Friday, August 10, 2012

New Steelers Offense Starts To Come Into Focus; Injuries Hit Early

Going into the Pittsburgh Steelers first preseason game of the 2012 NFL season, there were three main things for which I was looking forward to watching: DeCastro, Adams and the offensive line, Cortez Allen and the defensive backs, and the tight ends and fullback battles. 

The fifth and sixth wide receivers battle was of interest also, but knowing Big Ben Roethlisberger, and even to some degree Byron Leftwich, wouldn't be in long, watching that battle can wait.

Before going any further, though, I want to comment on what I've been reading on the social media websites. Some of the different reactions from fans are extremely unrealistic and, honestly, pathetic. It was ONE PRESEASON GAME. Not the fourth game of the regular season, not the 12, not a playoff game...ONE preseason game. Back away from the ledge, people. Like one person said, "teams NEVER show what they're going to do during the regular season [in] the preseason. They'll try [things] out here and there, but they will NEVER completely...give away what they intend to do during the regular season."

To place this in a bit of perspective, the Washington Redskins went 0-4 in the 1991 preseason, and looked fairly pedestrian in doing so, only to go on to win the Super Bowl that year (the Dallas Cowboys I do believe did the same in 1992). Conversely, the Detroit Lions went 4-0 in the 2008 preseason and went 0-16 when the games counted. Calm down, people. Calm down. 

That being said, we saw the aforementioned battles played out to some degree and one definitively settled...just not the way one would hope. 

For some reason I read a few somewhat negative reviews on rookie offensive guard David DeCastro's preseason debut. They're all wrong. Great start for DeCastro. Looks like he may have won a starting job Thursday night. Though, DDC did figure in on one of the seven sacks. 

On the other hand, rookie left tackle Mike Adams had a rough night. He allowed 2 1/2 sacks in around 10 plays before leaving with a knee injury, which he hurt recovering a fumble. More will come regarding that subject. 

In his defense, Adams wasn't the only tackle to have trouble with the Philadelphia Eagles pass rush, as Marcus Gilbert, Trai Essex and Kelvin Beachum all struggled on the edge.

We were able to get overall glimpses of what we should see come the regular season. I liked what I saw from Todd Haley's offense in the first game. Long, sustained drives with a good mix of runs, shorts throws and some deep passing routes. I'd mentioned in a previous blog that Haley's offense would require Big Ben to get the ball out of his hands quicker and to drop off to the running backs. The first play of the game was a screen to the running back. 

Speaking of running backs, I am declaring my man-crush on Chris Rainey. Speed kills. 

Overall, it was a success for Haley's new offense. It may have been "vanilla" because of being the first preseason game, but he looked to accomplished what he set out to do. The players agreed. 

As brought to us by Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Antonio Brown said, "We came out, executed, got our looks, executed our new offense, got an opportunity to get a look at a defense opposite of ours."

Big Ben was more concise about it: "We just wanted to come out and be physical and see how we could match up."

On defense, the players who stood out to me overall were the linebackers. Namely Adrian Robinson, who provided very good pressure once he entered the game late, Brandon Johnson, who was responsible for the pressure that led to Al Woods' interception, Sean Spence and Stevenson Sylvester. All had good games.

Starting nose tackle Steve McLendon, though, was the Steelers Digest player of the game and for good reason. He was virtually unblockable Thursday. The third play of the game saw McLendon snag Michael Vick and put him on the ground. He played one-gap and two-gap, had three tackles and the sack just mentioned. Unblockable. 

Also having a good game was the man I was looking for to separate himself, cornerback Cortez Allen. He was the one cornerback to now expect to be the leader in the clubhouse. When Curtis Brown was in, the drop off could be seen. He gave up a big play in the second half and looks as if he's better suited for the slot/nickel position.

That brings us to the final players and position I focused on during the game Thursday: the tight ends and fullbacks.

David Johnson had been the coaches' darling and the star of Friday Night Lights. Tomlin had said that DJ would play both tight end and fullback, which was basically the H-back position he played last year. That's not going to happen anymore as DJ suffered an ACL tear and is done for the season. 

Will Johnson, the West Virginia product, is now your fullback, the only one on the roster. The Steelers will probably sign another one now because of that fact. As far as tight end, after Heath Miller and Leonard Pope, you have Wes Saunders. Very possible that those are your three tight ends. Period. And since Pope can't block, Saunders may be the number two.

This new offense that Haley has installed could very well bring career numbers for Heath Miller in catches, yards and or touchdowns. Especially in the red zone. Under Bruce Arians, Heath Miller was targeted just seven times inside the red zone in 2011 and had only three catches for 27 yards with two touchdowns. In 2010, Miller was targeted only eight times inside the red zone resulting in four catches for 29 yards and two touchdowns. Look for those numbers to increase.

Last point I want to touch on is the other injury. Mark Kaboly reported Friday that running back Jonathan Dwyer suffered a injury to the left AC (acromioclavicular) joint Thursday night. 

The left shoulder sprain is not considered serious, according to head coach Mike Tomlin, Kaboly reported that Dwyer will undergo treatment and won't be out very long.