It’s difficult to draw any conclusions from what you see in preseason football, but if you really wanted to start getting excited about what the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers can accomplish there were some pretty exciting things that happened on Saturday night in their 19-16 win over the Buffalo Bills.
A defense that over the past few years has been labeled, “old, slow and done” on more than one occasion looked anything but thanks to an infusion of young talent throughout the front seven. No player was more impressive than 2014 first-round pick Ryan Shazier, perhaps the best player on the field for either team in his first taste of NFL action. Sure, it was only one preseason game against a bad Buffalo team, but the impact he made was stunning. On the rare play that he didn’t get credit for a tackle or get his hands on the football, he was still in the area and disrupting the Buffalo offense in every aspect of the game, whether it be against the run, in pass coverage, or chasing down E.J. Manuel.
The Steelers had no shortage of needs on draft day, but none were larger than their need to add playmakers on both sides of the ball, specifically on defense. Whether it was a defensive end, a linebacker, a pass rusher or a cornerback they needed somebody that could disrupt an offense cause chaos. Somebody that can create turnovers and help contribute the type of splash plays that have been absent from the defense for more than two years now.
On offense, you can’t help but get a similar feeling about third-round pick Dri Archer as he followed up his 46-yard play in Week 1 of the preseason by turning a short pass from Landry Jones into a 40-yard gain.
This is the type of thing a fan can get used to seeing.
Some other thoughts and observations from the first home game of 2014:
1) Hopefully it’s not some sort of bad omen for the season, but one of the frisbee dogs that was providing pre-game entertainment moments before the teams took the field took an enormous dump right on the 40-yard line as the scoreboard was showing a close up of its tricks. He received a strong ovation.
2) Speaking of scoreboards, there is a new scoreboard in the corner of the north end zone and it’s very nice. Much bigger than I anticipated, and a much clearer picture than the one in the south end zone that never seems to be utilized as well as it could be. For fans sitting in the upper deck of the north end, if you’re seated in the middle of the level or on the opposite side it’s actually great for replays because it’s so close and provides a much cleaner picture. The only thing it’s missing at this point is a giant ketchup bottle on top of it. Speaking of the north end zone, the bleachers in the upper level were replaced during the offseason, but it’s hard to notice any difference when it comes to the actual bench part of the bleachers. The backs, however, are brand new, and for some reason still have cup holders with the Rolling Rock logo plastered all over them, a beer that hasn’t been featured at Heinz Field for nearly a decade.
3) Hey, Doug Marrone. When your team is down by three in the final two minutes of a preseason game and you have a fourth down situation … go for it. Don’t kick a field goal. Don’t play for overtime. Nobody wants to see it. Nobody wants to play in it. Nobody wants to risk injury for it. Andy Reid did this last years against the Steelers, and had it not been Howard Jones nearly scoring his second touchdown in as many weeks we would have been subjected to the worst type of football — overtime preseason football. It also produced a surprisingly exciting ending for preseason football.
4) Another standout player on defense: Robert Golden with a fumble recovery, interception and two pass defenses, including one in the end zone on fourth down.
5) With Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and Lance Moore penciled in as the top-three wide receivers, Dri Archer being an option in the passing game, and Martavis Bryant, Justin Brown and Derek Moye all having strong camps, how is Darrius Heyward-Bey going to make this roster? So far, he’s done nothing to show that he should.
6) Daniel McCullers is enormous in person. Just a massive human being.
7) Major props to the kid sitting in front of us that ate not one, but two large buckets of popcorn in the fourth quarter. He dominated them by himself.