Saturday, August 13, 2016

Instant Replay: Steelers struggle collectively, fall to Lions in preseason opener

By Chris B. Mueller
August 12, 2016

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Sammie Coates (14) fails to come up with a catch against the Detroit Lions during the first half of an NFL preseason football game in Pittsburgh, Pa, on Friday, Aug. 12, 2016.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Sammie Coates (14) fails to come up with a catch against the Detroit Lions during the first half of an NFL preseason football game in Pittsburgh, Pa, on Friday, Aug. 12, 2016. (Jared Wickerham /AP Photo)

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PITTSBURGH -- Fresh off of two physical joint practices, the Steelers and Lions concluded their series of encounters Friday night with a game that resembled how most preseason openers appear -- rusty and mistake-ridden with a plethora of field goals.

The Lions won the battle of the backups in the second half to prevail 30-17 over the Steelers while kicker Matt Prater went a perfect 3-for-3 on field goal attempts. It marked the sixth year in a row the Steelers lost their opening preseason game. 
"Not the type of performance we had hoped for, really," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "Some big-time negligence in all three phases, things you can't have if you want to play winning football."
The Steelers offense, without several of its key contributors, started the game with three consecutive three-and-outs and totaled just seven net yards in the entire first quarter. With 14:15 left in the second quarter, cornerback Dorn Grant picked off Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown to open up the scoring. 
Landry Jones, starting in place of Ben Roethlisberger, connected with Darrius Heyward-Bey for a 29-yard score in the second quarter that would serve as Pittsburgh's only other touchdown. Prater hit two field goals before he quarter ended to make it a 17-6 game at half. 
Jones finished 6-of-12 for 65 yards, but he was unable to put sustained drives together during the first half. 
"That's part of his evaluation," Tomlin said. "But I wasn't displeased with what Landry did tonight. I thought he was composed. We just need more opportunities, we need to win more possession downs so we can get more snaps and see more of him." 
The Steelers' only other points came when Chris Boswell converted a 37-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, but it was quickly followed by 96-yard touchdown by Detroit returner Dwayne Washington on the ensuing kickoff. The Lions would later score on a 27-yard touchdown catch from Jace Billingsley. 
The Steelers committed nine penalties for 72 yards and had just 187 yards of total offense. They finished 2-for-12 on third downs, a 17-percent efficiency rating. The Lions, ending with 379 yards of total offense, were 12-for-19 on third downs. Grant led the Steelers with seven total tackles, while Sean Davis and Vince Williams finished with five.  
"We have to learn these lessons about what transpired out there tonight," Tomlin said. "Own that, take ownership of it and let that be our guide as we move forward."
Washington's 96-yard return touchdown killed any momentum the Steelers had received from taking the lead on Boswell's field goal. Washington, in his first career game, found a lane though the right hash and glided relatively untouched until it was, indeed, Boswell who missed the tackle. The Steelers would not score again following that point. 
7: The amount of plays Bruce Gradkowski lasted before exiting the game with an injury. Gradkowski suffered a left hamstring injury on his first drive on a two-yard scramble.
10: The Lions finished with ten more first downs than the Steelers, 20-10. 
Jordan Berry, Punter
You know it's the preseason when the punter is receiving player of the game honors. Jordan Berry shined on Friday night, booting his only three punt attempts 61 yards, 61 yards and 57 yards respectively. His 56.3 net yard average was exactly 20 yards higher than fellow punter Will Monday. "I've definitely been trying to work on my consistency over the summer," Berry said. "I've had a great camp so far and summer practices went really well, as well. I'm just trying to build on that and translate it into a game situation."  Berry proved on Friday night that there isn't really a true competition at punter even though Monday was brought into training camp. "If I'm doing my best, I'll be out-beating anybody," Berry said. "It's just about finding that consistency." 
  • With Le'Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams not playing Friday night, running back Daryl Richardson received a bulk of the carries and capitalized on it. He led all rushers with 44 yards on 11 rushes. The fourth-year back has had positive showings during training camp. "I thought he did some nice things," Tomlin said. "I thought his run demeanor was really good. I thought he was aggressive. I saw some good things from him." 
  • Sean Davis started at slot nickel against the Lions, but took his lumps in his first-career game. He suffered a few bad missed tackles and was notably out of position at times. It's not anything to be too concerned about at this point, however, as Davis continues to adjust to the increased speed of the game at the NFL level. "I just wanted to see him acclimate himself to the NFL and play," Tomlin said. "That doesn't necessarily mean I had direct eyes on him. I'm not ready to give an accurate evaluation of his performance at this point." Davis finished with five total tackles. 
  • Grant's interception for a touchdown was a product of being in the right place at the right time. Steelers defensive end Ricardo Matthews went untouched into the backfield and applied instant pressure on Orlovsky. The Detroit quarterback ducked under Matthews extended arm and forced a bad throw that fell right into the arms of a waiting Grant. "I was just thinking speed and get-off, speed and get-off, speed and get-off. That's it, honestly," Matthews said. "I was just focusing on that point, now I just need to focus on tackling [Orlovsky]."
  • Lions first-round pick Taylor Decker received a quick welcome to the NFL at the hands of James Harrison. Harrison blew by the rookie left tackle on a speed rush for a strip sack of Matthew Stafford on Detroit's first offensive drive. Arthur Moats recovered the fumble. 
  • Gradkowski and Ross Ventrone both left the game with hamstring injuries. 
  • Guard Brian Mihalik suffered a left knee injury and did not finish.
  • Anthony Chickillo was seen limping out of the locker room with his right ankle wrapped. Tomlin said he didn't know the extent of the injury. 
"I want our 10 other guys to make the play. If they don't, I want him to do what comes natural -- play football." 
Tomlin on if he wants Boswell, who missed the tackle on Washington's return touchdown, to be aggressive on kick return coverage.
Preseason Week 2 vs. Philadelphia Eagles 
Thursday, August 18 at 7:05 (KDKA) 
Heinz Field 
The Steelers will play their final preseason home game Aug. 18 on Thursday Night Football against the Eagles, who won their preseason opener 17-9 over the Buccaneers on Thursday night. Don't expect either team to show anything too drastic considering the Steelers and Eagles will meet again in Week 3 of the regular season. The Eagles selected quarterback Carson Wentz second overall in the 2016 draft, and he'll likely receive a bulk of the snaps on Thursday night. He played all of the second half against the Buccaneers. From the Steelers' standpoint, there's a strong chance that the key starters in Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell and Maurkice Pouncey won't suit up again. With Bruce Gradkowski's injury, expect another heavy dose of Jones. 

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