Maybe They Weren’t Giants: Steelers @ NYG
photo via Steelers.com
The Steelers won their first game of this young (pre-)season. We all know these games are meaningless, or so we’ve been telling ourselves for the past however many years, when the Steelers have lost most of them. It might not mean much, but it’s nice to see them win one, especially under the circumstances.
As we knew going into the game, many of the starters didn’t even see the field, except where their feet might have strayed onto the turf on their way to the sidelines. Those starters on the offensive side included Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones (abdominal strain,) Le’Veon Bell (who of course wasn’t even there,) Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant (who was there but not playing,) James Conner (putative second back,) Maurkice Pouncey, and Alejandro Villanueva (concussion.) Did I miss anyone? Is anyone left? From last year’s starters, at least the majority of the season, the only guys on the field were Marcus Gilbert, David DeCastro, Ramon Foster, Jesse James, and Eli Rogers (if you considered him a starter.) And of course there were the extras—Xavier Grimble, Cobi Hamilton, Darrius Heyward-Bey, et al.
In other words, given they were working against the Giants’ first-team defense (with a few exceptions such as Jason Pierre-Paul) you might think the Steelers’ offense, led by the first rookie quarterback to open the preseason for a very long time, would be overmatched. And of course you would be right, although it might be just as fair to say many of the wounds were self-inflicted.
For instance, after a three-and-out on the first series, the second possession was a dump-off to Toussaint which was broken up, a 9-yard reverse by J.J. S-S, and Toussaint run for no gain. But it got worse. Joshua Dobbs, despite being a smart guy who is very willing to take suggestions, apparently completely ignored Ben’s advise not to throw the ball to the guys in the wrong-colored jersey. (And Ben ought to know, as he did a lot of that on the road last season.) On the first play of the third series Dobbs threw a a very wobbly pass—I’m guessing somebody got a finger on it—which was intercepted, and at the beginning of the second quarter he threw another pick.
Mike Tomlin calmed him down after he returned to the sideline following the second interception, and he started to look better, picking up the first down on a long scramble and another on a 44-yard bomb to Cobi Hamilton. This drive resulted in the Steelers’ first points, a 48-yard field goal from Chris Boswell. After Mike Hilton recovered a punt fumble with under a minute left in the second half, Dobbs threw a beautiful touchdown pass to Cobi Hamilton and the Steelers took a 10-9 lead. Although they would relinquish it on another Giants field goal on the first series of the third quarter, the Giants would be stymied by the defense after that.
In the second half, the Steelers scored after an Arthur Moats interception toward the end of the third quarter which gave them the ball at the Giants’ 16-yard line. Dobbs threw a beautiful strike to Xavier Grimble which was unfortunately nullified by a holding call on Brian Mihalik, and The Wizard of Boz kicked another field goal.
Once backup-to-the-backup QB Bart Houston was in (last few minutes of the third quarter) running back Terrell Watson came in as well, Watson had a few nice runs in his first drive, including the Steelers’ other touchdown, a 15-yard run, and ran down the clock at the end of the game. He also had a big stop on a punt late in the game to pin the Giants inside their own 15.
Some of the more veteran Giants offensive starters were out, including Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. While the defensive line was complete, there were only three outside linebackers available—T.J. Watt, Arthur Moats, and Farrington Huguenin. Two of the three were most impressive, with Bob Labriola declaring Moats the Steelers Digest Player of the Game.
The first Giants series was a 7-yard run, a Javon Hargrave tackle for loss, and a T.J. Watt sack. Watts started the next series with a sack as well, although he was completely unblocked, which seems surprising, since he was playing against a veteran left tackle.
Although the Steelers defense did give up some yards, the Giants’ offense was held to field goals, including on a drive where they had first-and-goal from the 3-yard line and another with the Giants at the 5-yard line on first and goal. (Both of those were from a short field after the two Dobbs interceptions.)
Mike Hilton put a stop to a promising Giants drive by sacking 3rd string QB Geno Smith, once again holding the Giants to a field goal. As we know, you can win a game with only field goals, but it isn’t a good recipe for smooth sailing.
The special teams were a mixed bag. The return teams weren’t very special. Marcus Tucker decided to take out the opening kick and was downed at the 17 or so. Jordan Berry’s first punt was 39 yards (no return.) The field position for the offense was generally poor to awful. However, on the other side of the ball the coverage teams only gave up one return of any significance whatsoever.
But a few players were standouts, including dark-horse DB candidate Mike Hilton, who, among other things recovered a fumbled punt to give the Steelers offense the ball at the Giants’ 28 and had a big stop on a 4th-and-2 in the fourth quarter.
There were a number of penalties on the Steelers’ side. A defensive holding penalty gave the Giants their first 1st down in the first quarter and a holding penalty on Jordan Dangerfield lost ten yards on a kick return. A promising offensive drive looked like it might be for naught after one of the backup offensive tackles incurred a holding penalty. Steven Johnson had an interception which was nullified by another defensive holding penalty. A pass interference on Brandon Dixon took the Giants from inside their own 10 to their 40. Not smart. Luckily the Giants gave 10 yards of it back on an illegal block in the back by a Giants player on, ironically, Brandon Dixon.
The worst, though, was a hold by Brian Mihalek which called back Dobbs’ TD throw to Grimble. In the end there were six penalties called for a total of 73 yards.
The Bad News
The injuries are getting ridiculous. JJ S-S left during the first quarter with a concussion.
The backup offensive linemen (behind Finney and Hubbard) are a big comedown over the first team. Which you would expect, I suppose, given that the Steelers should have one of the top lines in the NFL this year.
Canaan Severin dropped two throws from Houston, which don’t help his case for a roster spot… UPDATE: The Steelers released Severin Monday afternoon and signed a linebacker.
The Good News
T.J. Watt is on track to make his detractors look foolish. He played both defense and special teams for most of the game, and looked, well, maybe not fresh as a daisy at the end, but impressive nonetheless.
After the first two series, Toussaint looked much better, including a 12-yard gain aided by a nice Cobi Hamilton block. (Hamilton had a great game, including catching both passing touchdowns.) Knile David looked good, although admittedly it was against the 2nd and 3rd-team Giants’ defense. Terrell Watson brought back visions of old-time Steeler football, if you squinted your eyes a little bit…
Arthur Moats looks fantastic against the backups, at any rate, and great against the first team offense (sans Manning and so on.) He had several sacks, loads of tackles, and generally looked like a much younger man. And speaking of old guys, William Gay looked good as well.
I’m not the first person to say this, but Tyson Alualu looks to be one of the best free-agent defensive line signings in a very long time. It’s amazing how fast he moves for such a big man.
The long-snapper to holder action went without a hitch, which apparently wasn’t a given, as there have been a few botched snaps at camp.
AFC North News
The division is tied thus far, with all four teams winning their meaningless contests. We must always remember, however, that these opportunities aren’t meaningless for the guys trying to win a roster spot. Every moment is precious, and we might well see another Cinderella story, such as a UDFA like Mike Hilton making the 53 man roster if he keeps making plays the way he has been all camp. That he could carry this into an NFL game, albeit one featuring a lot of backups and camp bodies, is encouraging, although it might spell the end for his old teammate Senquez Golson. Ah, well. Tempus fugit, eta carpe diem…