Injuries. This is my main concern during preseason. Yes, I want to see the rookies, and the new-fangled zone-blocking offensive line, and Danny Smith try to fashion something out of a special teams that has been pretty dreadful over the last decade, but I’m mostly focused on the injury situation.
In that sense, the preseason is a lot like the Pro Bowl: You just hope everybody survives, even if means something less than “The standard is the standard”-type football that Mike Tomlin expects.
That said, I did have this thought midway through the first quarter, after a slow start by the offense and an abysmal start to Smith’s tenure as the Steelers’ special teams coach: Maybe this is the year things turn south for a team that is perpetually considered a playoff contender. The offense seemed out of sync, lethargic at times, but I’m chalking that up to two weeks of training camp, some new faces, and a ton of mistakes that we’re accustomed to seeing in early August.
Plus, as somebody tweeted Saturday (can’t remember who), once Week 1 of the regular season gets here, the only thing people will remember about the preseason are the injuries.
Anyway, some thoughts from Saturday’s game…
* On the Steelers’ first drive, Ramon Foster got abused by Cullen Jenkins that led to a Big Ben sack on 3rd and 16. On fourth down, Marshall McFadden was penalized, negating a swell Drew Butler punt. After the penalty, Damon Cromartie-Smith whiffed on a block and Damontre Moore had a clear path to Butler and the football. Blocked punt. Welcome to the Danny Smith era.
(This is where I point out that a) I was shocked when the Steelers hired Smith, who had plenty of suspect special teams outfits during his stint with the Redskins, and b) how the hell do you really “coach” special teams? Isn’t it some variation of “Hey, you guys run in that direction really fast and tackle the dude with the ball”? Yes, there are lane responsibilities, and gunner responsibilities, and punt protector responsibilities, but at the end of the day special teams comes down to the basics: running, blocking — avoiding blocks — and tackling. McFadden had a mental lapse, Cromartie-Smith missed a block, and Butler got crushed.)
This is where we point out that Moore, the defensive end out of Texas A&M who every mock draftnik had going to the Steelers in the first round, looked like, well, a legit first-rounder. The Giants landed him in Round 3 because he had a horrible bench press and 40 time during pre-draft workouts, although you would never have guessed either by watching him Saturday.
* Jarvis Jones, the guy the Steelers did draft 17th overall, struggled to disengage from blocks from the Giants’ backup left tackle, Chris DeGeare, but he had a fumble recovery of a botched David Carr-Andre Brown handoff, and made a nifty tackle on a tight end screen that required him to stay at home, read the play, beat a block, and make the tackle.
* Upon first viewing, Jason Worilds looks solid save for the 10-second span where he was penalized for roughing the passer and unnecessary roughness as the first half expired. The Steelers still held the Giants to just three points, so there’s that.
* With Cortez Allen, Curtis Brown and Demarcus Van Dyke out with injuries, Josh Victorian played a lot. He seemed to do well with the opportunity, as did Isaiah Green, who came in after the half.
* I love, love, LOVE Robert Golden. JJ mentioned it on Friday’s podcast, but the Steelers have a ton of depth at safety. Shamarko Thomas, the rookie fourth-rounder, could also be seen flying around the ball, but Golden stood out.
(Related: The Giants’ second drive of the game should’ve ended on a 3rd-and-10 tackle. Ike Taylor blitzed, Eli Manning read it and threw hot to Reuben Randle who side-stepped an outta-control Ryan Clark before breaking a Troy Polamalu arm-tackle. It was a good play call from LeBeau, a good read from Manning, a great effort by Randle, and two craptastic angles taken by two of the team’s best players. Not the end of the world in the preseason game, but probably more indicative that it takes some time to knock the rust off.)
* Third- and fourth-team linebackers Vince Williams, Kion Wilson, Brian Rolle, Alan Baxter, Adrian Robinson and Terence Garvin were flying all over the field. It actually made the second half bearable because Landry Jones and John Parker-Wilson spent the final 30 minutes running for their lives. Again, channeling JJ from Friday: Tackles Guy Whimper and D’Anthony Batiste are as bad as advertised. They weren’t the only problems along the offensive line but they did their parts. (I have a theory about third-team OL vs. DL. The defensive line has the advantage in these situations not because they’re more physical or more athletic, but because their jobs are pretty simple. The offensive line, meanwhile, has very few reps together, have myriad responsibilities, and it only takes one blown assignment to land a quarterback on his back.)
* Markus Wheaton is fun to watch. He almost had a nice grab on the sidelines, then made an acrobatic catch to convert on 4th-and-2. Rookie Justin Brown looked good, too, but that could be because he was the only player former college teammate Landry Jones recognized.
* Bruce Gradkowski is a huge upgrade to Byron Leftwich. I love Byron, but Gradkowski is mobile, a prerequisite in this offense.
* I want to see more from Reggie Dunn and less from David Gilreath, at least if he insists on fielding punts inside the five, or fumbling them altogether.
* A bum left knee kept Le’Veon Bell on the sidelines but that’s fine. He’s been dominating training camp and these games don’t count. No rush.
* Shaun Suisham appears to be in midseason form. This is a good thing.