Robinson: A revealing preseason opener
Bill Cowher often said there is a fine line between winning and losing. For offensive coordinators, walking the line that separates showing too much and keeping too much under wraps is the NFL's preseason equivalent to Shark Week on the Discovery Channel.
Tap even a toe in water where predators reside, and it might come back to bite you.
Showcase too much, and the defensive coordinator of your Week 1 opponent gets a personally delivered blueprint of the offense. At the same time, there is no better outlet than the preseason to determine what works in games and who can play when the lights flip on.
Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley probably didn't turn past the preface of his playbook during the 24-23 preseason loss to the Eagles on Thursday — no doubt by design — yet he managed to gain considerable insight into what needs to be fixed. And there's a lot to rectify before the Steelers play in Denver on Sept. 9.
The Steelers also kept the ball for more than 16 minutes on their first two possessions, straining not only the preset limitations of their offense but also that ever-fragile pass protection.
Even while calling basic run plays and screen passes, Haley gained a better appreciation of the protection problems the oft-sacked Ben Roethlisberger has long faced. Several times, the protection broke down within a millisecond, forcing Roethlisberger to do something he despises — dump the ball off to a back — or take a sack.
“We were very, uh, limited. … We didn't have a lot,” Roethlisberger said. “We kept it simple. Those were the guys that were open most of the time when I had someone on me. It's do that or get hit.”
Despite not attempting any long throws — paging Mike Wallace — Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich and Jerrod Johnson were sacked seven times. Rookie left tackle Mike Adams was beaten for 21⁄2 sacks in a span of nine plays before leaving with an apparently minor right knee injury.
“I definitely had some (first-game) jitters,” Adams said. “Anyone who says they don't is a liar.”
So even after changing offensive coordinators, spending their first two draft picks on offensive linemen and attempting to stick to the most basic of basics against the Eagles, the Steelers discovered the problems of the past might still be the problems of the present.
“I like what I see so far,” Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders said.
Pass rushers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil of the Broncos might, too.
Rookie punter Drew Butler, who averaged 49.7 yards on six punts against the Eagles, is the son of Kevin Butler, the longtime Bears kicker and a member of Chicago's 1985 Super Bowl-winning team.
How did you end up punting rather than placekicking? “I kicked and punted in high school. The University of Georgia gave me an opportunity, and it was different from some other schools in that I would just be a punter. It was something I always loved; it was always extremely natural to me. I enjoyed kicking, but punting was more of my niche. I really did enjoy it more.”
Is your dad disappointed you didn't follow in the family footsteps? “I'm still putting a foot to the ball, so that could ease his mind a little bit. He's very knowledgeable about kicking and punting. He's not just my dad and my coach; he's my best friend, and he's helped me out tremendously. Having his knowledge and NFL experience has been huge for me.”
Has being in an NFL game for the first time as a player met your expectations, since you had an idea from your dad what it was like? “Dad pretty much gave me the outline, but … the professionalism of an organization like the Steelers, how they take care of you and put you in every situation to succeed, has surprised me. It's not to say I didn't expect it, but it's blown out my expectations, for sure.”
Don't look back — someone might be gaining on you — so it might be best for cornerback Keenan Lewis to not look behind him at Cortez Allen. The injured Jeremy Kapinos (back) might want to get well soon, given the way Butler punted against the Eagles. Adams might be looking over his shoulder at the still-healing Max Starks.
Player to watch
Receiver Mike Wallace. He's not in camp yet, and he might not be there before it breaks Friday. But his conditioning coach, Tom Shaw, said he'll be in soon. Wallace still has a playbook to learn, a new offensive system to comprehend and a coaching staff to win back — coach Mike Tomlin most of all.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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