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Impressions from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 23-21 Preseason Loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars


Ah, yes, preseason football! A time when the Steelers’ first team comes in, marches down the field for a touchdown on the opening drive, and even take the 2-point conversion. Makes it look easy.

And then there are the backups, who go on to lose the game 23-21.

That said, here's what we took from Friday night's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

What’s this? A 2-point conversion after the first score?

In theory, if a team felt it could be successful at 2-point conversions more than 50 percent of the time, then it would make sense to go for two more often since that’s twice as many points as a PAT.

In practicality, it doesn't make a lot of sense. Still, this is preseason football, where new ideas can be explored. On the Steelers' radio network pregame show it was revealed the Steelers have had a competition where they line up for 2-point conversions seven times, offense and defense. They are said to be spirited competitions where score is not only kept, but the unit that gets beat is reminded of it.

Therefore it wasn't that much of a surprise when the Steelers went for two, and got it, in the first quarter after Ben Roethlisberger marched the team down the field a six-play, 80-yard drive. With extra points now kicked from 32 yards out instead of 20, some have theorized teams will attempt 2-point conversions more often. After all, the extra point on the scoreboard was the impetus for Jacksonville to go for its own 2-point conversion following Stephen Morris' go-ahead, one-yard touchdown put the Jaguars up 23-21, as overtime is frowned upon in the preseason.

The conversion failed, and the Steelers could have won the game with a field goal. While in the regular season such a touchdown would likely have been followed with a regular kicking conversion, it would have made the score 24-21, and a field goal would still be en vouge.

Is this a new strategic element in NFL games? Two-point conversion attempts were all the rage this week in preseason. Possibly, but it should be mentioned such ploys are not new in the preseason. In Pittsburgh’s 31-10 victory at Buffalo to kick off the 1995 preseason, Bill Cowher also decided to go for two following the Steelers’ first touchdown.

On Friday night, Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley elected to have Jason Myers attempt a 58-yard field goal in the third quarter. It's unlikely in the regular season such a decision would have been made, and though Myers' attempt was unsuccessful, his long kicks meant the Steelers did not return a kickoff in the game.

Improved special teams play

Against Minnesota the Steelers allowed Stefon Diggs to return a punt 62 yards to set up the Vikings’ second touchdown and Shaun Suisham infamously was hurt making a tackle on a kickoff at midfield.

On Friday the special teams weren't great, allowing 174 return yards. But they were good, as Garrett Hartley made all his kicks in his Steelers debut. More importantly, Shayon Green forced a Storm Johnson fumble, recovered by Sammie Coates, on a kickoff in the fourth quarter to set up the Steelers’ go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. Without that fumble, it's unlikely the Steelers would have re-taken the lead because…

This quarterback Jones

Save for the opening series, Landry Jones played his second straight complete game. And save for a 17-yard drive in the fourth quarter where he threw his first touchdown pass in two seasons of preseason football, he continued to be unimpressive.

His defenders stated he didn't have the luxury of playing with first-string players against Minnesota; on Friday his first pass was to Martavis Bryant and was too high. For the game, Jones was 24 for 46 for 200 yards, an embarrassingly low 4.3 yards per pass attempt.

Yes, he suffered some dropped passes. Shakim Phillips is the new Limas Sweed. But at the end of the day Jones' first five drives produced punts. He had three two-minute drives and could never get the team past the 50.

Furthermore, it seemed as if Mike Tomlin kept Jones in the game almost to make a point, or as if to play favorites with his own fourth-round choice of two years ago rather than another team's sixth-round pick of last season.

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Tomlin hinted both Tyler Murphy and Tahj Boyd would see action behind center before the game, but it never came. Tomlin also defended Jones' play against Minnesota in his coach's show with Bill Hillgrove, saying he felt he was accurate in the first half of the Hall of Fame Game before his accuracy declined in the second.

Jones' spot on the roster may now lie with Bruce Gradkowski's ability to heal. One gets the feeling Tomlin sees Jones as a similar quarterback to Roethlisberger in that he is willing to let a play develop.

It's just that the plays haven't developed.

The secondary

On the good side, cornerback William Gay started well. His tackle of Julius Thomas in the first quarter made the big pass catcher flip in the air, and his ensuing footsteps made Allen Hurns drop a pass later on in the drive. Then Gay allowed Allen Robinson to get past him in the first quarter for a 15-yard catch on 3rd and 14.

There were so many little things. Backup Jacksonville quarterback Chad Henne threw only one incomplete pass (a drop). Four Steelers penalties, including two consecutive ones on cornerback Jordan Sullen, let a quarterback, Stephen Morris, who completed only 33 percent of his passes in the game, march the Jaguars 92 yards for the winning score late in the fourth quarter.

Clay Harbour's 31-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter came when he beat B.W. Webb when the Steelers were in Cover 2 and the safety was late in response. The play came after Harbour dropped a pass with 9:07 left in the first half when he was wide open in the flat with a clear path to the end zone, much like Minnesota tight end MyCole Pruitt was able to get open for his touchdown reception in the Hall of Fame game.

Thank goodness for Bill Hillgrove and Bob Pompeani

The Jaguars’ radio play-by-play announcer is Frank Frangie, a veteran radio sportscaster who actually spent many of his formative summers in Western Pennsylvania. The background of Frangie's Twitter page is PNC Park.

Unfortunately the Jaguars' television play-by-play broadcaster is Sam Kouvaris, a veteran television sportscaster who votes on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. Hopefully he is more prepared for his selections than this particular broadcast. Consider:

* He opened the broadcast stating the Jaguars were playing their second preseason game of the year and the Steelers were playing their first.

* Did not identify Markus Wheaton on his 2-point conversion catch

* Stated Devin Gardner was still on the Steelers. Gardner was cut when Garrett Hartley was signed on Wednesday.

* Broadcast the game with an overall very dry delivery.

This just made one thankful for Bill Hillgrove's calls on the radio and Bob Pompeani's on KDKA. While Kouvaris is likely as iconic in Jacksonville as Hillgrove and Pompeani are to Pittsburgh, Hillgrove's radio broadcasts are always lively and Pompeani is always sharp.

Final note

Much has been made in modern times how warm-weather states are now producing as many football players, if not more, than the traditional breeding grounds of Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Therefore it was refreshing that the three team captains for the Jaguars; Henne, Paul Posluszny and Bernard Pierce, all hail from the Keystone State. True, none are from Western Pennsylvania proper. But it's fun to note Henne was born in Wyomissing, the hometown of former University of Pittsburgh quarterback Matt Lytle and Taylor Swift.

— Written by Marky Billson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. An experienced beat reporter and sports writer, Billson has been a contributor to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 15 years. He has covered the Steelers, Panthers, MLB and more during his career. Follow him on Twitter @MarkyBillson.