Let's say you are one of the many Pittsburgh Steelers fans who didn't watch the Week 2 preseason game at Heinz Field against the Philadelphia Eagles. You woke up Friday morning to see articles about the Steelers being shut out 17-0 by their cross-state rivals.
You could be tempted to hit the panic button, especially for the offense who failed to tally a single point in the contest, even if Landry Jones was the quarterback and not Ben Roethlisberger. Nonetheless, if you suffered through the four quarter exhibition like me, you saw some good things from the starting units, despite popular belief.
The Steelers starting defense played well into the second quarter, and during that time they did more than enough to keep the Eagles' starting offense at bay.
Take a look at some telling statistics from the first half:
- PHI 3rd Down Efficiency: 2-6
- PHI Total Plays: 26 for 122 yards
- PHI Yards Rushing: 19
- PHI Yards Passing: 103
The Steelers defense was suffocating against the run, and was able to really limit what the Eagles did in the passing attack. In other words, they dictated the matchup, and that is a phenomenal sign for second year defensive coordinator Keith Butler's unit.
Yes, the Steelers were down 10-0 at halftime, but that was hardly the defense's fault. Due to a Landry Jones pick-six, the Eagles came out to a 7-0 lead, and another Jones interception led to a field goal, and a 10-point lead.
What you certainly notice about the Steelers 2016 defense is not just a better understanding of roles and responsibilities, but increased athleticism and speed across the board. The Steelers are flying to the football, and the tackling, thankfully, improved dramatically from their Week 1 debacle against the Detroit Lions.
Now for the Steelers starting offense. I wanted to watch Maurkice Pouncey, and he did more than get himself reacquainted with the offense, and you could tell he was in the game based on the team's running success. The Steelers offense moved the ball well, had good time-consuming drives, but just failed to cash in when it mattered most.
Here are some telling stats from the Steelers' offense in the first half:
- PIT Time of Possession: 19:20
- PIT Offensive Plays: 36
- PIT Third Down Efficiency: 5-8
- PIT Rushing Yards: 50 on 16 carries
- PIT Passing Yards: 111 on 12 attempts
Those numbers show an offense who did their job, until the quarterback threw the football to the other team four times. Yes, these are just the first half stats, and many may grumble about the second half and the lack of talent in their 3rd, 4th and 5th string players, but the first half tells the tale in NFL preseason games.
In this half, the Steelers were a much improved football team, both offensively and defensively. Go ahead and call for Landry Jones' head on a platter, but remember Ben Roethlisberger is still the quarterback of this team. If it were Landry Jones who was going to start Week 1, then you can get concerned, but it isn't. I highly doubt Roethlisberger throws those 4 interceptions, and most likely puts up at least 13 points in the first half for the Steelers.
You have to take preseason games with a grain of salt, and, in this case, on a half-by-half basis. The first half the Steelers were a very solid football team. Physical and fast on defense, and calculated and balanced on offense. Don't look now, but there might be hope for this team after all, despite their 0-2 preseason record.