like that are going to happen. You're going to play bad. You're going to play not the way you want to. You've got to learn from it and move on."
Philadelphia kicker Cody Parkey added a 40-yard field goal in the second quarter to give the Eagles a 10-0 lead going into halftime.
Chase Daniel led a 15-play, 87-yard drive on the Eagles' first possession of the second half that was capped off by a 5-yard touchdown run by Kenjon Barner to put Philadelphia up, 17-0. Both teams went scoreless for the entirety of the fourth quarter.
"We need to get better," Tomlin said. "Sometimes, it's playmaking and sometimes it's negligence by us, whether it's route running or throwing. But they made the plays. So, hopefully we learn from that."
The Steelers were edged in nearly every statistical category as the Eagles held the advantage in first downs (16-12), rushing yards (91-50), passing yards (207-157), third-down efficiency (53 percent to 47 percent) and time of possession (30:29 to 29:31). Third-string quarterback Dustin Vaughan played a majority of the second half, and finished 7 of 13 for 67 yards. Kevin White Jr. led the defense with six tackles.
"We have to take care of the ball on offense and we have to make routine, passion-type tackles on defense," Tomlin said. "We didn't do that well enough tonight. So, we'll learn from that and hopefully move forward."
The Steelers will play the Saints next Friday in New Orleans as they finish out the preseason with two consecutive games on the road.
After Carroll III's pick-six touchdown, Jones responded by leading a 71-yard drive to the Philadelphia 8-yard line. That was, until Jones' next pass ended up in the hands of Jenkins. A touchdown would've tied the game at 7-7. But Jones' second turnover quickly took the wind out of the sails for the Steelers offense. Jones threw his third interception on their next possession, and it was all downhill from there.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Barner finished with 41 yards on six rushing attempts for a 6.8 yard per carry against a Steelers defense that played a majority of its starters. The Eagles' backup running back, and former Oregon standout, started in place of Ryan Mathews and played well. On special teams, Barner started the game with a 44-yard punt return in the first quarter, but it was negated after Shamarko Thomas was clipped on the play.
Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and DeAngelo Williams dressed for the game despite being ruled out by Tomlin in his pregame press conference Wednesday. Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown did not suit up for the opening preseason game against the Lions. Tomlin was asked about the possibility of them appearing at all during the preseason. "We're going to make that decision as we prepare for the third preseason game," he said. "We recognize that they need to work inside of a stadium, so you're going to see them."
With Marcus Gilbert out of the lineup, Ryan Harris started at right tackle with the first-team offensive line. He played relatively well, not giving up any sacks against a talented Eagles defensive front-four.
Xavier Grimble drop alert: The third-year tight end dropped an easy ball from Jones on his only target of the night, similar to the struggles he faced during training camp. "I don't think about it," Grimble said. "Drops happen to everybody. You've just got to eliminate it. It's something you've got to come back from."
The Steelers actually held an advantage in time of possession through the middle of the third quarter despite being down 17. That's what sustained long drives capped off by ill-advised interceptions will translate into.
Doran Grant, who led the team in tackles against the Lions, played at cornerback with the second-team defense despite taking reps at safety during practice over the last week. He recovered a fumble late in the fourth quarter and is continuing to make his case for a 53-man roster.
Philadelphia starting quarterback Sam Bradford had his way against the Steelers' secondary during the first half. He finished an efficient 14 of 19 for 115 yards with a 88.7 QB rating and was only sacked once.
Jordan Berry continued his strong play in the preseason, ending the game with a 51.0 net yard average on two punts.
Maurkice Pouncey started in his first game back since suffering a season-ending leg injury in the 2015 preseason. Did Pouncey miss it? "Heck yeah, I missed too much," he said. I sat out for five months on my coach watching these guys play. It went really good. I think I got 23 plays in, it went really well. I need to get back out there and hit guys around and get in the game flow, it was nice.”
Eagles kicker Caleb Sturgis suffered a concussion before kickoff even took place. He took a punt to the head with his helmet off during warm-ups and was ruled out with a concussion.
BY THE NUMBERS
45,351: The official number of tickets sold for the Eagles matchup, despite the number of empty Heinz Field seats resembling more of a Pitt game.
31: The number of days until the Steelers return to Heinz Field on Sept. 18 against the Bengals.
Jarvis Jones, Bud Dupree, Marcus Gilbert, Artie Burns, Bruce Gradkowski and Anthony Chickillo were all out due to injury.
Cody Wallace exited the game in the fourth quarter with a knee injury. "His left knee, maybe a hyper-extension late," Tomlin said. "I don't know the extent of it."
"I've been very clear about our position regarding that. I have nothing to add."
Tomlin, when asked if he feels any closure with James Harrison agreeing to meet with the NFL.
Preseason Week 3 at New Orleans
Friday, August 26th
The Mercedes-Benz Superdome
The Steelers will hit the road for the first time this season to take on Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. Although, don't expect to see a lot of Brees as the Saints' veteran quarterback is in a similar situation as Roethlisberger. However, Roethlisberger could see a bit of game action considering starters typically play in the third preseason game, and it's treated like an actual regular season week in terms of gameplanning. The Saints are 0-1 after falling to the Patriots 34-22 in Week 1 of the preseason. They'll play the Texans on August 20 before meeting the Steelers.