Ryan Shazier shook off that knee “boo-boo” that kept him from practicing for 10 days with a spectacular debut and Roethlisberger ran the no-huddle offense to near perfection.
Ryan Shazier, making his first pro appearance, and Ben Roethlisberger, prepping for his 11th NFL season, put everyone on notice that the Steelers have every intention of making this transition season something quite different than the previous two.
Shazier, 21, shook off that knee “boo-boo” that kept him from practicing for 10 days with a spectacular debut and Roethlisberger ran the no-huddle offense to near perfection.
The Steelers wound up winning their first preseason game in two years, 19-16, Saturday on a 20-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham with no time left.
But what really mattered on this cool August night were the performances on offense and defense by their first teams who played well into the second quarter.
Shazier, covering tight end Scott Chandler on a medium-range route over the middle, leaped high to intercept E.J. Manuel’s pass. He then turned on his sub-4.4 speed to return it 27 yards to Buffalo’s 37.
It is the kind of play the Steelers defense has lacked the past several years and a reason they drafted the speedy Shazier in the first round.
Their prized rookie did not stop there. He pitched in with nine tackles on defense from the inside buck position and added two more on kickoffs.
“I thought he did an awesome job filling in for his first game back from an injury,” said fellow inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who moved from the buck to the mack to make room for Shazier. “He made a few big plays for us. He’s a guy that I’ve seen that is willing to put his hand in the pile. I’m looking forward to playing with him.”
Roethlisberger, 11 years older than Shazier, looked to be in mid-season form. In two series against the New York Giants last week, he did not run the no-huddle. In three series against the Bills, he ran it all the time.
It took only two plays for them to score. Roethlisberger looked left and then over the middle, where he found Antonio Brown 10 yards deep and the Pro Bowler ran untouched for a 76-yard touchdown.
“It was a great read by Ben,” Brown said. “The defensive back got caught up with another guy. Ben hit me in the spot, and I was able to get up to speed and turn the corner.”
Shazier’s interception return set up their second series on offense and Roethlisberger had to work a little harder this time. They nibbled a little with the running game and some short passes and came to a third-and-11 at the 16.
Roethlisberger dropped back and threw a perfect pass to the back left corner of the end zone, where Markus Wheaton caught it over cornerback Stephon Gilmore for the touchdown.
“The line did a good job,” said Roethlisberger. “They had a nice pass rush on the outside. I stepped up in the pocket. Markus stayed outside and ran a great route. I just put it in the corner and he did the rest.”
Roethlisberger completed eight of his 11 passes for 128 yards and a near-perfect 150.8 passer rating. He was not sacked over three series, which was another benefit of the no-huddle last season.
“I think that they did a heck of a job,” the quarterback said of his line. “They kept me clean. I don’t have any stains on my pants, so that’s good.”
He and Todd Haley have promised to use the no-huddle much more often this season after they ran it so well in the second half of 2013. Roethlisberger was happy with its 2014 debut.
“It’s about communicating with Todd,” he said. “He’s in my ear telling me different thoughts. That’s how this thing should work. I thought we did a good job. The communication was what I wanted to work on, and we didn’t have mental errors of what I saw so far. It was a good start to the no-huddle.”
The no-huddle offense helped turn the Steelers’ 2013 season around and has been credited with their 6-2 improvement in the second half. Roethlisberger was sacked only seven times in the final seven games.
“It was a great point of emphasis,” Antonio Brown said of using the no-huddle Saturday night. “We came out and started fast. We were able to move down the field with it with no mental errors. Ben had to be fluent in regards to knowing our assignments and playing fast.”
Roethlisberger’s touchdown passes staked the Steelers’ first teams to a 13-6 halftime lead (Shaun Suisham missed one 33-yard extra point try wide to the right), and then the backups frittered it away in the third quarter.
Landry Jones replaced Roethlisberger and had his troubles. He threw one interception but was saved by his defense when Buffalo’s E.J. Manuel threw incomplete from the Steelers three on third and fourth downs.
Jones was not saved when he was sacked and fumbled in the third quarter and defensive tackle Stefan Charles returned it 59 yards to the 16. After a pass interference penalty against cornerback Antwon Blake in the end zone, Anthony Dixon ran one yard for the Buffalo touchdown that tied it 13-13.
Bruce Gradkowski replaced Jones at quarterback with about six minutes left in the third quarter and directed them to Suisham’s 48-yard field goal for a 16-13 lead in the fourth quarter.
Carpenter responded with a 44-yarder to tie the game with 1:56 left.
Just when it appeared the game would go to overtime, linebacker Vic So’oto sacked Buffalo quarterback Jeff Tuel, who fumbled. Linebacker Howard Jones recovered at the one with 15 seconds left and with no time left Suisham kicked a 20-yard field goal for the win.