The Pittsburgh Steelers fell on their collective faces during last week’s ‘dress rehearsal’ for the regular season, which might result in some extended encore performances from select starters, though many will also be sitting out. As they so often do, they close out their preseason schedule against the Carolina Panthers. There are a few jobs up for debate toward the bottom of the roster, and they will have to be sorted out tonight.
Rookie draft picks Jordan Zumwalt and Shaquille Richardson, their natural sixth- and fifth-round draft picks, respectively, are both not dressed, making it virtually impossible for them to make the 53-man roster given how little they’ve played.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will not play tonight. With Jason Worilds and Cameron Heyward sitting, Arthur Moats and Brett Keisel are slated to start in their places. Will Allen–not Shamarko Thomas–will start for Troy Polamalu, suffering a contusion to the birth certificate.
The Steelers won the coin toss and elected to defer to the second half. Roethlisberger, who is not even playing, remains the lone captain.
Derek Anderson started for the Panthers at quarterback. From the 23, Fozzy Whittaker rushed for five yards on first down. Anderson completed a first-down pass in front of Ryan Shazier. Kelvin Benjamin used his body to shield off Ike Taylor to cross midfield.
Anderson attempted to find Mike Tolbert on a screen pass, but the big back could not hold on to the pass. Jerricho Cotchery converted on Antwon Blake, but was short of the first-down marker. Shazier and Lawrence Timmons stopped the fourth-down rush, but the officials ruled a first down. Mike Tomlin challenged the ruling. The officials determined that the ruling will stand, not that it was confirmed. Personally, I don’t think the Panthers made it.
Keisel and Jarvis Jones got pressure on Anderson, with Keisel getting to the quarterback and forcing an incomplete pass. With Cam Thomas at nose tackle and Stephon Tuitt at end, Thomas stopped the back after one yard. The Panthers got off a screen pass for a first down, however.
Timmons nearly intercepted Anderson’s next pass. Whittaker gained seven yards up the left side for a third and three. On third down, Taylor defended Benjamin on a pass into the end zone to force a field goal.
Last year’s fourth-round draft pick, Landry Jones, commands the Steelers’ offense tonight. He may play the entire game.
Lanear Sampson took the ensuing kickoff but only managed to reach the 15-yard line. Wesley Johnson started at center for Maurkice Pouncey and should play most, if not all of the game. Dri Archer started at running back.
Markus Wheaton took an end around and gain 15 yards behind a Michael Palmer block. Archer took a run up the middle and coaxed his way around defenders for five yards. Fullback Will Johnson got the carry and made a defender miss in the hole for a nice gain and a first down.
Jones hit Palmer on a bootleg, but for little to no gain on the following play. Only four of the five offensive linemen, plus the fullback, account for the starting offense. Jones threw high to Martavis Bryant up the middle, but Bryant reached up and grabbed it for a short gain.
On third down and six, Jones found Darrius Heyward-Bey, but the reception was short of the first down. LeGarrette Blount entered the game for the carry, but he was short of the first down, resulting in a turnover on downs.
Vince Williams replaced Timmons. Taylor exited, giving way to William Gay. The defense stood strong on first down, allowing just a one-yard gain. Blake did a nice job of stopping Benjamin from getting a first down, setting up third and one. Jones made the tackle to forced a punt.
The Steelers’ first-team offensive line, sans Pouncey, headed out for another series with Jones at quarterback. Taking over at the 10, Jones froze under the pressure, holding on to the ball and having his progress stopped at the one.
Jones seemed to want to make up for the mistake, zipping one to Justin Brown, but the pass was defended well. On third and 19, Jones found Johnson down the field, spotted at the first-down marker. Carolina challenged. The spot seemed generous, so I expect this to be overturned.
In the meantime, Martavis Bryant reportedly will not return to the game with a right shoulder injury.
As expected, the officials overturned the original ruling, spotting Johnson down at the 19 and setting up fourth and one, but the Steelers decided to punt. The Panthers were penalized for holding on the punt, backing them up 10 yards from the end of the kick, helping flip the field.
Blake defended Benjamin deep very well on first down. The confident young receiver rightfully demanded an offensive pass interference call, but he was not obliged.
Moats and Shazier helped bottle up Whittaker after a short gain to set up third and eight. Gay got in front of a pass intended for Benjamin for a nice three-and-out for this defensive unit.
