By Matthew Marczi
The Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Washington Redskins tonight. Here is the first half recap.
The Steelers took the opening kickoff, which unsurprisingly was not returned, much to Reggie Dunn’s chagrin. Le’Veon Bell got the first work of his career, taking his first snap for four yards to the left side. A personal foul on the second play on the Redskins moved the Steelers upfield.
Also notable was the first snap for tight end Jamie McCoy. McCoy could be making the opening day roster this year due to the injuries to Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth, but he missed the first preseason game.
The Steelers continued feeding the ball to Bell, including on a draw on second and nine, but success on the ground was elusive early on against the Redskins front. On third down, Ben Roethlisbeger was able to buy time by stepping through pressure, but he may not have been aware of his placing on the field, as he almost appeared surprised that he was beyond the line of scrimmage and tucked the ball for just a short gain, forcing a punt.
Out in the flat on the passing route, Bell left the field favoring his right leg. Shamarko Thomas, the rookie safety, made the special teams tackle following a return of just one yard after a 37-yard punt by Brian Moorman, who got the first shot over incumbent second-year punter Drew Butler in that roster battle.
Kirk Cousins was in at quarterback for the Redskins, and the first play was a 15-yard completion over linebacker Jason Worilds. Safety Troy Polamalu and corner William Gay helped slow the momentum down on the next play, and another short gain by Alfred Morris set up a third and five. Cousins’ pass on third down sailed over the head of both his receiver and Gay in coverage to force a punt as the two teams traded short opening drives. Rookie receiver Markus Wheaton got the first shot at returning a punt, but he had no room to maneuver and lost a yard.
Jonathan Dwyer was in at tailback for the Steelers on the second drive, as Bell was ruled out with a right foot injury. On the first carry, Dwyer took an outside run 12 yards for a first down. Roethlisberger was sacked by Barry Cofield on the following play, as he easily swam past Maurkice Pouncey off the snap, setting up second and 16.
On the third play, defensive end Ryan Kerrigan made an acrobatic play to pick Roethlisberger’s pass out of the air from close range for an interception that he returned for a touchdown. Kerrigan has a history of doing that to quarterbacks; it is somewhat more palatable when it happens in the preseason, however. Roethlisberger had a pass batted down at the line that could have been intercepted against the New York Giants as well.
Reggie Dunn finally got an opportunity to return a kick, and he made the most of it, showing impressive speed and maneuverability for a 30-yard return to the 34-yard line. Dwyer continued taking the carries on the second drive with Bell out and Isaac Redman not dressed, beating a linebacker at the line for a four-yard gain.
He moved out to the slot on second down and received the pass on a checkdown for a short gain, setting up third and five. The Steelers went three-wide on third down and Roethlisberger completed the pass for a first down to Emmanuel Sanders. However, an illegal formation on left tackle Mike Adams negated the play. A delayed draw to Dwyer was snuffed out immediately for a loss, setting up the second Moorman punt of the night, which went 40 yards to the Redskins’ 35.
The first play for the Redskins was an interesting display of the stretch zone that Mike Shanahan likes to employ, which the Steelers defended well. Morris was forced to run all the way to the sideline before cutting up the field to just get what he could. Jarvis Jones came in for this series and defended well on the first two carries. Opposite Jones, LaMarr Woodley made his presence felt, bullrushing Tyler Polumbus to get the sack on third down. Wheaton called for a fair catch on the ensuing punt.
Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown on a quick slant for a nine-yard gain on the ensuing possession, and Dwyer barreled a head for the first down on the next play. The interior of the line allowed pressure on the next playing, forcing Roethlisberger to take off running, but a holding penalty on David DeCastro negated the play.
Good pass protection on the next play allowed a big completion to Brown for the first down, and an unnecessary roughness penalty on corner David Amerson that knocked receivers coach Richard Mann to the ground put the Steelers into the Redskins territory. Fullback Will Johnson struggled blocking Kerrigan, but ultimately finished the block after Roethlisberger avoided his pressure. Roethlisberger hit David Paulson 26 yards down the field for a big gain down to the 16-yard line after escaping the initial scare to end the first quarter.
