Collier: Story lines aplenty, but not so much offense for Steelers
August 11, 2013 8:15 AM
Antonio Brown can't stay in bounds as he hauls in pass to the corner against the Giants' Corey Webster in the first quarter.
By Gene Collier Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Plenty of real and potential misadventures have contributed to the varying definitions of a rough night, I think we can all agree, but Jason Worilds Very Very Rough Night was at least fairly conventional in the football sense.
There was his roughing-the-passer penalty.
There was his unnecessary roughness penalty on the same New York Giants drive.
There was the rough treatment he got from Mike Tomlin when the head man consequently yanked him Saturday night from the opening preseason game.
And there was the rough justice dealt him with relative gentility by defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau right after Tomlin worked him over.
The fact that Worilds, the fourth-year linebacker from Virginia Tech, is locked in a not-terribly-electrifying training camp battle with No. 1 draft pick Jarvis Jones to succeed the often-electrifying James Harrison at right outside linebacker for the Steelers, however, was probably not materially altered by anything that happened in New York's 18-13 victory at Heinz Field.
Worilds did manage an 8-yard sack of Giants backup David Carr in the second quarter, and Jones wasn't playing terribly conspicuously outside of a hard-to-avoid fumble recovery in his NFL debut, so that battle, such as it is, merely continues.
Jones didn't hurt himself, certainly, when he disrupted New York's throw-back tight-end screen late in the third, shedding a block by 315-pound Selvish Capers, and knocking Larry Donnell off his feet with one arm.
"A close play," Jones said. "A shoe-string tackle, but I'm glad I made it because he probably could have gone the distance with it. We got off the field on third down.
"I think I learned a lot; I enjoyed it. There were definitely things I left on the field that I can learn from as an individual. I knew all the calls we were makin', being where I need to be. There's definitely a learning curve. Plays I could have made that I didn't. Something to continue to work on and to better my technique."
By being otherwise inconspicuous, Jones was only establishing the theme of the night for the Steelers' stable of draft picks. Second-rounder Le'Veon Bell, whose debut was anticipated at least as much as Jones', did not get a uniform owing to a sore knee, and third-rounder Markus Wheaton, though he made some notable plays, was most impactful when he ran into linebacker Stevenson Sylvester on a punt, after the play no less, sending Sylvester to the sideline and subsequently to the locker room with an evening-ending ankle injury. Fourth-rounder Landry Jones, a quarterback out of Oklahoma, ran into Baron Batch in the backfield, a bad idea anytime but especially in your own end zone.
So thank goodness we didn't have to wait three full quarters for the preseason's first safety.
But if the preseason's top position battle absorbed little clarity and the rookies looked mostly like rookies, the Steelers on opening night were most obviously a team without much offense, even if everyone seemed real pleased with it.
"We had a lot of productive plays," said center Maurkice Pouncey. "It's an awesome start for us and we just need to keep building throughout camp."
Antonio Brown, the only Steeler in uniform who scored more than two touchdowns in 2012, saw things similarly, even if he couldn't see well enough to get both feet in bounds for a touchdown on Ben Roethlisberger's best pass of the game.
"I would say that our run game is doing really good right now," Brown said. "The offensive line is creating space, and we are playing in sync. We don't want to reflect too much on last year, but I think we are a lot farther ahead at this point than we were last year."
Funny, the offense I saw at one point needed 4:15 to move just 21 yards to a second-quarter field goal, scored all of six points despite 19:31 of possession time before halftime and failed to get a touchdown until, well, maybe a week from tomorrow.
The only deep ball came from backup Bruce Gradkowski, who whipped one at rookie Justin Brown on the far left sideline but Brown couldn't beat the coverage of veteran corner Trumaine McBride. The longest connection of the game came on the Steelers' second possession, when Roethlisberger overstayed his 10-to-12 snap projection by Tomlin and hit Emmanuel Sanders for 14 yards on an underneath route on his 16th play.
A real, live Steelers touchdown came only when the Giants did them the favor of snapping the ball over the quarterback's head toward the end zone, where linebacker Alan Baxter, a free-agent rookie from Northern Illinois, pinballed it across the lawn to Adrian Robinson, a second-year free-agent linebacker from Temple.
That's likely the last Baxter-to-Robinson touchdown forthcoming for Tomlin's team, but it's all they've got for the moment.