The Steelers were eager to see their rookie running back, Le’Veon Bell, run behind their young, athletic offensive line. In particular, they wanted to see how he ran in their outside zone blocking schemes in something other than a training-camp practice.
Bell and their re-shaped offensive line, along with their new schemes, were going to be a panacea for a running game that ranked 26th in the NFL in 2012, averaging a meager 3.7 yards per carry.
And while that might still be the case — the Steelers rushed for 73 of their 95 yards in the first half of a 24-13 preseason loss Monday night to the Washington Redskins – the offensive line showed it is far from a finished product.
Especially in protection.
“We got to do a better job in pass protection,” Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey said. “That’s the bottom line.”
In a game in which the Steelers had three turnovers and were penalized eight times for 95 yards, it was the offensive line that struggled the most. The Steelers managed just two Shaun Suisham field goals until rookie quarterback Landry Jones shook off some of his training-camp malaise and produced their only touchdown.
“Every time we started to move the ball, penalties and turnovers ended up stopping it,” wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “We got to get back in the lab and start playing the game the right way and start playing football. Teams that play like that are not going to be good.”
What kind of night was it for the offensive line?
• Pouncey struggled with nose tackle Barry Cofield, getting beat on a play that forced a sack on Ben Roethlisberger and getting called for a hands-to-the-face penalty on Cofield.
• Right tackle Marcus Gilbert had problems in protection, getting beat by outside linebacker Ryan Kerrington on a play in which Kerrington stripped the ball from quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, leading to a Redskins recovery. It was Kerrington who intercepted Roethlisberger’s dump pass for Jonathan Dwyer and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown — a play the Redskins knew was coming. “Fletch alerted us before the play — ‘Screen, watch the screen,’ ” Kerrington said, referring to middle linebacker London Fletcher. “Sure enough, that’s what came out.”
• Left tackle Mike Adams had two penalties — holding and illegal formation — and right guard David DeCastro had a holding penalty.
“They went right down the line calling penalties,” DeCastro said.
The only lineman unscathed was guard Ramon Foster, who somehow managed to escape getting penalized in a game in which the starting offensive line was flagged four times for 35 yards.
Perhaps the only unit that had a more trying outing was running back, where Bell (foot), Will Johnson (ribs) and Baron Batch (stinger) each joined Isaac Redman (stinger) and LaRod Stephens-Howling (knee strain) on the sideline with injuries.
That left Dwyer and first-year free agent Alvester Alexander as the only healthy running backs.
“They didn’t do anything; that was all us,” Pouncey said. “We had too many penalties, too many turnovers. It’s something to work on. Luckily it’s the preseason.”
Still, the Steelers managed to rush for 73 yards on 18 carries in the first half, including 57 yards on nine carries by Dwyer after Bell injured his right foot and left the game.
“We’re not looking for comfort in that regard,” coach Mike Tomlin said.
Despite runs of 23 and 12 yards, Dwyer also had a fumble that led to the second Redskins touchdown — a one-handed 10-yard catch by wide receiver Leonard Hankerson, who turned around nickel back William Gay.
“We had a lot of ball possession, that’s a positive,” DeCastro said.
Perhaps. But not much after that.