By Matthew Marczi
The Pittsburgh Steelers enter their third preseason game at home against the Kansas City Chiefs looking not just for a win, but for answers to a lot of questions. Can the offensive line come together in time for the regular season? Will anybody step up at running back and tight end while those units recover from injuries? What will the newest Steeler, running back Felix Jones, be able to contribute? How will injured players, such as cornerback Cortez Allen and tight end David Johnson, look in their first game action of the season? Head coach Mike Tomlin and the rest of the organization is looking for clarity on these topics tonight. Below is a recap of how the first half of the game went.
The Steelers won the opening coin toss and elected to defer to the second half, putting the defense on the field first. Undrafted rookie Reggie Dunn will have to wait a bit in his bid to make the team as a return man.
Right off the bat, safety Troy Polamalu continued his active preseason with his patented trailing tackle at the line on a running play. Allen was tested early on, coming in to attempt a tackle on a receiver, but he was not able to make the play and allowed a first down. On the next play, running back Jamaal Charles found an opening on the right side of the defensive line for another first down.
Lawrence Timmons, however, found the right hole and tackled Charles in the backfield for a three-yard loss. Defensive end Ziggy Hood got the sack on third down to force a punt. Timmons and both outside linebackers—who flipped sides on the play—also got pressure.
Kelvin Beachum was in on the first offensive snap for the Steelers, reporting as an eligible receiver at tight end. I previously wrote about the possibility of the Steelers using Beachum as a sixth offensive lineman during the season, and it appears they are serious about that.
Jonathan Dwyer got the start with injuries to Isaac Redman and LaRod Stephens-Howling.
On the second offensive play, Ben Roethlisberger aired it out deep to Antonio Brown, who hauled it in for a 59-yard reception, making a nice adjustment at speed down the field. Beachum remained in the game at tight end on the right side and helped Dwyer get to the outside of the play for a first down run.
On the next play, Roethlisberger connected with Brown again to get down to the nine-yard line to set up second and four. Dwyer was stopped on second down, and Beachum came off the field for third down. Roethlisberger’s pass was just out of reach of Brown.
The two shared a conversation heading off the field, indicating that Brown did not run the route the way the quarterback wanted him to. Shaun Suisham capped off the drive with a field goal to give the Steelers the early lead. They may not have gotten into the end zone right off the bat, but the offense still looks sharp early.
Rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones tore up the middle of the field to lay a hit on the ensuing kickoff, and stayed in on defense on just the second drive in place of Jason Worilds, who may well be credited with a split on Ziggy Hood’s earlier sack.
Cortez Allen was targeted on the first pass of the drive, and was able to defend it down the field. Allen again made the stop after a nine-yard gain on the next play after a pass into a soft zone between he and Jones. The Chiefs tried to convert on third and short up the middle, and the Steelers stood strong, leaving them just an inch or two short.
That did not stop them from going for it on fourth down deep in their own territory, however, which they did not convert, in part thanks to Polamalu ripping through into the backfield and interrupting the flow of the play. Never forget the impact that a healthy Troy Polamalu can have on this team.
Roethlisberger targeted Emmanuel Sanders deep in the end zone, but the ball came up a bit short, and the receiver became the defensive back, who made a nice effort to prevent the turnover. The second down pass was possibly redirected on the line and out of the reach of Jerricho Cotchery. On the next play, however, Roethlisberger found Cotchery for the first down well after the clock in his head should have expired, setting up just the first first and goal for the first-team offense during the preseason.
David DeCastro could not hold his block long enough on first down to allow Dwyer to slip through for any more than a short gain. On second down, they went three-wide, but Derrick Johnson blitz cleanly through the left guard and center for a sack. Mike Adams had trouble of his own on third down. Tamba Hali completely beat him cleanly for a clear line to the quarterback. However, Roethlisberger fought through, reset, and found Dwyer awaiting in the right flat with nobody near him, who was able to walk in for the first touchdown by the first-team offense of the year.
A defensive turnover, even if it was a turnover on downs, set up a short field for the offense that they were able to convert into seven points. That is what the Steelers would like to see more of this season.
Worilds replaced LaMarr Woodley on the left side, with Jones remaining on the right, which the Steelers also did in the last preseason game. The defense quickly forced three and out. It is notable that Antonio Brown was back returning the punt, although he could not make anything out of it.
Fullback Will Johnson caught his first pass on the night for a nice seven-yard completion on first down. On second down, Roethlisberger ran a bootleg and targeted the pass-catching tight end David Paulson, who dropped a nice pass right in his hands down the field. He was seen coming off the field after the drop. Luckily, Brown caught the third down pass, saw an opportunity to get the first down, and looped back to get to the edge.
Beachum re-entered the game at tight end, this time on the left side of the offense, and the Steelers ran a reverse the opposite way with Sanders, who got what he could before being stopped after a few yards due to some nice individual defensive efforts. This time, Paulson stayed strong in traffic to secure a five-yard pass on second and five.
