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Jones Injury Overshadows Steelers Third Preseason Loss

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Pop Quiz: What’s worse than an NFL preseason game?

Answer: An NFL preseason game that goes into overtime.

The Pittsburgh Steelers remained O for the preseason on Saturday, falling to the Kansas City Chiefs 26-20 in overtime. Seriously, overtime? They couldn’t just agree to shake hands and call it a tie? Screw the degenerate gamblers who bet on exhibition games.

While nobody wants to go winless at anything, one ray of sunshine coming out of Saturday’s performance was that it was much improved over the first two debacles. Considering the third preseason game is a dress rehearsal for the regular season with starters playing a full half (or more), that’s obviously a really good thing. The other positive development was that the Steelers emerged from the game more or less unscathed.

Yes, Steeler Nation, you can exhale. Jarvis Jones is going to be fine. I’m all for giving the rook tons of playing time so he can start ASAP but having him in the game in the fourth quarter is a bit mind-boggling. Luckily, the chest injury he suffered returning a non-interception –  an injury which necessitated an overnight stay at the hospital – appears to be not serious and he should be good to by week one.

Now, if we can only get some of the other guys back on the field…

One guy who did return yesterday was CB Cortez Allen. Allen gave up a bunch of receptions yesterday but he moved well for a guy less than a month removed from knee surgery. The sooner the team can move Willie Gay back into the nickel, the better. Also, while I still think Jason Worilds is going to start at OLB, I’m really digging the platoon with Worilds in the base defense, where he made several nice plays (even dropping back into coverage), and Jones as the designated pass rusher (where he’s already showed flashes of being a disruptive force). Overall, the defense looks to be pretty solid once again.

What doesn’t look solid is the special teams. While the offense and defense improved markedly, Danny Smith‘s crew continues to be an absolute train wreck. This week, they had a field goal blocked and later allowed a 109 yard kickoff return for a touchdown. I’m not sure what’s going on there but he better get it figured out fast.

Ben Roethlisberger had a fine game, completing 13/19 with a touchdown pass which should have been two if not for the NFL’s silly reception rules. The one TD that counted was vintage Ben: he scrambled away from sack and found Jonathan Dwyer all alone in the flat. The offensive line was a little better last night although I’m still worried about the tackles. The Steelers are now bringing in Kelvin Beachum as a sixth OL on running plays and his presence led to several nice runs.

Dwyer also had 8 carries as it appears he’s a lock to be the starting back against Tennessee. Newly acquired Felix Jones led all backs with 29 yards and even had a couple unmemorable kickoff returns. The word is Jones isn’t a lock to make the final 53 although I’m having a hard time imagining them cutting him. Neither Baron Batch nor Alvester Alexander have done anything to stand out. Assuming the team keeps four backs – and Le’Veon Bell isn’t put on PUP – either Jones or Batch will be odd man out.

The first team offense returned in the second half sans only Ben. Bruce Gradkowski had the prettiest throw of the night, connecting with rookie Markus Wheaton on a 34 yard rainbow for a touchdown. Wheaton continues to impress, beating double coverage deep for the score. Jerricho Cotchery is a fine possession receiver but Wheaton is proving to be a threat both horizontally and vertically. It won’t be long before he’s entrenched as the slot.

Besides running back, the Steelers have some tough decisions at wide receiver. Without doing the full math at getting down to the 53 man roster, I’m guessing the team keeps five wideouts. The Big Little Three + Wheaton are locks. The fifth spot is a battle between Penn Staters Justin Brown and Derek Moye. Both are tall (Brown is 6’3, Moye 6’5) with good size and speed. Moye has put together the better preseason but Brown is a 2013 draft pick and we all know how Kevin Colbert refuses to give up on his picks. Then there’s Reggie Dunn, who hasn’t done much as a receiver but is probably the team’s best return man.

Tuesday is the first cut down day so we’ll re-evaluate the battles when we see who’s left standing after a visit from the Turk.

One guy who should expect a visit is one of the punters. As loathe as I am to waste bandwidth on freakin’ punters, there is a battle for the job. Veteran Brian Moorman has shown more polish, getting good hang time and dropping the ball right where he wants it. Incumbent Drew Butler line drives too many kicks which may ultimately cost him his job. In his favor, though, is the fact he clearly has the stronger leg while appearing equally adept at dropping them inside the 20. I’m leaning towards Moorman but since I use that time for more important things like fixing a sammitch, your guess is as good as mine.