By: Zach Metkler, GZ Sports Report Writer
After a shaky performance against the Lions last week, the Steelers entered week 2 of the preseason with the hopes of showing signs of life and improvement against the Eagles in their first preseason game after the conclusion of training camp.
Needless to say, those signs of life were not entirely present.
While fans should not read too much into the final scores of preseason games and focus more on the individual efforts of players, this game left a sour taste in a lot of fans mouths. After re-watching the game film a couple of times, there were a few positives to take from the game but collectively, it was a very poor showing from the Black & Gold. For this analysis, I tried my best to focus on the biggest takeaways from the game, both positive and negative. It was hard, but it was doable.
–QB Landry Jones had a very bad game on Thursday, throwing a pathetic four interceptions in the first half. Now hear me out: not all of the interceptions were Jones’ fault. One was the result of his arm getting hit as he was releasing the pass. Another occurred because Eagles CB Aaron Grymes made a tremendous, alert play in the end zone after WR Cobi Hamilton tipped the ball up. However, four interceptions in one half of football is not acceptable what so ever, especially for a 4th-year player. While Jones has moments of greatness that make him seem like he finally has it together, most of those moments are overshadowed by boneheaded decisions that are always at the expense of the team. Jones is definitely a much more confident player than he has been in the past, there is a strong possibility that the Jones experiment might be coming to an end.
–WR Eli Rogers continues to wow everyone throughout camp and the preseason. It is still early, but Rogers has began to draw comparisons to Antonio Brown due to his shiftiness and ability to make plays in space. Rogers won’t wow you with elite speed (his best time on the 40 was a 4.47 with an average coming in the mid 4.5’s), but his ability to make a play with the ball in his hands is unparalleled by any receiver on the team (sans Antonio Brown). Rogers was the only bright spot on offense for the Steelers on Thursday and after it looked like he would be fighting for a roster spot entering training camp, it now appears that Rogers will be fighting for a starting spot as the slot receiver.
-After years of trying to find a steady punter, it appears that Jordan Berry has the job locked down. After an inconsistent rookie year, Berry has continuously showed immense improvement throughout camp, both with his hang-time and his distance. If Berry continues to show this improvement, he will be the Steelers punter for the foreseeable future.
–WR Sammie Coates continues to struggle. I love Coates as a prospect and he will definitely see his fair share of time with the Steelers offense this season, but his performance in two preseason games is far from encouraging. After two fumbles against the Lions in week 1, Coates looked out of sync with Landry Jones for most of the evening. I marked Coates as one of my losers of training camp, even with his strong practice performances. It’s fine and great for a player to perform well during practice. It’s another thing for them to go out and perform in a game situation. Through two games, Coates has failed to do that and needs to step up his game if he wants to see legitimate time as a receiver in this high-powered offense. The job is truly his to lose.
-While he is far from an amazing player, S Shamarko Thomas continues to show flashes of what the Steelers saw in him when selecting him in the 4th-round of the 2013 NFL Draft. On Thursday, he had 5 solo tackles and looks to FINALLY be understanding the defense. He is very effective against the run and is showing a lot of improvement in coverage. Additionally, his reckless playing style seems to be much more controlled from where it was in the past. Thomas all but certainly has a spot locked down on the final roster.
-After a horrendous showing against the Lions, LT Alejandro Villanueva put together a solid performance, not allowing a single sack or causing any stupid penalties. Even with his bad game against the Lions, Villanueva was going to be the starter at left tackle due to the terrible play of Ryan Harris so far. My main issue with Villanueva was his poor performance as the starting left tackle for one of the best offenses in the NFL. You just can’t allow that kind of pressure on a quarterback the level and stature of Ben Roethlisberger. Villanueva’s improvements are definitely encouraging.
-Speaking of offensive linemen, I’d like to take a second to point out how horrendous the Steelers offensive line backups are. Outside of Chris Hubbard and Cody Wallace (who are far completely innocent), there is not a single offensive lineman that did anything to impress on Thursday. Rookie tackle Jerald Hawkins did not play, giving some of the undrafted guys a chance to prove their worth. Apparently “proving their worth” is allowing your quarterback to run for his life every single play and not create a single rushing lane for your running backs. The Steelers are in serious trouble if they suffer severe injuries during the regular season. Beyond the starters, there is little long-term talent to be had and it is pretty clear at this point who the players on the 53-man roster will be at this point.
-While the game was pathetic on most fronts for the Steelers, there was still some positives seen by the Steelers starters, especially on defense. Jeff Hartman of Behind the Steel Curtain pointed out:
“The Steelers starting defense played well into the second quarter, and during that time they did more than enough to keep the Eagles’ starting offense at bay.
Take a look at some telling statistics from the first half:
- PHI 3rd Down Efficiency: 2-6
- PHI Total Plays: 26 for 122 yards
- PHI Yards Rushing: 19
- PHI Yards Passing: 103″
The Steelers defensive starters did a great job of stuffing the run and slowing down the pass. The secondary was definitely suspect at times, but what else is new. He also goes on to show how the starting offense performed:
“Here are some telling stats from the Steelers’ offense in the first half:
- PIT Time of Possession: 19:20
- PIT Offensive Plays: 36
- PIT Third Down Efficiency: 5-8
- PIT Rushing Yards: 50 on 16 carries
- PIT Passing Yards: 111 on 12 attempts”
Those stats aren’t eye-popping by any means but when you consider the core nucleus of the offense wasn’t playing (Ben, Brown, and Bell), it shows that the offense could be efficient until the drives were stymied by costly interceptions. The game wasn’t pretty, but it wasn’t all bad for the “starters”.
-Linebackers Tyler Matakevich and Travis Feeney continue to be fan favorites throughout training camp, and rightfully so. Both players are playing great football right now, especially considering their draft pedigree (6th- & 7th-round). At this point, though, it seems that it is becoming unlikely that both will make the final 53-man roster. However, this is not due to a lack of talent or potential. At outside linebacker, Anthony Chickillo has been one of the starts of training camp and looks to take a big step in year 2. The Steelers typically only keep five outside linebackers and right now, that looks to be Bud Dupree, Jarvis Jones, James Harrison, Arthur Moats, and Chickillo. At inside linebacker, Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier have been playing phenomenal football. Behind them, Vince Williams has been quietly put together the strongest preseason performance of his professional career and is shaping up to be a fixture in the Steelers linebacking group for the long-haul. After the top three, it’s a little blurry but at this point, the Steelers might be more inclined to stash Matakevich away on the practice squad and keep Steven Johnson and L.J. Fort, the latter of which has had a solid camp himself. If I had to bet on which player has the best shot of making the final 53-man roster, my money would be on Matakevich largely because he has shown glimpses of what made him great at Temple and his ability to consistently find his way to the ball. If either player doesn’t make the final cut, they will instantly become the team’s top practice squad priority. If that’s the case, both players will be shoe-ins to make the team in 2017.
-One last thing, Javon Hargrave is the real deal. That is all.
The Steelers next opponent will be the New Orleans Saints on Friday, August 26 at 8 PM.