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Coach Mike Tomlin’s expectation for this second of four preseason games was simply more of what he wanted to see from his team last weekend against the New York Giants. “I just want to see the guys take a step. A step in terms of intensity, a step in terms of quality execution, a step in terms of game speed, a step in terms of cohesion. And then ultimately, all of that has to lead to victory.”
This weeks outcome verse the Bills was much different as the Steelers rallied late to pull out a 19-16 win. When looking back on the game we found three performances that we felt should be noted.
Passing Game Looks Sharp
A good day for the Pittsburgh starters on offense, as they quickly put 13 points on the board on their two first quarter series (though their lone second quarter drive resulted in a punt). Ben Roethlisberger led the way as he completed 8-of-11 passes for 128 yards. The bulk of that yardage came on his second throw of the game, a 10-yard slant that Antonio Brown turned into a 76 yard score. His second touchdown was perhaps more impressive, as he put a perfectly placed pass into the corner of the end zone for Markus Wheaton.
Credit the offensive line too, as Roethlisberger was pressured just twice in 11 dropbacks. The group didn’t have to pass protect for long periods, however, with the QB getting the ball out of his hands in 1.7 seconds on average.
Shazier’s First Action
Saturday’s game provided our first look at Ryan Shazier, who was exciting, though inconsistent, in his debut. The linebacker was active throughout, logging 10 tackles in 37 snaps and flashing the range and athleticism that made him a high first round pick. The splash play was the interception at 6:10 of the first, as he quickly dropped, turned and ran with Scott Chandler, cutting underneath to snag the pass from Manuel. Chandler got him back later in the game, however, when Shazier over pursued after the tight end caught an out route underneath and allowed him to get the Bills in FG range on a third-and-long. His play against the run was similarly up-and-down, as he took himself out of position on a fullback run that went for eight yards (Q1, 13:05), but followed that play up with a display of his speed to stop a C.J. Spiller carry for a short gain (Q1, 11:40).
While Troy Polamalu didn’t play to his usual standard, another Steeler safety came close, as Shamarko Thomas provided some very Polamalu-like plays in his 34 snaps. The second-year player was strong in run support, coming up to make two tackles for short gain (Q2, 1:27 and Q4, 13:04). He also provided the big play, forcing a fumble by Evan Rodriguez early in the third quarter. Also much like Polamalu, Thomas lined up all over, logging snaps at cornerback, slot cornerback, free and strong safety. For a Pittsburgh defense in need of an infusion of talent and youth, Thomas’s performance should provide some optimism.
– Steeler NT Daniel McCullers had a rough go of things in his second NFL game, which included being sealed twice in the running game and missing a tackle-for-loss when he was left unblocked.
– Like their Buffalo counterparts, the Steeler backup QBs had a night to forget. Landry Jones and Bruce Gradkowski combined to turn the ball over three times and complete only 9-of-18 passes.
– For the most part, rookie tackle Cyrus Kouandjio held up well in his 23 snaps in pass protection. That is until the sack he allowed with 31 seconds led to the fumble that gave Pittsburgh the ball in range for the game winning field goal.
Blitz Game Ball
While the young guys get all the preseason hype, let’s recognize a vet who played a large role in limiting Buffalo to just 13 points. Lawrence Timmons’ 37 snaps included a forced cut, two tackles for short gain against the run, and a batted pass.