By Matthew Marczi
After two preseason games, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin seems to be seeing everything that he was hoping not to see from his team, even considering that we are in “August football”. From mental mistakes and “Steelers beating Steelers”, penalties, special teams woes, and an inability to stay healthy, the team clearly has some things to work on heading into the regular season tune-up that is the third preseason game.
Tomlin talked about what he hoped to see from his team heading into the preseason, and he of course named all of those things listed above, but he also talked about wanting to see what the players know. “Not just in terms of assignments”, he said, “but what they know about the game. Things like their ability to communicate in the field of play, their understanding of the unwritten rules of the game of football, and the things that they should know innately”.
A week after converting just five of 16 third down opportunities, the Steelers were successful in turning just one third down into a new set of downs in 13 attempts last night. To make matters worse, a few would-be conversions were negated by penalties, including an illegal formation penalty on left tackle Mike Adams that negated a fine catch in the middle of the field for wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.
That is certainly an ugly combination of transgressions. The penalties are beginning to become a nuisance; in two games thus far, the Steelers have been penalized 15 times for a combined 145 yards. Eight of those penalties for 95 yards came last night, and they also came at the most inopportune times, negating third down conversions, knocking the Steelers out of the red zone, or pushing the Washington Redskins into the red zone.
On special teams, a blocked punt, a couple of penalties, a muffed punt, and a few bad decisions—combined with some shaky coverage, have new special teams coordinator Danny Smith’s tenure with the Steelers off to a rocky start. In fact, tight end Michael Palmer perhaps saved a pair of touchdowns off of punts last night thanks to his two tackles after strong returns.
Ball security has also been an issue already. The Steelers have only thrown one interception thus far, but there could have been several more, including a pair off of Landry Jones passes last night. That one interception was also a pick six.
David Gilreath lost his muffed punt in the preseason opener. Last night, both Jonathan Dwyer and Bruce Gradkowski put the ball on the ground and had it taken away. And don’t forget that Landry Jones ran into Baron Batch in the end zone and fumbled, which he recovered for a safety.
It also helps none that the Steelers have given up nine sacks in the first two games—though, admittedly, a good number of those came late in games with a pile of journeyman linemen and rookie undrafted free agents protecting quarterbacks with less than ideal pocket awareness.
On the plus side, the defense is showing signs of a turnaround in some key areas, namely in sacks and turnovers. They have six sacks thus far in the first two games, to go along with six turnovers. Cornerback Devin Smith and safety DaMon Cromartie-Smith both came down with interceptions last night, while rookies Jarvis Jones and Shamarko Thomas forced a pair of fumbles that the Steelers were able to recover.
There is still plenty of time for the Steelers to clean things up before the regular season. They came into the first two games with no game planning other than a desire to run the ball. Now is when planning and scheming begins to take place. Players will watch film of their opponents in preparation for the next contest, and hopefully that will go a long way to eliminating some of the sloppy play seen thus far.