ReFo: PIT @ WAS, Preseason Wk 2
The second full week of preseason wound down on Monday night with the Steelers’ visit to Washington to face off with the still RG3-less Redskins. Often times in preseason the scoreboard doesn’t necessarily link in with who walks away happy with the performances and what they got from the game but, largely speaking, on this occasion it did.
The biggest downer for the Redskins was probably the foot injury that Kirk Cousins picked up on a scramble. Early reports indicate that a “mild foot sprain” may keep him out for the remainder of the preseason. Whilst costing the Redskins nothing tangible, they would still clearly prefer to put Cousins through the game prep and give him the “starter’s” workload for the third preseason game. This is the week where teams do a lot of prep and execute something resembling a gameplan before the starters get shutdown in Week 4. Clearly the Redskins would get more from using Cousins for that role than they will from third-stringer Rex Grossman.
For the Steelers it was a rough night with mistakes, turnovers and shoddy play all around raising question marks over the strength in depth of a team going through a fairly severe roster overhaul. They, too, had an injury concern with Le’Veon Bell leaving early due to a foot injury, though initial reports indicate that Bell’s injury may be more severe than Cousins’. The Steelers come out of this encounter with plenty to work on.
Pittsburgh– Three Performances of Note
Pressure, Pressure, Everywhere
Previously a section like this involving the Steelers might have been focusing on their terrific pass rush, but in recent years the Steelers have been as likely to leak pressure as generate it and on last night’s evidence that doesn’t look like changing. Their weak offensive line reared its ugly head again from the first string on down. From the outset the likes of Mike Adams (-3.5) and Maurkice Pouncey (-3.5) had real trouble with Darryl Tapp and Barry Cofield, respectively. While further down the depth chart Christopher Hubbard (-1.7) and Guy Whimper (-2.7) gave up a sack and two hurries a piece as interior blockers.
Throw in running backs Will Johnson and Jeremy Wright also surrendering pressure and you build the picture of a group of individuals and a unit struggling to control the oncoming rush. We know that Ben Roethlisberger can create under pressure, he proved it in this game alone on a completion to David Pauslon at the end of the first quarter, but any and every offense will execute better when the pass rush is contained than when the quarterback is being constantly harassed.
Gradkowski and Jones Struggle All Night
If nothing else, the Steelers need better pass protection to prevent their star quarterback from getting injured, his backups certainly didn’t do much to further inspire confidence in them with their showings in this game. Neither quarterback’s base statistics look great nor do things get much better when you dig a little deeper and look at each throw. Third-stringer Landry Jones may have thrown the Steelers’ only touchdown pass but his 9-of-22 completion statistics are indicative of his wayward accuracy. He was let off of as many as three interceptions by drops from Redskins defenders and had particular issues driving out routes to the sideline, one of which could and should have been taken back by the defender for six points. On short throws Jones struggled to make balls safe and on throws aimed 10 or more yards downfield he was an abysmal 2-of-9 (22.2%), for the entire preseason that number is little better at 3-of-12 (25%).
Shamarko Thomas Makes his Mark
For many the biggest impact they’ll have seen from Shamarko Thomas will have been on the turf at Indianapolis during the combine, both figuratively (with his 4.38 time) and literally (landing on his face at the end of his run). Last night in Washington though he left his mark on Redskins’ ball carriers with a strong display of run defense from his safety spot. On 15 run snaps (including nullified plays) Thomas was the first defender to make contact the ball carrier on five of those plays, that’s one-in-three for those keeping score at home. This wasn’t always good news for the Steelers with two of those first contacts coming 8 yards or more downfield but Thomas showed an ability to find the ball and clean up. This week Thomas was second among all safeties with a Run Stop Percentage of 14.3%, trailing only the ever-impressive Tony Jefferson of the Arizona Cardinals who notched three stops on 15 run defense snaps. Topping the display off with a forced fumble on Chris Thompson and you have a night that Thomas can be proud of and look to build upon in the final two weeks of preseason.
Washington – Three Performances of Note
Powerful performances up front
The Steelers’ struggles on the offensive line went hand in hand with some dominant play up front by the Redskins’ defensive line. Led by Barry Cofield (+4.6), who comfortably got the better of Pouncey in the middle of the line, Washington’s defensive line played a good game to the last man. Also among the starters Kedric Golston (+1.8) had a productive night with a sack, two tackles and some disruptive work in the run game. Among the backups Chris Baker (+2.4) and Jarvis Jenkins (+1.1) had strong nights too with Baker following on where Cofield left off at the nose tackle spot but rather than victimizing the center he did his work against the right side of the Steelers’ line. As a group the Redskins’ defensive line registered four sacks, one hit and four hurries in their pass rush, five stops on the ground and even a coverage stop for Jenkins who brought Markus Wheaton’s meandering reversed field bubble screen to an end on the opposite sideline to where the play started.
Strong off the Edge
The defensive line was the base where the Redskins’ dominance started but with the first string on the field that extended further to the outside linebacker duo of Ryan Kerrigan and Darryl Tapp whose performances offered little opportunity for wistful dreaming of how things might have been if Brian Orakpo were ready to kit up. Kerrigan led the way with his pick-six and a touchdown but it was Tapp’s performance that should give some encouragement that Orakpo doesn’t have to be rushed back into the lineup with a full workload.
Tapp registered two hurries and drew a holding penalty from Steeler LT Mike Adams with in an inside spin move to provide a sound pass rushing display. But he offered even more in run defense registering four tackles all of which were stops one of which was for a loss to bring up a fourth down, again driving to the inside of Adams. Everyone knows what Orakpo can do as a pass rusher but in a healthy and rejuvenated Darryl Tapp the Redskins appear to have a better third option this season.
The Redskins might have injury troubles with their first and second string quarterbacks but unlike the Steelers’ reserve QBs who struggled on the night, the Redskins got production all the way down their depth chart. Rex Grossman highlighted how at ease he is with Washington’s offense with a proficient display replacing Cousins while the returning Pat White showed in his slightly unorthodox way that he is still capable of running a few plays from an option-based attack. He benefited from a reserve Pittsburgh defense that appeared less well equipped to shutdown the read option than the Packers’ starters did against San Francisco in last year’s playoffs. When you have outside defenders crashing inside on the dive, every outside defender, it doesn’t take much for an athlete of White’s capabilities to read that and pull the ball out for a dozen or more yards of his own to the edge.
– Bryan Kehl had the busiest night registering 48 defensive snaps. That takes his pre-season total to 72, t-10th among all inside linebackers.
– Jarvis Jones made the splash play he’d have been looking for, knocking away a fumble as Keiland Williams bobbled a pitch, but also got through a busy workload. Jones tied Brian Arnfelt for the Steelers’ defensive lead with 33 snaps, playing coverage more often (11 snaps) than he rushed the passer (10 snaps).
– Teams struggled to get early contact on Redskins runners last year; they were fourth in the league last year with 2.3 yards per carry before contact as a team. Against the Steelers last night their runners averaged 3.1 yards per carry before first contact.
PFF Game Ball
Hats off to Ryan Kerrigan for getting the ball rolling for the Redskins last night with his heads up (or should that be hands up?) interception of a swing pass by Ben Roethlisberger. Kerrigan was extremely active in his 25 snaps and Washington fans will be eager for more of the same when the real business starts in a fortnight.
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