I must say I was surprised by the Steelers performance against the Bills. The ease at which EJ Manuel and the Bills offense, missing Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods, moved the ball down the field was quite startling. I was listening to the game on the radio while at my grandmother's 89th birthday party ( dedication ). The first two drives gave me quite an alarm. This was the 'third' preseason game after all. This was suppose to be the 'dress rehearsal' before the season start. Only throughout the game it felt like the Steelers were getting crushed by a quarterback whose play hasn't been spectacular recently. So the game made for a depressing afternoon. I got home around 11:30pm and turn on my recording of the game and what I saw made me less concerned.
Here are reasons not to be concerned with the Steelers performance
1. Does anyone know who started at right defensive end for the Steelers? I've never seen that guy, not with the starters. It wasn't Cam Thomas, it wasn't Tuitt, heck it wasn't even L.T. Walton. It was some Joe Kruger guy. I'd be concerned if he was going to be the guy starting Week 1. From what I heard Tuitt will be ready for Week 1. Kruger got washed out on the play that went for 41 yards. He was pulled right after that. I think Tomlin saw enough, we all did. My eyes were hurting. I think in the event that Tuitt goes down Thomas or McCullers should step in. Safe to say, McCullers isn't getting moved like Kruger did. Since Kruger got taken out of the play so easy that allowed blockers to get to the second level to the linebackers, thats a death sentence for our defense. Even still I'd expect a guy like Timmons to get around blocks better, oh wait - Timmons wasn't out there either. Vince Williams instead, if he would have played instinctively, could have shot the gap and stopped the play but he hesitated for just a split second and got blocked. So I'm not concerned about the big run, Tuitt should be back and hopefully Timmons. I'll feel a lot better with those two guys on the field. They are like security blankets. They make you feel warm and safe.
2. The Cover 2 isn't ready for prime time. I highly doubt we'll be doing much Cover 2 concepts at least at first. The big throw was a miscommunication which lead to blown coverage in the Cover 2. Everyone knows the deep middle is vulnerable against the Cover 2. Yet Shazier sat down in his zone and the Safety failed to pick up the tight end streaking down the middle. Either Shazier should have followed the tight end down the field or the safety should have read Shazier sitting down in the zone and picked up the tight end. That still would have been tough to cover a lot of speed would be needed but we should have that speed. The defense should resort to concepts and techniques they are familiar with, the Cover 3. Then sprinkle in Cover 2 as they become more comfortable with them. They clearly aren't now. I have no reason to believe that it will get better either.
3. Tomlin didn't treat this like a dress rehearsal. Ben went out of the game after the second drive. Antonio Brown didn't see much action either. I find this interesting. I highly doubt we'll see the dress rehearsal next week. Especially not with teams playing their fringe guys hoping to make the team. You don't want your 100 million dollar quarterback as the prize for the guy trying to make the team. So why didn't key starters play more? Was it fear of injury? Does tomlin figure that playing the guys a full half isn't going to get them into game shape anyways so there is no point in trotting them out there? Or was it simply he wanted to see some back up players go up against same starters more? I'm not sure. But the game was close when the starters in there, doesn't mean it would have remained so, but it does mean we can't take the finial result as gauge for much of anything. So I'm not as alarmed as I would have if Ben played the entire half and into the third quarter and it was still a blow out.
There were however some things that I could take away.
1. The drop in play from Pouncey and Wallace is tangible as predicted. Anyone saying there wouldn't be a drop off and that Pouncey only gave 'luxuries' , which he does provide said luxuries, were just wrong. Wallace was solely responsible for the sack on third down. You don't really see Pouncey getting thrown around like Wallace did. Thats something we're going to have to deal with going forward, our play calling will be limited by it. There will also be some drives that will be directly affected by Wallace getting flat out beat. Hopefully we can over come it.
2. The defensive line better be well conditioned. Outside of Cam Thomas and Daniel McCullers there just isn't any NFL caliber players as depth. LT Walton may be that sixth defensive lineman that we keep but I doubt we keep more than that. That means we should only see the 4-3 sparingly. We stock linebackers because we play a 3-4, in the 4-3 you need to stockpile quality lineman. We simply don't have the depth at the line to consistently run a 4-3 without tiring guys out. Also using two lineman and two outside linebackers as a 4-3 doesn't seem to work either since our outside guys just aren't good playing inside. And leaving them on the outside, as we saw against Green Bay leaves us vulnerable to inside runs. I'd expect a lot of 3-4/cover 3 to start the season off with. I'd be upset if we played a lot of 4-3 or cover 2, to me that seems like a recipe for disaster, especially if Tom Brady is on the field.
3. I couldn't even enjoy Martavis' game. Knowing we may be missing him for 4 games was really like walking to the candy store, putting your face on the glass and see all the delicious sweets to only have your mom say - No. Bryant teased us all game what a weapon he could be. I happen to think that we can still get past the Patriots ( sans Brady ), 49ers, Rams, and Ravens without him. But those are going to be dog fights. I can see us losing to the Rams and the Ravens without Bryant. Those games are going to be incredibly tough without Pouncey as it is. We're going to need to give Ben the Bat suit or something. If Brady is playing in the opener we can cancel Christmas. I don't see anyway we win that game. So we could start out 2-2 if Brady plays or 3-1, if he doesn't. I just don't see us getting through those 4 games unscathed without Bryant.
Let me know your thoughts? As fans I think we have a tendency to either go overly negative or go overly positive. I don't want to rationalize either way. I do hope that we can just stay in the playoff race until pouncey gets back and the defense comes into form by the playoffs and the Steelers can make a run. Here we Go!