Steelers finish preseason winless
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Landry Jones pitched a complete game as the Steelers finished an incomplete preseason.
Ben Roethlisberger's face lit up in a smile earlier this week when asked whether there was concern that the Steelers hadn't won a preseason game. Following a 25-10 loss to Carolina on Thursday night that was stoked by Panthers big plays on both sides of the ball and three Jones-thrown interceptions, the Steelers still haven't.
So what does only the fourth winless Steelers preseason since 1965 mean? As their starting quarterback's “what-me-worry?” grin suggested, not much. They ended the preseason 0-4, but their record as of the moment is 0-0, just like the other 31 NFL teams.
However, their preseason grade also is an incomplete because they didn't sort out the questions and solve the problems that existed when they began training camp last month.
How good are the rookies? They looked good — until they started getting hurt. Jarvis Jones (AC sprain) will be back long before Le'Veon Bell (mid-foot sprain), but the Steelers would prefer to have both as healthy and productive as third-rounder Markus Wheaton. Bell might miss a month.
Who will win the running back derby? With Bell hurt, there's no clear-cut winner. Felix Jones looked the best Thursday night with 56 yards on 14 carries, but Isaac Redman is the unknown because he's been hurt. So at least until Bell returns, it might be running back by committee. Again. That didn't work well in 2012.
“I thought Felix Jones helped himself,” Tomlin said. “I thought his pedigree showed, his natural run instincts showed, but we'll continue to look at it.”
Asked if he thinks he'll start, Felix Jones said, “Possibly. ... We'll see how things go. I'm here to show coaches what I've got.”
Will the special teams be better after hiring a third coach in a year? No assistant coach worked harder in camp than Danny Smith, but special team glitches persisted, including a block of the very first punt of the preseason.
“I'll let the tape do the talking, but some guys helped themselves, some guys didn't,” Tomlin said. “Hopefully it's reflecting of people who don't belong and we'll correct that over the next 48 hours.”
How good is the Steelers' youngest offensive line in a half-century? Roethlisberger praises them as if all were Pro Bowl performers, but they were uneven throughout August. Tomlin started them intact Thursday — the only unit on either side of the ball to do so — but they played only one series together.
Is the defense too old (again)? Jarvis Jones alone ramped up the turnover production, but can he also increase the number of sacks? As Dick LeBeau says, sacks produce turnovers, and the Steelers still need more.
Just like they didn't have quite enough to win in the preseason.
“We had some errors that make it tough to win football games, decision errors, particularly in the punt return game, and we gave up a big play on defense and turned over ball on offense,” Tomlin said.
Landry Jones, the No. 3 quarterback, played from start to finish and had an up and down game, finding David Paulson on a 13-yard touchdown pass but completing fewer than 50 percent of his passes and throwing three interceptions in the second half. Josh Norman returned one for 70 yards.
“We wanted to take an extended look at Landry Jones — some positives, some negatives,” Tomlin said. “It's great when a young guy gets extended action like that and we see how he rides the wave of positive and negative during the course of a football game. We'll see how he thinks and so forth as fatigue sets in. That was invaluable experience for a young guy.”
Jones said, “I just made some errant throws. I made some really bad decisions, and I can't put our team in that position. … I just wanted to go out there and play to the best of my abilities, and obviously I didn't do that. I'll go in (Friday) and see what I did wrong.”
Fullback Will Johnson (hamstring) was the only Steelers player to exit with an injury in a game in which a number of key Steelers were held out to avoid the possibility of just that.
Chris Carter, one of a large group of linebackers competing for roster spots, likely helped himself with two sacks, but special teams play also will be a consideration in setting the 53-man roster.
“I feel I did a good job, but at the end of the day the decision is out of my hands,” said Carter, who started the season opener in Denver last year with James Harrison hurt.
With the regular Steelers secondary sitting out, Panthers backup quarterback Derek Anderson — the former Browns starter — took advantage to find Ted Ginn Jr. for touchdown pass plays of 35 and 87 yards in the first half.
Ginn cleanly beat Curtis Brown on the 35-yarder, with Damon Cromartie-Smith also in the vicinity, to complete a game-opening, 80-yard drive that lasted two minutes, 57 seconds. Ginn later ran by Brown and Cromartie-Smith to get open on his long distance touchdown that made it 17-7.
“We got some favorable coverages, and that one (the 87-yarder), he just ran past everybody,” Anderson said.
The Panthers mounted a 14-play, 79-yard drive, but it ended with a field goal.
Anderson was 10 of 15 for 220 yards and a quarterback rating of 149.3. Jones' was about 100 points less.
Down 17-10, the Steelers had a chance to get back into it when Brian Moorman's punt deflected off linebacker Ben Jacobs and was recovered by long snapper Greg Warren.
But Jones threw a pass directly to Norman, Colin Jones intercepted him on the next possession, and rookie punt returner Reggie Dunn backpedaled from his own 3 into the end zone and was tackled for a safety.
“I just made some errant throws,” Landry Jones said. “I made some really bad decisions.”
Could have been the theme of the preseason: Whoops.
The last time the Steelers had a winless preseason, 2006, they lost six of their first eight to start the season.
“Ready or not? That's the reality of this time of the year,” Tomlin said. “I feel comfortable with them men we'll walk into battle with next week.”
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
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