With Maurkice Pouncey out with a broken ankle, special teams struggling, and Martavis Bryant suspended for the first four games, was there any cause for reassurance from the Steelers performance against the Buffalo Bills?
Backup Quarterback- Chill out
Fans were freaking out over Landry Jones' lackluster performance in the first few games of the preseason. Gradkowski was healthy for a flash, but after dislocating his finger in the last game against the Green Bay Packers, Jones is back on the radar. So is the controversial Michael Vick. What did we learn in the third preseason game about back up quarterback: Reason for alarm, or time to chill out?
Michael Vick looked competent and reliable against the Bills. I was sorry he wasn't in the game for a longer period of time, but considering the rough Welcome to Pittsburgh he endured this week, I was impressed with his poise and playmaking ability, especially considering the Bills left their first-team defense in for so long.
Landry Jones also looked better than previous weeks. While his performance wasn't stellar, he appeared more comfortable. If he could work with the first-team offensive players in a Ben-less situation, he might manage to hold his own. I would still be as nervous as all get-out, but I was encouraged by his improvement over previous weeks.
Special Teams- Freak out
Special teams has long been a weak link for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Against Green Bay with stronger personnel, special teams performed less disastrously than they did in the first games of the preseason.
First, the good news. Jordan Berry had an excellent punt or two (and there were certainly many opportunities for punting practice during the game), so quite a battle is heating up between the two punters from neighboring towns in Australia.
Now, some bad news. After the Steelers punted to the Bills at the beginning of the first quarter, Steelers coverage was so bad that the Bills were able to return the punt 20 yards. Not OK. Also, very much not OK, was Garrett Hartley's hamstring injury which rendered the team kickerless for most of the game.
And, more bad news. I'm not convinced Danny Smith is an effective special teams coach. Coverage today was an absolute disaster. Danny Smith was also special teams coach for the Redskins, when he brought the world this gem of a play in 2009.
No Bell, No Bryant- Chill out
The marijuana-related suspensions for Bell and Bryant are short-term problems for the Pittsburgh Steelers with Bell out two games and Bryant out up to four games. Can DeAngelo Williams and the remaining backups to Antonio Brown pull enough weight for the Steelers continue to dominate on the offensive side of the ball?
Wheaton had a great catch in the first quarter, along with some difference-making blocks. Meanwhile, DeAngelo Williams more than proved that he is up for filling in for the suspended Bell at the beginning of the season with several phenomenal rushes, a TD, and successful two-point conversion. #34 has our backs.
Adjustment to Cover 2 & Tackling- Freak out
The secondary struggled at the beginning of the preseason, but did a bit better on the 23rd against Green Bay. CBs Kevin Fogg, Doran Grant, and Antwan Blake all performed well and the unit as a whole seemed more comfortable with Keith Butler's schemes.
Today against the Bills, however, the defense made several weak quarterbacks seem like prodigious stars. In other words, the defense did not perform well. Between sloppy tackling, missed assignments, instances of overpursuit, the defense was weak.
The only reason not to freak out is because it is still the preseason and the defense has show brief flashes of competence. Vince Williams was in for the first time in a while after sitting out with an injury for the majority of the preseason, and Lawrence Timmons is sidelined with a case of turf toe, the same injury that ended Jack Lambert's career.
Offensive Line- Chill out
Ironically, the unit missing its biggest player held up relatively well when the starters were in. While Maurkice Pouncey's absence will be felt, the offense was able to get the job done well enough with Cody Wallace in at center. It is also worth keeping in mind that Pouncey should be able to return at some point during the season. Mike Munchak has been able to work wonders with the unit, so while he is facing some challenges in the absence of Pouncey, the upside is that he has some time to adjust to his new personnel.
So, despite the poor performance on Saturday against the Bills, we have a net "chill out" factor. There are indeed troubling aspects of the Steelers level of play, but no need to panic- yet.