PANTHERS 23, STEELERS 6
Steelers' record: 1-4
One year ago: 1-3
Preseason series record: Steelers lead, 10-7
For most, this fifth preseason game was something to be endured, but for a select segment of the 75-man roster the Steelers brought into Thursday night, it was a matter of professional life or death.
"I told the guys (Tuesday morning), and I mean this: this opportunity is weighted a little differently," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "It is valued more than others, because there is a certain finality with this opportunity. Guys who are capable of absorbing that reality and performing in the midst of it, there is a little window into maybe how they will perform under the pressure that the NFL provides. We don't hide from that. We don't always try to make them feel good about it. It's just a necessary part of the process."
Tomlin could not have seen too much that he liked during the game. When asked about Josh Harris during his news conference two days before the game, Tomlin had said, "He is one of the guys that this is a tremendous opportunity for. I am looking forward to seeing what he does with it. Obviously he is going to get an extended look. He was in a similar situation a year ago. He was in a group of backs who were really essentially vying for a practice squad opportunity. He made a play or two in this game that distinguished him from that group and allowed him to continue to be here to this day. I specifically remember a third-and-8 where we called a draw, and he picked and found his way through it and bounced to the perimeter and got 31 yards. He delivered a significant play on a possession down that allowed him to continue to be here, and he is facing a similar opportunity 12 months later."
Against the Panthers this time, Harris had a team-high 12 carries for 29 yards, with a long gain of 9. His highlight was an 8-yard run on a fourth-and-1 from the Carolina 21-yard line in the third quarter. Quite possibly the only on-the-bubble player who authored a big play was Roosevelt Nix -- in a fight for the fullback job with Will Johnson -- continued to stand out on special teams by blocking a punt.
The Pittsburgh Steelers hosted the Carolina Panthers at Heinz Field for the team's final preseason game of 2015.
STARTERS DID NOT START**
During his tenure as the Steelers' coach, Bill Cowher once famously said before a preseason game, "The starters will start." Against the Panthers, the Steelers starters did not start, for the most part anyway.
On offense, the 11 who started for the Steelers included this offensive line (from left to right): Mitchell Van Dyk, Doug Legursky, Chris Hubbard, B.J. Finney, and Alejandro Villanueva. Jesse James was the tight end, the backs were Josh Harris and Roosevelt Nix, the wide receivers were Martavis Bryant and Shakim Phillips, and Mike Vick was the quarterback. None of those guys will start against the Patriots in the season opener.
On defense, the Steelers opened with L.T. Walton, Daniel McCullers, and Ethan Hemer along the defensive line; the linebackers were Anthony Chickillo, Vince Williams, Sean Spence, and Arthur Moats; and it was Antwon Blake, Robert Golden, Shamarko Thomas, and Brandon Boykin in the defensive backfield. Moats and Thomas can be expected to start vs. the Patriots.
AND MORE INJURIES
The Steelers lost three more players – all backup offensive linemen – to leg injuries against the Panthers. Backup tackle Kevin Palmer injured a knee, and both Mitchell Van Dyk and B.J. Finney sustained ankle injuries. Van Dyk was taken off the field on a cart.
OFFENSIVE LINE DEPTH?
Even before losing those three players to injuries, it seemed as though the Steelers depth along the offensive line was questionable at best. With none of the starters even taking a snap, the Steelers offense struggled mightily against the Panthers.
The running game netted 57 yards on 23 attempts, and Landry Jones and Mike Vick were sacked a combined five times. Add in a 1-for-11 success rate on third downs, and the Steelers time of possession was 23:58.
THE DEFENSE RARELY GOT TO REST
For the second straight game, the Steelers defense didn't make many of the kinds of plays the unit is going to need once the regular season begins. No sacks, no takeaways, and only three passes defensed on 29 combined attempts by Derek Anderson and Joe Webb.