Following a disappointing return from Archer, the Steelers were penalized for an illegal block in the back, pushing them back to their own eight. More terrible field position.
Heyward-Bey took a wide receiver screen for a nice gain, aided by a block, for eight yards to create some breathing room to close the first quarter.
The first-team offensive line has been replaced, and Rob Blanchflower has also entered. Le’Veon Bell got his first carry for a first down.
Correction, the left side of the offensive line still comprises the starters.
Bell picked up six yards on first down, and Blount added another to set up third and three. Jones was sacked on third down, resulting in yet another punt. The Panthers returned muffed it, but recovered and returned it for a short gain.
From the 35, the Panthers picked up three yards on first down. They false started on the next play. Josh Mauro is in for Keisel.
Anderson found tight end Ed Dickson for 17 yards and a first down near mid-field. Another 17 yards came from a crossing route to Benjamin down to the 33.
Benjamin was left in soft coverage on second down for an easy reception at the first-down marker. From the 22, the snap went over Anderson’s head, and Jones recovered it, picking up and returning it across midfield. He was brought down by a horsecollar, whipped to the ground by his dreadlocks, possibly hitting his head on the ground.
It seems they are going to put him through preliminary concussion protocol. Meanwhile the officials are reviewing the turnover to see if Jones was down by contact. Review shows that he was clearly touched down, making the return meaningless. Jones is being left to his own devices on the sidelines, presumably to the satisfaction of the trainers who were looking at him when he came to the bench.
Archer took an inside handoff, eluding several defenders behind the line of scrimmage just to win the edge for a two-yard gain. Jones escaped pressure from Mike Adams‘ coverage, but Blount couldn’t catch the pass anyway. Johnson was flagged for holding. The rookie is overmatched against this front. Blount took the carry up the middle, churning his feet for about five yards.
On third and 12, Jones found David Paulson, who nearly escaped the first defender, but he got caught low and brought down after just five yards, settling for yet another punt.
Mike Mitchell suffered a right leg injury at some point, the broadcasters announced. Listed as probable even though the starters are likely done.
Daniel McCullers entered the game at nose tackle. Chris Carter replaced Jones. Terence Garvin replaced Shazier.
The Panthers picked up a first down after two plays on the ground. Joe Webb rolled out on second down and hit his receiver for 17 yards and a first down.
Blake locked up the receiver quickly after a short gain on first down. The second-down pass was incomplete in Isaiah Green‘s coverage. On third and six, Blake was in good position on a deep ball, but Williams was flagged for roughing the quarterback, resulting in a 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down. Quite a letdown.
McCullers pulled the back down from behind on the ensuing carry for a loss of one. Green and Thomas combined to keep a screen contained as the play clock operator was scolded by the head official for not paying attention. Two weeks in a row the officials had to discipline the clock operators.
On third and eight, the Panthers were flagged for a false start, turning it into a third and 13. Garvin did a nice job of getting in front of a third-down pass to force a punt. The Steelers seem poised to hold the Panthers to just three points in the first half.
The ensuing punt went for a touchback, giving Jones a two-minute drill starting from his own 20 with two timeouts. This should be interesting.
Brice McCain suffered a right groin injury and will not return. Dayonne Nunley has been playing in his spot.
Jones’ first pass attempt was deflected at the line of scrimmage. Archer only reached the line of scrimmage on a screen on second down, but a late hit gave the Steelers an extra 15 yards and a first down. Questionable penalty.
Heyward-Bey elevated to snag a high pass for a first down after the penalty, approaching midfield. Brown grabbed the next pass for another first down into Panthers territory. With under a minute to go, the Steelers used one of their two remaining timeouts.
Adams, among other players, allowed pressure, and resulted in a fumble, recovered by Johnson. Jones failed to connect with Heyward-Bey on second and 18, overthrowing on a miscommunication.
On third and rather long, Brown picked up just a few yards as the Steelers sent out the punt team. The play from Brown showed lack of awareness, as the Steelers had a timeout remaining. He should have turned upfield to get what he could, perhaps allowing a field goal opportunity.
Still, it gave Brad Wing a chance to land a nice punt, maybe giving himself a lifeline to win an uncontested roster spot. The Panthers were backed up deep in their own end and took a knee to end the half.