By Tyler Sweet
Grading a preseason NFL game is like grading the performance of a puppy trying to do tricks. Mistakes are to be expected but kept to a minimun. Last night against the New York Giants, the Steelers did not impress too many people. Mike Tomlin referred to this matchup as a “test”, therefore I will grade it as such.
For this report card, I divided the offensive and defensive units into ‘1st Team’ and ‘Backups’. It would be unfair to grade the performance of the starters with the performance of the backups and vice versa. Warning! There were no Honor Roll awards earned last night!
1st Team Offense
As expected, all eyes were on the offensive line. Steeler fans were hoping to see consistency and a strong performance that would help Big Ben push the offense down the field. Although there were some shining moments with Larod Stephens-Howling, the offensive line did not show any noticeable signs of improvement from last year. Ben was repeatedly under pressure and was sacked on the first series.
With Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth both out with injuries, David Paulson played throughout the night at tight end and struggled in the run game at times. It is unfair to grade Paulson as a starting TE, but right now thats what he is. Antonio Brown failed to get both feet in bounds in the corner of the endzone after a perfectly thrown ball by Ben. The offense will get better as we move closer to the start of the regular season, but what we saw last night will not cut it.
Overall 1st Team Offense Grade: C+
1st Team Defense
The starting defensive unit started their 2013 preseason in a tough spot. After a blocked punt, the Giants were set up for a 1st and Goal. The defense showed poise as they held the Giants to a field goal. The second drive exposed the Steelers defensive weaknesses. Despite a couple good plays by Toy Polamalu, the secondary did not show up. The defensive line held their own but failed to penetrate the Giants backfield consistently.
Eli Manning took advantage of the Steelers defense and connected on a 57 yard touchdown down the middle of the field to Victor Cruz. Jason Worilds was called for a couple 15 yard penalties with under 30 seconds left in the first half that put the Giants well within Steeler territory. Miscues and penalties were a major problem.
Overall 1st Team Defense Grade: B-
Bruce Gradkowski showed promise as the second string quarterback. Although it is still early, it appears Gradkowski is proving to be a great addition to the team. Rookie Landry Jones started his NFL career with a fumble and recovered it in his own endzone for a safety.
The stars of the offense were the young receivers that showed great speed and hands. With the loss of Mike Wallace to the Miami Dolphins, the Steelers continue to look for the rookies to step up, and they did. Markus Wheaton and Justin Brown were impressive making some great catches along the sidelines. With few big plays and the offensive line once again showing weakness, both the first team and backup offensive units failed to score a touchdowwn. When it comes down to it, you need points to win games.
Overall Backup Offensive Grade: C-
There has been a lot of hype surrounding rookie OLB Jarvis Jones throughout camp thus far. Although he did not come out and dominate, Jones put himself in good position on a few plays and finished the game with a fumble recovery and a big stop on 3rd down in the fourth quarter. Al Woods was very impressive and finished with 9 total tackles including a sack, and two tackles for loss.
The effort by the defense late in the game was awarded with a bad snap that was recovered in the endzone for the Steelers only touchdown of the night. The defensive unit had several hard hits and were consistently putting 3-4 helmets on the ball. Backups or starters, you have to take advantage of every opportunity on defense, and the Steelers backups did just that. When all was said and done, the defense looked promising.
Overall Backup Defensive Grade: A-
There is no way to sugar coat the way the special teams unit performed. Between the penalties, blocked punt, and fumbled returns, everything that could have gone wrong did. Many coaches will tell you that games are won and lost on special teams, and last night that was definetly the case. There is only one word that can describe what I saw from this unit last night; embarrassing.
Overall Special Teams Grade: F
As I have mentioned before, grading a preseason NFL game is not an easy task and in many ways can be pointless. Like other assessments however, you need a baseline to track progress. I can only hope this baseline is the low point for whats to come in the upcoming weeks.