The Steelers opened the preseason with a 24-23 loss at Philadelphia, where the Eagles kicked a 51-yard winning field goal with 12 seconds remaining. Here are my thoughts and observations on a game the Steelers led 13-0 at halftime:
The Steelers had three players (two starters) knocked out of the game: fullback/tight end David Johnson (knee); left tackle Mike Adams (knee); and backup running back Jonathan Dwyer (shoulder). Pittsburgh is using the fullback more under new offensive coordinator Todd Haley, but Johnson's injury appeared to be the most serious of the night.
Pittsburgh showed its depth at running back with starter Rashard Mendenhall on the physically unable to perform list. Isaac Redman ran hard in between the tackles, rookie Chris Rainey showed his elusiveness in converting a third-and-13 on a draw and Dwyer broke a 33-yard gain. Rainey later scored a 57-yard touchdown off a quick screen pass. The Steelers produced 68 rushing yards on the first two drives, which led to two marathon drives (16 and 10 plays).
The offensive line showed some major growing pains, specifically in pass protection. Adams gave up two sacks (which led to two fumbles) as well as another pressure in two drives. The second sack on Ben Roethlisberger was the result of a miscommunication between center Maurkice Pouncey and left guard Ramon Foster. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert allowed a pressure on the first drive when he failed to connect on a cut block.
The Steelers defense had no trouble with Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, who left with a hand injury. Pittsburgh forced Vick into two three-and-outs. Nose tackle Steve McLendon, who was starting for the injured Casey Hampton, was able to get off blocks, recording a sack and a tackle for a loss.
As far as the quarterbacks, Roethlisberger was efficient in his one series, completing 7 of 8 passes for 49 yards. His only incompletion was overthrowing Emmanuel Sanders deep down the sideline. Backup Byron Leftwich showed his experience in the Steelers' only touchdown drive of the first half. Checking off a play, he hit an uncovered Sanders for a 2-yard touchdown pass. It was a broken coverage by Nnamdi Asomugha, who had a rough night. He also got beat by Antonio Brown on a quick 14-yard slant.
Pittsburgh's coverage teams need some work. The Steelers, who ranked 16th in kickoff coverage, gave up 46 yards on their first return of the night. They also allowed a long punt return, which was negated by a block in the back.
The Steelers, who struggled in getting turnovers last season, got a gift from the Eagles. Backup defensive lineman Al Woods stepped in front of screen pass by Mike Kafka for an interception and ran it back 52 yards to the 5-yard line. That led to a field goal.
Shaun Suisham got off to a strong start. He hit a 46-yard field goal after going 6-for-11 from beyond 40 yards last season. He also kicked a 39-yarder.