Not much goes Steelers' way in exhibition loss to Redskins
LANDOVER, Md. — The Steelers can only hope the preseason isn't a preview of the season.
It certainly hasn't been pretty.
In Game 1, it was the special teams. In Game 2, it was the offense. After one of the most desultory exhibition performances by their starters in recent seasons in a 24-13 loss to the Redskins on Monday night, the Steelers have only two more games to get it right.
And with so much going wrong, it is nearly enough time?
“There's no reason to panic,” backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski said.
There are lots of reasons for concern.
“We're going to watch some tape and grow from it,” a dissatisfied coach Mike Tomlin said. “We need to get better in a hurry, and we'll start that on Wednesday (in practice).”
There were offensive line penalties aplenty, turnovers aplenty and plenty of nothing on offense. Normally, they have plenty of running backs, but only Jonathan Dwyer and Baron Batch were left standing after rookie Le'Veon Bell was injured early in the first quarter. And then Batch went down with a pinched nerve.
Yes, another injury for Bell, his third in two weeks — a right foot injury to go with his left knee injury. It was that kind of night; LaRod Stephens-Howling and Isaac Redman didn't even dress.
Asked if he's concerned he can't get his prized rookie on the field, coach Mike Tomlin said simply, “No.”
Bell didn't get many carries (four) before being forced out, Ben Roethlisberger didn't get much time to throw, and the starters didn't produce a touchdown again — except for the pick-six interception return by Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan in the first quarter.
Kerrigan later said he knew what was coming on a play in which Roethlisberger threw the ball directly into his hands while trying to flip it to Dwyer.
Kerrigan might have known what the offense was doing, but the Steelers' regulars didn't act much like they did, even as they outgained the Redskins, 85-23, in the first quarter.
“We're not playing with enough detail to win, to win in situational football, when the field gets short,” Tomlin said. “When you're not scoring touchdowns but moving the ball and possessing the ball but not ringing up the scoreboard, we're lacking the detail that is going to be required to finish drives and finish games.”
The roll call of offensive line mistake-makers was long: Mike Adams, illegal formation call; David DeCastro, holding; Maurkice Pouncey illegal use of hands; Adams, holding.
“Every one kept getting one,” DeCastro said.
“Poor execution,” Tomlin explained. “I just told the guys we're not going to provide lip service, we're going to practice how we intend to play. Maybe an official or two will be at our practices this week.”
Even receivers coach Richard Mann had a bad night — he was run over by Antonio Brown after DeJon Gomes hit him out of bounds and was penalized.
Roethlisberger was forced to scramble and improvise on nearly every play and managed to go 5 of 6 for 66 yards despite getting little protection or help. Pouncey had a particularly rough night against Redskins nose tackle Barry Cofield.
Roethlisberger's explanation for all the failed execution?
“We're saving all our touchdowns for the regular season,” he said.
Gradkowski took over early in the second quarter, but it didn't get any better. Gradkowski was sacked by Kerrigan with Cofield recovering the fumble, although the Redskins immediately turned it over themselves.
So, of course, Dwyer, who gained 78 yards on 16 carries, promptly fumbled it back. Aided by a 30-yard pass interference penalty on Ike Taylor, the Redskins converted one of three first-half turnovers into Rex Grossman's 10-yard touchdown pass to Leonard Hankerson and a 14-3 lead.
The Steelers were the better team after that Hankerson score, particularly when Landry Jones was at quarterback and there were numerous players on the field who won't be there in September. At least in Pittsburgh.
Exhibition games mean nothing, but the Steelers' only two preseason losing records in the past 10 years — 0-4 in 2006 and 1-3 in 2003 — were followed by disappointing regular seasons. They can do no better than 2-2 in this preseason.
Especially troubling was how the offensive line — supposed to be a strength — looked so mismatched.
And because of the short work week, the Steelers have only two practice days (Wednesday and Thursday) to start patching up myriad problems before a Saturday night home game against the Chiefs.
“We've got to work together in all three areas — force more turnovers, make more splash plays on offense and make some splash plays on special teams, too,” Troy Polamalu said.