Don’t count Ben Roethlisberger among those concerned about the bagel next to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ preseason win total.
If anything, the quarterback figures an 0-4 August might actually help the Steelers as they prepare for the season opener against Tennessee on Sept. 8.
“I like that we’re still the underdogs and we’re the ‘nobody’ team and everyone’s counting us out,” Roethlisberger said. “That’s still fine with me.”
If the Steelers played the role of possum during their exhibition games, they proved pretty adept at it.
Save for a solid if not spectacular first half by the starters against the Kansas City Chiefs last week, Pittsburgh hardly looked like a team ready to disprove the doubters. Though most of the first team sat out a 25-10 loss to Carolina on Thursday night, the guys who did play continued a string of mostly uninspired performances.
The special teams again looked sloppy after a botched punt return resulted in a safety. Third-string quarterback Landry Jones tossed three interceptions and the defense let former Cleveland starter Derek Anderson channel 2007 while throwing for two touchdowns.
“We gave up a big play on defense,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “We turned the ball over on offense. You do those in a visiting stadium and you really reduce your chances of winning.”
His team’s record now reset to 0-0, Tomlin will have plenty of ammunition when the 53 men who survive the final round of cuts return to practice on Monday. Still, he’s not panicking after the first winless preseason of his seven-year coaching career
“I feel comfortable with the men that we are working to battle with next week,” Tomlin said.
Even if he’s not exactly sure who those men will be yet. Punters Drew Butler and Brian Moorman fought to a statistical draw against the Panthers. Both dropped two kicks inside the Carolina 20.
Both had punts well over 50 yards. The decision on who to keep might well boil down to Tomlin’s gut.
Other decisions will likely come easier. Wide receiver Derek Moye made a pretty compelling case for the fifth spot at wide receiver – if there is one – by finishing up a promising month with two receptions for 55 yards.
Reggie Dunn likely played his way out of the conversation after being tackled in the end zone for a safety following a punt return gone horribly awry.
The gaffe continued a forgettable training camp for Pittsburgh’s kicking teams. The safety joined a blocked punt, a blocked field goal and an opposing kickoff return for a touchdown as items new special teams coordinator Danny Smith will review – and review again – over the next 10 days.
Tomlin, however, believes there may be an easy solution to fixing the problems.
“Hopefully, it’s reflective of guys that don’t belong,” Tomlin said, “and we will correct.”
One of the more interesting battles is at kickoff returner and backup running back. Felix Jones ran for 56 yards on 14 carries and caught two passes for nine yards for his second productive night in less than a week after coming over in a trade with Philadelphia.
Johnstown’s LaRod Stephens-Howling came back from a right knee injury to return one kickoff for 25 yards and convert a third-and-14 draw into an unlikely first down.
There’s a chance the Steelers might keep both players while starter-in-waiting Le’Veon Bell recovers from a sprained right foot and Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman scuffle.
“I thought Felix Jones helped himself,” Tomlin said. “I thought that his pedigree showed. His natural run instincts showed.”
Jones’ ability to pick up the playbook quickly is one of the biggest positives out of a so-so preseason. So is the state of the offensive line. While the unit didn’t exactly dominate when it was on the field, the same five players who were penciled atop the depth chart when camp began are the same five guys who will step onto Heinz Field for the opener.
“The No. 1 goal is to get out of the preseason healthy, especially the boys up front, that’s always my goal, for those guys to get out healthy and I think they did,” Roethlisberger said.