Steelers notebook: Heyward anchors defensive line
The Steelers might have previewed Saturday how they plan to rotate their top four defensive linemen.
Defensive end Cam Heyward stayed in on nearly every down in the team's preseason game against the Buffalo Bills at Heinz Field, while nose tackle Steve McLendon and defensive end/nose tackle Cam Thomas played in the base defense.
Rookie defensive end Stephon Tuitt played in sub packages, including the nickel defense that was on the field the majority of the time.
Troy Polamalu, going into his 12th NFL season, was held out of the first preseason game by coach Mike Tomlin despite not being hurt. Not only did he play against the Bills, but he also made five tackles during a strong 11⁄2 quarters of play that complemented inside linebackers Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons. The three combined for 19 tackles.
Of playing together for the first time with Polamalu, safety Mike Mitchell said, “I thought it was great. We did exactly what we thought we would do. We played pretty well together with minimal mistakes. We were very fluid, (and) in unison.”
Archer making plays
Of his second catch of 40 yards or more in two games, rookie Dri Archer said, “I'm just trying to make something happen when I get the ball in my hands. Coach (Tomlin) wants me to make plays and I'm trying to make plays.”
Jones pushing for plays
Howard Jones, the rookie free agent from Division II Shepherd, made his third fumble recovery in two games, and his 19-yard return to the Steelers' 1-yard line with 15 seconds remaining set up Shaun Suisham's winning 20-yard field goal.
But he deflected credit.
“The other guys are pushing me,” he said. “I'm trying to keep the same motor.”
LB Jones sits
The Steelers played without outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who had a sack last week against the New York Giants. Jones was nursing a groin injury.
Also sitting out were tight end Matt Spaeth, safety Will Allen, cornerbacks Devin Smith and Shaquille Richardson, linebacker Jordan Zumwalt, fullback Will Johnson and long snapper Greg Warren (torn meniscus), who will miss the rest of the preseason and possibly the first week of the regular season.
Illegal contact beyond five yards from the line of scrimmage and hands to the face are a point of emphasis, and they've been called early and often in the preseason.
Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen was flagged for a hands-to-the-face infraction on Bills rookie Sammy Watkins, extending Buffalo's first drive on a play in which Watkins injured his ribs.
Of the 86 penalties in the four NFL games Friday night, 15 were for illegal contact or defensive holding.
Extra points for PATs?
The NFL's experiment with a 33-yard extra point ends after this weekend, and at least four were missed.
The Steelers' Shaun Suisham failed to convert following Ben Roethlisberger's 76-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown in the first quarter. Suisham has missed only two regulation-length extra points in 231 attempts, the last coming in 2009.
Suisham was working with a new long snapper, Luke Ingram, with Warren out. Ingram, from Hawaii, was with the Steelers last summer but was cut.
Long snapper Bryce Davis also is on the Steelers' roster, but he got little work during the three weeks of camp.
At least one Steeler wasn't happy with Bills coach Doug Marrone's decision to go for a game-tying field goal — Dan Carpenter's 44-yarder — with two minutes remaining.
Cornerback William Gay ventured a yard onto the playing field on multiple occasions, arms outstretched, as he looked toward the Bills bench to question why they didn't go for the win and possibly avoid overtime.
Two days of practices against the Bills last week might have proved beneficial for the Steelers' wide receivers.
Brown, who tormented the Bills' secondary Wednesday and Thursday in Latrobe, got open downfield on his 76-yard touchdown in the first quarter, and Markus Wheaton used the same inside-out move he worked on during camp to get open on his 16-yard scoring catch later in the quarter.
Coach Mike Tomlin kept his offensive starters on the field for three series — into the second quarter — partly because their first two possessions used up less than five minutes of clock time.
The defensive starters stayed out against the Bills' offensive regulars until halfway into the second quarter.
Odds and ends
The Steelers will have a short week, practicing only Monday and Tuesday in advance of their Thursday night preseason game at Philadelphia. ... Washington, Pa.-based Gene Steratore, one of only two NFL officials who also officiates major college basketball games, was the referee. ... The Steelers will make roster cuts after the Eagles game.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
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