By Jeremy Hritz
Maybe all is not lost.
ESPN is currently reporting that doctors are waiting to see if rookie right guard David DeCastro tore the ACL Saturday night in his right knee in addition to suffering a tear of the MCL. Later today, a more conclusive report will be available as he will undergo an MRI at lunchtime. If the injury is solely an MCL tear, there is a chance that he could return this season, which would be a blessing.
In a blowout victory in a meaningless game with several bright spots, the positives are mired in the potentially season-altering injury. Below are my initial observations from the third preseason game against the Buffalo Bills after a watching the game a few times.
The Offensive Line Has Room to Improve
There was too much pressure on Ben Roethlisberger, and while Buffalo has an outstanding defensive line, the Steelers will face the likes of the Ravens, Eagles, and Giants during the regular season, teams with a ferocious pass rush. They must demonstrate that they can provide Big Ben the protection that he needs to take shots downfield without getting killed. Marcus Gilbert did not play particularly well and gave up some pressure, while Ramon Foster in place of DeCastro looked slow when pulling. It is evident that his presence in the lineup will change their approach to the running game this season as he lacks the mobility of DeCastro.
Willie Colon did not have a great game and was overpowered multiple times. Like Foster, Colon did not look great when pulling.
Max Starks played well for being his first game back, and Maurkice Pouncey was solid, as always. Roethlisberger seemed to adjust to this pressure as he began getting rid of the ball more quickly in the second quarter, especially during the long drive that resulted in the touchdown pass to Antonio Brown. If the Steelers are going to compete for a championship this season, the offensive line is going to have to play much better than it has been. Depending on the final verdict on DeCastro, the Steelers may want to consider trying to secure another decent guard to provide some depth at the position. Injuries at the offensive line have been numerous over the past several years, so this could be something that the team considers. Mike Adams played well, though against lesser competition.
Antonio Brown Leads the Receivers
Brown played extremely well, and is having an even better preseason than he had last year. His two touchdown receptions showcased his ability to get open on the short routes and to get behind coverage on the deep pass.
While David Gilreath had a decent game against the Colts, he was quiet against the Bills, with his only touch coming on an end around that resulted in a one-yard gain. This week, it was Derrick Williams, former Penn State receiver, that stepped up, securing two catches, one for a touchdown, and one in which he made a nice adjustment and came back to the ball.
The competition for the number five receiver position is still undecided, and it looks like it will come down to the final preseason game to achieve some clarity. Two things are certain, however, Toney Clemons and Marquis Maze are not making this team, as they were again underwhelming against the Bills.
Running Backs Emerging As a Strength
Isaac Redman ran hard, though he did not put together an impressive per carry average. He scored on a two yard run, something that has to make the coaching staff feel confident about moving forward, considering the issues that they have had scoring on the goal line in past seasons.
Jonathan Dwyer made an outstanding catch down the sideline for a much needed first down, and on another catch, continued to demonstrate his wiggle and ability to make defenders miss. Dwyer should be a serious contributor during the regular season.
Baron Batch had his best game running the football, though it came against lesser competition later in the game. And Chris Rainey continues to be explosive. While he may lose yardage at times, his potential to score on every play makes him a threat that teams are going to have to account for during the season. His 41 yard touchdown run showed off his incredible acceleration. If he gets a lane, he is gone. Slowly, the running back position is emerging as a position of strength for the Steelers.
The Pressure Is On
Every defensive unit last night was able to apply pressure to the quarterback. While the team only recorded two sacks, there were several instances were passes were hurried or the development of plays were disrupted because of pressure. Chris Carter continues to show glimpses of what he could potentially be, as he is quick off of the edge. The pressure that the defense has been applying this preseason has resulted in glut of turnovers. If this carries over to the regular season, the defense could be great.
Run Defense A Little Shaky
While there has been more pressure on the quarterback, the defense can do a better job at stopping the run. Bills starting running back Fred Jackson averaged nearly five yards against the starting defense which is unacceptable. This was an area that the Steelers struggled with last year, and it resulted in sustained drives for opponents. The Steelers cannot afford to have a fatigued defense on the field as a result of an inability to stop the run. Hopefully, this is just a product of a lack of game planning and that it is rectified come week one against Denver.
Sean Spence Needs to Shed Blocks
Spence continues to struggle to get off of blocks and make plays inside against the run. There is no question that he is a year or two away from being a starter in this defense, as he has not shown that he can take on and shed offensive linemen effectively. He did flash an ability to rush from the outside and to cover the pass. If Spence is going to be used this year, it will be in a situational role rushing the passer or in coverage.
Cortez Allen Continues to Impress
Allen was excellent in coverage, especially on deep passes, and showed an ability to blitz effectively on the edge. While he may not start because Keenan Lewis has not done anything to lose the starting spot, his potential to be an outstanding cornerback for the Steelers is exciting.
Polamalu Struggles a Bit
While Troy Polamalu did make a great interception against Vince Young, earlier in the game, he struggled a bit in coverage, and whiffed on a tackle. Again, it’s only preseason, but hopefully his abilities are not diminishing as he ages.
Robert Golden Shows Anticipation
Golden made a nice pick against Young, but the beleaguered quarterback’s eyes were glued to his receiver the entire time. Regardless, he made a nice pick and a solid return afterwards.
Hrapmann Almost Has It Secured
I continue to beat this drum. Hrapmann extended his streak of successful field goals to six, hitting a 40 yarder in the fourth quarter. He also boomed kickoffs out of the end zone. If he can do more of the same next week against the Panthers, he will be the new Steelers kicker.
Adrian Robinson Pressures, Has No Tackles
Robinson truly is a one-trick pony, but he is damn good at that one trick. He is a raw prospect that if the Steelers take the time to develop, he could be a contributor in a few years. He continued to aggressively and effectively pressure the quarterback last night, though he did not make any plays in the running game.