Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

Jim Wexell with his review of the Steelers' 23-21 preseason loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

It felt like a win for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who struck fast and impressively and rallied late behind their No. 2 quarterback, but ended up losing 23-21 after a terrible call by an official wiped out an incompletion on second-and-20 and allowed the Jacksonville Jaguars to score a touchdown with 2:54 remaining.

Of course, a veteran team doesn't worry about late-game plays by third-teamers or lousy calls by officials in preseason games. It's all about health -- which is apparently fine for the Steelers coming out of Jacksonville -- and performance. So here's a look at the latter:

THUMBS UP

First team offense. I tried to warn folks what to expect from the Steelers' first-team offense. Not that anyone disagreed, of course, because players such as Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton and Le'Veon Bell have been playing so well at training camp, particularly this past week. And none of that changed Friday night in the stifling Jacksonville heat. They all contributed on a six-play, 80-yard drive that resulted in a 44-yard, play-action, third-and-five Roethlisberger bomb to Bryant and a two-point conversion pass to Wheaton, in which Roethlisberger was given a couple of free scans of the secondary thanks to perfect protection. It all worked for an 8-0 lead before Roethlisberger, Brown, Bell, Heath Miller and Maurkice Pouncey were all replaced by the third series.

THUMBS DOWN

Safety play. Jaguars TE Clay Harbor was wide open but dropped a potential touchdown pass, and it may or may not have been the fault of the safety tandem of Shamarko Thomas and Alden Darby. But Darby was slow to get over the top of a 27-yard pass to Arrelious Benn to the Pittsburgh 11 on a third-and-6 play that set up the Jaguars' go-ahead touchdown. Next series it was Thomas who was late getting over the top of a 31-yard touchdown pass to Harbor that gave the Jaguars a 17-8 lead late in the first half. Safety play is critical in cover-2, and the only positive last night was that Mike Mitchell allegedly started the game after missing most of the past two weeks with an injury. I didn't see Mitchell because Will Allen replaced him so quickly.

THUMBS UP

Kickers. And not just the Steelers' Garrett Hartley, who converted both of his field-goal attempts (48 and 29 yards) and his extra point. But both Jaguars kickers were impressive, particularly Josh Scobee, the veteran who's on the bubble because of his $3.4 million contract. Scobee converted his field goal (36) and two extra points, and also boomed all four of his kickoffs out of the end zone. jason myers, the Jaguars prospect who's pushing Scobee, had the distance but his 58-yard attempt hooked wide late. His lone kickoff wasn't returned. All four of Hartley's kickoffs were returned.

THUMBS DOWN

Special teams. Yes, the Steelers pinned the Jaguars at their own 8 after taking the fourth-quarter lead, and that was one kickoff after Shayon Green had forced a fumble on a Jaguars kickoff return, which Sammie Coates recovered at the 17. But for three quarters -- with mainly first-year players on the coverage teams -- the Jaguars dominated this area. Denard Robinson returned a kickoff 34 yards, Rashad Greene returned a punt 37 yards, Corey Grant returned a kickoff 23 yards, and Nick Marshall returned a kickoff 35 yards. And the Steelers still have no return game. Dri Archer returned one punt for four yards and Kenzel Doe dropped a punt and jumped on it for no return. Judging from this game, it appears the Steelers will again go with Brown to return punts, and the rest of the league will boom kickoffs out of the end zone while the Steelers' placekicker allows the coverage unit to be tested regularly.

THUMBS UP

James Harrison. He used some kind of ninja hand play to render Luke Joeckel near paralysis as Harrison rolled around the edge for the Steelers' only sack of Blake Bortles. Harrison also tomahawked Bortles' arm to force a fumble, which the Jaguars recovered. It did appear, though, that the heat got to Harrison, who was replaced two snaps later. Of course, that heat will only make Harrison stronger.

THUMBS DOWN

Rest of the pressure. Only defensive tackle Matt Conrath could match Harrison with a key third-down sack of Chad Henne in the third quarter. And only Ryan Shazier added even a lone pressure in the first half as the Steelers got little from Bud Dupree and Jarvis Jones. Dupree was thrown to the ground while seemingly oblivious to a twist it appeared he should've been running with Stephon Tuitt. That resulted in a 10-yard run by Robinson. Jones lost contain and allowed Bortles to run around end for a four-yard touchdown.

THUMBS UP

Coates. C.J. Goodwin probably deserves this more for breaking up an interception and withstanding a brutal blast to hold on to a late, go-ahead touchdown pass, but after a horrendous practice week Coates needs the atta-boy more. Maybe the crushing block Coates took on Green's 37-yard punt return knocked the cobwebs out of his head, but he did a great job on special teams the rest of the way. Coates looks like a viable gunner and also recovered the fumbled kick return late in the game. As a receiver, Coates did drop one pass, but he caught five for 52 yards, including a great third-and-4 catch for 17 yards that sustained the final, albeit futile, Steelers drive.

THUMBS DOWN

B.W. Webb. One might expect a first-year player such as Jordan Sullen to make a series of drive-sustaining penalties in the fourth quarter, which Sullen did, but Webb, whose value is tied mainly to his experience, committed penalties on third and fourth-down plays in the second quarter that would've become first downs had the Jaguars not declined them. Webb also pointed out the mistake of one of the safeties on a touchdown pass, which, while good for the writers in the press box, isn't what you want from a teammate. With fourth-round pick Doran Grant nearly a roster lock, it would seem that Kevin Fogg is battling Webb for the final roster spot at cornerback. And Webb's experience didn't help him or the team last night.


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