The 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers opened their preseason schedule on Thursday night in Philadelphia, losing to the Eagles 24-23. The Steelers largely dominated play when the starters were in, leading 13-0 at halftime. There was a lot of good and some cause for concern coming out of Thursday’s game, and here is what matters from the preseason opener:
1. Mike Adams is not ready for primetime. Adams got the start at LT with Max Starks still on the PUP list while recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in the playoff loss to Denver. To say things didn’t go well for Adams would be very, very generous. In 9 passing plays with Adams in the game, he allowed 2.5 sacks, then left with a minor knee injury. Adams only expected to miss a week or two, but he can’t afford to miss the reps at this stage if he hopes to get meaningful playing time in 2012. Trai Essex didn’t fare much better, although that’s far from unexpected, and Marcus Gilbert also struggled on the other side. The Steelers figure to have a very good interior offensive line in 2012, but the tackle position remains far from solid, something that will be closely watched the remaining 3 preseason games.
2. No bubble screens! While the offense was obviously vanilla, it had a very different look under Todd Haley than it had under Bruce Arians. The Steelers threw no WR screens, had few (if any) empty sets, and most passing plays were of the short and intermediate variety. The Steelers opened the game with a 9:00 minute drive, looking comfortable and in command of the “new” offense. The Steelers’ offense under Arians frequently appeared disjointed and messy, with little rhythm and consistency, but under Haley it appeared fluid and purposeful. It’s difficult to read much into one preseason game, but the Haley offense can be described as “so far, so good.”
3. Chris Rainey is going to be an impact player. Rainey, the Steelers 5th round pick out of the Florida, was on the field early and often, and his 53-yard TD run was the highlight of the game. Rainey is something that the other Steelers RB’s are not, namely elusive, fast, and dynamic in the open field, and with Rashard Mendenhall certain to miss at least the first 6 games while recovering from his torn ACL, Rainey should get a lot of time spelling Isaac Redman and being used in the passing game. Jonathan Dwyer was also impressive in his limited action, appearing slimmer and faster than he had in his first two seasons with the Steelers.
4. Curtis Brown did himself no favors. With the departure of Willie Gay to
Pittsburgh West Arizona, the Steelers have an opening at corner opposite Ike Taylor. Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen are the favorites for the position, but last year’s 3rd round pick out of Texas also figured to be in the mix. If he was, he probably isn’t anymore. Brown was burned for two long TD’s in the second half and was decisively outplayed by both Allen and Lewis. The Steelers will need Brown in 2012, but he’s quickly playing himself into being the 4th CB.
5. Steve McLendon is ready to be a starter. With Casey Hampton also out for at least the first six weeks while recovering from a torn ACL, Steve McLendon got the start at NT. McLendon was disruptive and effective, getting a sack and making 2 or 3 other tackles. Perhaps even more importantly, McLendon was effective at the point of attack, holding up well against double teams and engaging blockers to free up the Steelers LB’s to make plays. I was somewhat surprised when the Steelers held onto Hampton this offseason, and if McLendon and rookie Alameda Ta’amu continue to impress, 2012 will be Big Snack’s last season in Pittsburgh.
6. Brandon Johnson and Chris Carter impressed at OLB. The Steelers have been grooming Jason Worilds to be the eventual replacement for James Harrison at ROLB, but his play on the field has never lived up to his 2nd round draft choice status. With Worilds sidelined on Thursday with an injury, Chris Carter looked dynamic rushing the passer off of the edge, getting into the backfield regularly. Offseason free agent signing Brandon Johnson was also effective, with a pressure that forced an interception and effective pass coverage. With Worilds entering his 3rd season, it’s beyond time for him to live up to his potential. If he doesn’t, however, the Steelers still have good depth at the position with Johnson and Carter.
7. Can Will Johnson be the FB? The Steelers had shifted David Johnson from TE to FB in camp, as Haley actually uses a FB at times in his offense unlike Bruce Arians. David, however, had his season come to an end in the first quarter with a torn ACL and MCL when Marcus Gilbert fell into him at the end of a play. Enter Will Johnson, who was out of football in 2011 after graduating from WVU that spring. Johnson is the only FB on the roster and looked solid in his play on Thursday. The FB job is his to lose at this point, and his performance will dictate whether the organization looks to bring in another body to play the position.
Up next is Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts in Pittsburgh. No word on whether Luck will walk across the Allegheny River on his way to game.