The Pittsburgh Steelers finished the preseason this year with a winless 0-4 record. This preseason was disappointing for the Steelers; the first team offense only scored one touchdown and the special teams did not look good at all. These may be meaningless games, but there are still many things that we learned from the four games that the Steelers played in the preseason.
Lesson 1: The offense is still a work in progress.
Like mentioned earlier in the article the first team offense scored only one touchdown in the preseason. The performance of the offense proved that they are still very much a work in progress even in the second season under Todd Haley. On some plays they looked like a team that had everything together: the Antonio Brown pass against the Chiefs and the touchdown pass to Jonathan Dwyer both worked beautifully. But on most plays the offense looked like it was still their first season under Todd Haley. This is due in large part to the play of the offensive line.
From the young Steelers’ offensive line we saw many different things. We saw glimpses of greatness, but more often than not we saw the things that have plagued the Steelers for years and that’s continual pressure on whoever’s lined up under center. The offensive line is the key to the offense. When they’re playing well, they give time to Ben Roethlisberger and make room in the running game for whoever is running the ball for the Steelers. But while the offensive line takes time to improve, the offense will be in that growing mode along with them. There is only so much that Ben can do by himself.
Lesson 2: The defense still has it.
The Steeler defense looked good this preseason. Considering the circumstances that they were put in because of the offense’s poor play, they played at a high level. The first team defense allowed only two touchdowns this preseason: one to the Giants and another to the Chiefs.
While the defense played well, their age (or lackthereof) came to the forefront on a couple plays, the primary example being the Victor Cruz touchdown where he flew by the entire defense and nobody could catch the man.
Besides that one play the defense’s performance was solid. They played well against the run and were solid in the secondary.
Cornerback Cortez Allen really made a case for the starting job opposite of Ike Taylor. He didn’t make any interceptions, but he shut down most of the receivers that he played against and had many good tackles.
Lesson 3: Start the rookies!
I know it’s against the norm for the Steelers to start their rookies, but they don’t have the luxury of sitting their young players and developing them.
There are two rookies that I believe should have starting jobs; outside linebacker Jarvis Jones and wide receiver Markus Wheaton. Both had very impressive preseasons and should be given a starting spot.
Jones was in a competition with Jason Worilds for the job of replacing James Harrison. Worilds had the advantage in the sack department but Jones had the advantage in the big play department.
The Steelers’ first round pick was a turnover machine in the preseason: he forced a fumble, recovered a fumble, and grabbed an interception which was called back because of a penalty. Jones did nothing but makes plays for the Steelers and has earned the starting job over Worilds even without playing in the final preseason game.
The Steelers’ third round pick, Markus Wheaton, also had a great preseason. In four games, Wheaton had seven catches for 117 yards and two touchdowns. He has shown that he both has good hands and explosive speed. While he might not be as fast as Mike Wallace, he has shown toughness and the ability to make plays, and that should earn him the number three receiving position over Jerricho Cotchery.
I’m not the only one who sees the star power of Wheaton; ESPN’s Adam Shefter tweeted during the preseason “Certain players pop in the preseason. You can see that they can play right away. Steeler’s WR Wheaton is one.”
If the Steelers can get production from their rookies during the preseason I see no reason why they shouldn’t be starting as we begin the regular season.
Lesson 4: The special teams suck.
There is really no other way to put it, the Steelers’ special teams sucks. In each game of the preseason the Steelers had some sort of breakdown in special teams that led to points for the opposing team.
We saw everything bad happen for the Steelers: blocked kicks, kick returns and plays brought back because of penalties. The Steelers brought in a new special teams coach and right now it doesn’t seem like he has done much good for the special teams. The special teams have a long way to go and the “third part” of football will be the downfall for the Steelers unless improvements are made.
Lesson 5: Discipline is a major factor.
In the NFL discipline is a huge driving force behind games and this was proven by the Steelers all last season. I couldn’t tell you how many times a drive was cut short because of a penalty or when an opponent’s drive was extended because of a flag.
It looks like this season is going to be a repeat of last if the preseason is any indication. In each game of this preseason the Steelers had five or more penalties resulting in at least 40 yards of penalization against the Steelers. This is a phase of the game that head coach Mike Tomlin talks about on a regular basis, and for some odd reason week after week nothing changes.
Is this because Tomlin is a bad disciplinarian or because the players just don’t care? I think it’s a combination of both. When compared to the coaches of the Steelers’ past (mainly Bill Cowher) he doesn’t seem to do much on the sideline. Unlike Cowher, he doesn’t pull players off to the side and gives them a piece of his mind. Tomlin definitely isn’t Cowher and I don’t think we will be seeing him spit on any players but the discipline of the team needs to get better or they will shoot themselves into many more bad situations.