By: Zach Metkler, GZ Sports Report Writer
After many months of waiting, the Steelers finally took the field for live game action against the Detroit Lions. After jumping out to an early lead in the game, the Steelers fell 30-17. The Lions controlled much of the game (as well as the time of possession) and were the better team through all phases of the game (which should be no surprise considering how many Steelers sat out). While the score might not indicate it, there were a lot of positives to be had from the Steelers but the negatives unfortunately shadowed the positives. The preseason is often a time for individuals to stand out and make a name on the team so the overall team performance shouldn’t be too concerning in the grand scheme of things. The Steelers have a lot of work to do but the promise is there.
Sammie Coates was Disappointing to Say the Least
After a lot of hype beginning against the Broncos in the playoffs and a strong offseason and training camp, many people (including myself) felt that Sammie Coates would explode with the opportunity he had with the suspension to Martavis Bryant. However, Friday night did Coates no favors in regards to his stance with the team. After dominating all training camp, Coates made multiple crucial errors, including two costly fumbles, one of which was recovered by the Lions. Additionally, Coates only had 3 receptions for 18 yards. With his main competition Markus Wheaton sitting out last night, Coates had the opportunity to show the Steelers why he was their 3rd-round selection in 2015 but that will have to wait until Thursday against the Eagles where Coates will look to rebound. But for a first game, Coates definitely did not solidify the beliefs that he has the chance to be the real deal for the Steelers in 2016.
The Steelers 3rd-Down Defense was Abysmal
Last year, the Steelers ability to prevent 3rd-down conversions was among the worst in the league. Last night, the Steelers did not do much to show improvement in that regard as their “bend don’t break” defense was on full display. The Lions converted 12-19 3rd-downs on the night, while the Steelers finished a pathetic 2-12. For the Steelers defense to be taken seriously, they need to find ways to force three-and-outs in a more frequent manner.
Landry Jones is Showing Some Confidence
For the better part of two and a half seasons, Landry Jones struggled to make any impact for the Steelers, even when given the opportunity. However, over the last two training camps and preseasons, Jones appears to be gaining some confidence on the field that he lacked during his first two seasons. Last night, Jones was extremely far from perfect and completed only 6 of 12 pass attempts for 55 yards. While many will criticize his play, he showed some progress as a passer, especially on the deep touchdown pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey. Ben Roethlisberger will likely sit out of Thursday’s game against the Eagles, giving Jones the opportunity to take the reins in another matchup.
Top Players of the Game
-P Jordan Berry show tremendous improvement from his rookie season, separating himself form his competition Will Monday. Last night, Berry’s 3 punts went for 51, 61, and 57 yards. His hang-time also showed improvement in giving the Lions return unit no real chance to make a huge play.
-RB Daryl Richardson received the bulk of the carries for the Steelers offense, rushing for 44 yards on 11 carries. With a healthy 4 yards per carry, Richardson did a great job of being patient while the play develops and then exploding through the hole and showing a nice 2nd-gear at the next level. With Le’Veon Bell’s suspension, Daryl Richardson could be a valuable asset for the Steelers moving forward.
-DE Ricardo Mathews didn’t have a big statistical game but his presence was still consistently felt as he was routinely pushing offensive linemen back and putting pressure on the quarterback. The Steelers are in need of quality defensive line depth behind Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt and last nights performance helps put Mathews in the running to be one of those key depth players.
-OLB James Harrison did typical James Harrison things on Friday night, running circles around Lions rookie tackle Taylor Decker throughout the 1st quarter. Harrison continues to defy his age by being a consistent presence for the Steelers young linebacker group.
-TE Jesse James received a solid amount of playing time with Ladarius Green still remaining off of the field. Although he had virtually no impact as a receiver (1 reception for 4 yards), James showed substantial improvement as a run blocker, pushing defensive linemen down the field play after play.
-WR Eli Rogers only had two receptions on the night but showed flashes of athleticism that makes him such a tantalizing prospect for the Steelers offense in the slot. With Brown and Wheaton sidelined for the night, Rogers had the chance to show what he could do. Even with the Steelers shaky offensive performance, Rogers stood out as an exciting prospect for the Steelers.
Disappointing Performances of the Game
-As previously mentioned, WR Sammie Coates struggled greatly to get anything going for the Steelers. While he led the team in receptions, missed opportunities and fumbles clouded the night for the young receiver. There is plenty of time for him to continue to improve his worth as a key piece to the Steelers offense.
-LT Alejandro Villanueva looked more like a practice squad offensive lineman rather than the player many people expect to protect Ben Roethlisberger’s blindside. Senseless penalties and poor technique caused Villanueva to spend more time hurting the offense than anything else. On one play, Villanueva got beat badly by Lions DE Devin Taylor, leading to Landry Jones being sacked for a 9-yard loss. Landry Jones being sacked in the preseason is one thing. Big Ben during the regular season is another.
-While not necessarily disappointing, S Sean Davis’ performance demonstrated that he is a rookie with a lot of learning to do. Throughout the game, Davis played both nickel cornerback and safety. On a large majority of plays, Davis was near the ball, consistently willing to sacrifice his body to make the play. However, he missed on more tackling opportunities than you would like to see from a defensive player (including his first-ever NFL tackle attempt). He also was caught out of position a bit too many times throughout the first half, primarily while he was playing corner. Don’t fret. These issues are all highly coachable and will continue to develop as long as Davis continues to have his hard-working attitude that he has demonstrated through camp.
-P Will Monday was one of my favorite players the Steelers picked up this year during the undrafted free agent period. Unfortunately, Monday has struggled mightily throughout training camp and this was on full display last night. Monday looked more like a high school punter instead of an NFL prospect, booting one of his punts a whopping 32 yards and averaging only 46.5 yards per punt, 13 yards less per punt than Berry. Monday is running out of time to prove his worth and it is only week 1.
-QB Bruce Gradkowski proved that he still has some gas left in the tank by showing nice mobility whenever the pocket collapsed. Then in the blink of an eye, he showed his age, coming off the field after hearing a “pop” in his hamstring. He is undergoing an MRI today to get a better look at his hamstring but with the improving play of Landry Jones, the Steelers could potentially cut Gradkowski if the injury is serious due to the fact that they have very little money invested in him.
Tell Me Why?
Javon Hargrave had the best rookie performance last night, continuing to show his impressive first-step and get-off and will be an excellent one-gap penetrator in the Steelers 4-3 and faux 4-3 packages. When going 1-on-1 with offensive linemen last night, Hargrave was nearly unstoppable. So why was he only on the field for 15 snaps last night? The Steelers spent over half the game on defense so the reps were definitely there. Many undrafted defensive lineman saw the field last night, many of which are bubble players or players who won’t likely make the roster in any capacity. Why the Steelers prized rookie defensive lineman barely saw the field is unknown but hopefully that changes against the Eagles.
- S Ross Ventrone
- OLB Anthony Chickillo
- QB Bruce Gradkowski
- OT Brian Mihalik