On second and seven from the 13, Pouncey was flagged for illegal hands to the face, negating a first down on a catch and run for running back Baron Batch. Pouncey has been struggling this preseason so far. On second and 17, Batch took a pass down the middle of the field for a nice gain to set up third and manageable after a nine-yard gain.
Another holding penalty, this time on Adams after more pressure, negated another first down. The third and 18 play was a draw up the middle for Dwyer, which gained 14 yards. The line opened up a nice hole on that play. Shaun Suisham was good from 28 yards out, bringing the score to 7-3.
Kirk Cousins took off running on the first two plays of the next drive, and came up limping before taking a seat on the ground after being tackled by Lawrence Timmons following a first down. Rex Grossman entered the game at the next snap. Woodley was held by Polumbus on the next play on a run his way that he likely would have stopped, setting up a second and 17. The ensuing pass bounced off the receiver’s hands. Santana Moss made the catch on third down, but for just a 14-yard gain, with Larry Foote making the stop to force the punt.
Bruce Gradkowski came in on the next series. Kerrigan beat Marcus Gilbert to the edge and was able to strip the ball out of Gradkowski’s hands, and the Redskins recovered deep in Steelers territory. Jarvis Jones blew up the next play, however, stripping the ball from running back Keiland Williams and forcing a fumble, which the Steelers recovered.
Gradwoski was on the run after a pressure allowed by Paulson, gaining four yards. Ramon Foster pulled on the next play, helping opening up a lane with Paulson for Jonathan Dwyer, who made a move in the secondary for extra yardage on a 23-yard gain. He ran into the back of Paulson on the next play, however, and the Redskins forced the ball out, recovering near midfield. Paulson’s rollercoaster performance is not enough. He must show better by the start of the regular season given the injuries at the position.
Josh Morgan picked up 19 yards on the ensuing play to get down to the 35. Deep downfield, Ike Taylor was flagged for pass interference to set up first and goal. From the five, Grossman took a bootleg to the right and hit Aldrick Robinson in the end zone; however, the receiver was out of bounds before catching the ball, making him ineligible to be the first player to touch the pass. On the next play, Leonard Hankerson made a nice one-handed catch on an accurate high pass to beat Gay at the back of the end zone, making the score 14-3.
A screen pass for Batch on first down went through the receiver’s hands. Jerricho Cotchery caught his first pass on the next play for five yards. E.J. Biggers almost picked off the next pass; however, in doing so, he went over the back of Cotchery, resulting in a pass interference call.
Will Johnson got his first carry of the season for no gain. He got hit hard in the next play trying to catch a pass and stayed down, which drew an unnecessary roughness call on the grounds of being a defenseless receiver. Replays showed that the penalty was clearly justified. Johnson eventually walked off under his own power, but his night is almost certainly over with a rib injury.
Gradkowski went downfield on the next play for a 19-yard completion to Sanders, who went up to secure the pass. Alvester Alexander came into the game and got the next carry, but was stopped at the line. Gradkowski targeted Sanders down the field again, who made a nice leaping grab with his hands outstretched to crack the red zone as the two-minute warning hit.
Gradkowski stepped up into the pocket on the next throw after pressure, hitting the referee, and the deflection was almost intercepted. Antonio Brown caught the next pass in the middle of the field but had no room to maneuver, setting up third and four. Gradkowski looked for Paulson in the corner of the end zone, but the sailing pass was a bit too deep. The Steelers settled for another Suisham field goal from 31 yards out to bring the score to 14-6.
Many of the backups came in on defense to close the half. Marshall McFadden and Brian Rolle were the inside linebackers with Stevenson Sylvester still out. Curtis Brown also saw his first preseason action. Grossman hit on several throws to quickly get down the field, the last against Isaiah Green. Kai Forbath hit on a 38-yard field goal to end the half with a score of 17-6.