Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin made it clear before the game that he did not by any means expect to see mistake-free football by his unit heading into the team’s first preseason game, especially when their opponent already had a game under their belt.
He certainly didn’t get mistake-free football, although the Steelers may well have had a slightly cleaner score sheet than the New York Giants.
But the Steelers did have their share of noteworthy plays, such as Dri Archer’s long reception in the first quarter, Jarvis Jones registering a sack, and rookie undrafted free agent Howard Jones recovering two fumbles, taking one in for a score.
There were plenty of ups and downs to go around, and perhaps nobody had quite as up and down a night as rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant, whose rawness—both good and bad—was on display.
Bryant’s final stat line reads one reception for 19 yards and two punt returns for two yards, but that certainly doesn’t paint a coherent picture of the game that he had.
For starters, and on the plus side, the lanky rookie twice drew pass interference calls against cornerback Jayron Hosley, the first going for 12 yards and the second going for 47, which brought the Steelers into the red zone.
He also tried to keep their comeback hopes alive late in the game with his 19-yard reception on fourth down and six to go from the Giants’ 46-yard line with under a minute and a half to play.
He spun out of the reach of the first defender, pulled himself off the turf, and tried to advance the ball—which is when he ran into problems.
Safety C.J. Barnett popped up and laid a hit on Bryant, getting his arm squarely on the ball and knocking it loose. The Giants recovered the fumble, and that essentially ended the game.
On the play immediately preceding that, Bryant couldn’t haul in a Landry Jones pass that, while not perfectly thrown, seemed to be catchable, and brought up the fourth-down play to begin with.
Earlier in the game, Tomlin replaced Archer with Bryant as the punt returner, and he muffed it on his first attempt at fielding, though he was able to recover his own loose ball. His second punt he was able to return four yards.
Including the two pass interference calls, Bryant helped the offense advance 78 yards. By size matchups alone—not to mention the rules emphasis on contact beyond the five-yard box—the rookie should be a deep threat this season, whether the pass is complete or not.
But as we saw last night, sometimes even on the same play, it’s clear that Bryant’s development will require patience. He is going to make some mistakes, but he also offers the potential to put the hurt on defenses. It will be interesting to see how he comes back in the next preseason game.