Beachum, back in on the right side again, is getting a lot of work early on at tight end, which I am pleased to see. He can be a big asset in that role, especially early in the season with all of the injuries at tight end.
On the next play, Roethlisberger found Brown down the field, but Dwyer was flagged for a chop block. Replays show that it was clearly a bad call. A chop block necessitates that the defender being chopped must be engaged by another offensive player. That was not the case.
That set the Steelers back significantly at second and 22. Dwyer carried the ball for four yards, making it third and eight. A screen for Dwyer, however, came well short of the first down. The erroneous penalty really put a damper on the offensive success the Steelers were having. The pass to Brown would have gone for 25 yards and put the offense back in the red zone. Preseason officiating, hopefully.
On the fourth defensive possession, the starters were back in at outside linebacker, with Worilds on the right and Woodley on the left. Rotation on every drive. Linebackers coach Keith Butler is clearly serious about a rotation at the position.
Cortez Allen made a nice tackle on first down after a five-yard gain. Ike Taylor was beaten following a naked bootleg by Alex Smith, which ultimately went for 30 yards to Dwayne Bowe. Polamalu blitzed on the play but was understandably fooled on the boot.
On the next play, the receiver dropped the ball, and then Woodley pressured the quarterback to force a throwaway. An ineligible man down the field, however, set the Chiefs back five yards, but kept the extra down. The Steelers rushed five, but could not get home. Still, Smith’s pass sailed over the receiver down the field with Allen in coverage, setting up third and 15. Worilds came in on a delayed inside blitz, but just got tangled up with the back, allowing Smith just enough time to make the throw for the first down.
Cameron Heyward replaced Brett Keisel at some point on the drive. On third down from the 42, Allen covered Donny Avery on a crossing route, making a tackle after just four yards, forcing another punt after an early disappointment not getting off the field on third and 15. Brown was back to receive the punt again, but for the second time it went for a touchback.
On second down, Hali once again had the edge on Adams, but Roethlisberger stepped up in the pocket and hit Cotchery for a nice gain down the field. He had a great pocket on the next play, and was able to find Sanders, who sat down on a route for another big 20+ yard completion.
After the big passing plays, Felix Jones checked into the game for the first time, carrying the ball for a one-yard gain on first down. On the next play, Roethlisberger went for Sanders 35 yards down the field, who had the ball for the touchdown. However, he lost possession as he rolled out of bounds. The Steelers took a timeout after the play, possibly to consider whether to challenge the ruling of an incompletion. Still, credit Roethlisberger with a touchdown pass on that one—he did his part, and Sanders nearly did his. Brandon Flowers did his part to disrupt Sanders’ control, and if it had not been a corner throw, it would have still gone for the score, because the ball never touched the ground.
On the next play, Roethlisberger had a pass deflected across the middle of the field. On fourth down, the Chiefs were able to block Suisham’s 52-yard field goal attempt. Still 10-0 with five minutes to play in the half.
A breakdown on the defense allowed a 37-yard scramble by Alex Smith. Keisel and Jones may have been the guilty parties of being flushed too far to the left. Cortez Allen was the victim of a bad personal foul call to set up first and goal. On first down, a quick pass to Charles was defended well by Polamalu and Taylor for a short gain. Just one yard on second down set up third and goal from the four. Lawrence Timmons was able to keep Charles just out of the end zone on another outside pass. The Chiefs settled for the field goal to bring the score to within 10-3, which after the first play of the drive, was a nice turn of events. It is worth noting that the outside linebacker shuffle continued, with Woodley and Jones in on that drive.
Kelvin Beachum once again reported at eligible. At this point, you need to just throw him the ball. David Paulson made another nice catch on a short pass for five yards. The next pass went the Markus Wheaton on a nice, precise route for the first down. He was the seventh receiver to catch a pass from Roethlisberger in the half as the two-minute warning hit.
Tamba Hali moved over to the offensive right side against Marcus Gilbert, and the right tackle did a nice job on his first attempt. Roethlisberger got blown up on an overloaded secondary blitz on the next play for the sack, however. Nothing the protection could have done on that play. Roethlisberger needs to hope he spots that and throws the ball away or ducks and covers. All of a sudden it’s third and 13 and the Chiefs are calling a timeout to get the ball back. Felix Jones got his second carry for a decent gain, but was still six yards short of the first. Plus he went out of bounds, saving the Chiefs a timeout.
Rotation once again, with Jones and Worilds in. the Chiefs hit a pass for a short gain and got out of bounds for the first. Anthony Fasano made a nice catch in the middle of the field with Polamalu in strong coverage. The Steelers flushed Smith to his right and Polamalu drilled him after the throw, which was flagged. It was the first penalty against the Steelers on the night that was actually properly called.
On the next play, Cortez Allen made a nice stick tackle to keep the gain to a minimum, and Timmons made a strong defense on second down, setting up third and four. Bowe converted for the first down, however, setting up first and goal. It was just the second third down the Chiefs converted in the half. After a spike to stop the clock, Smith found his receiver between William Gay and Polamalu to tie the game at 10 entering the second half.