PITTSBURGH — Tuesday’s practice at Heinz Field was not a good one.
That was easily the prevailing sentiment for the Steelers as the practice was canceled early. It was delayed for over an hour as storms poured down along the North Shore. As soon as the Steelers tried to get things back rolling for a full team period, the lightning and thunder hurled down again. Thus, after a short individual period and seven shots, the Steelers Tuesday was over.
However, that was not the only reason Tuesday was a bad practice for the Steelers. In their short team period, the team offense had an awful false start penalty that threw the third and final rep with Ben Roethlisberger at the helm down the drain. Roethlisberger railed into the offensive line for not being on the cadence. Most importantly, he was pointing to the offensive line moving a beat early. After Monday where the offensive line had multiple false start penalties, Roethlisberger was clearly disappointed it had carried over to Tuesday’s short period.
Mike Tomlin made it very clear when meeting with the media on Tuesday prior to practice that he was looking for the Steelers to play spotless football both in Tuesday’s practice and the upcoming game against the Eagles on Thursday. At the top of that list were procedural penalties.
“I’m looking for cleanliness in pre-snap situations and circumstances,” Tomlin said. “That’s playing without penalties on offense. That’s executing motions and shifts with fluidity. And working with the demeanor we want from the start on offense to make sure we communicate and adjusting.”
That is the prevailing sentiment heading into Thursday’s game from this practice. No matter how short, the Steelers’ sloppiness pre-snap along the offensive line has been an issue this week. Getting yelled at by the quarterback they are protecting can only deepen and put more salt in that wound. It was certainly not the way this offensive line wanted that to go.
Seven shots is a daily set of players from the two-yard line, featuring the Steelers No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense for three plays, No. 2 offense vs. No. 2 defense for two plays and the No. 3 offense vs. No. 3 defense for two plays.
🏈: The Steelers went into the shotgun with Roethlisberger having an unbalanced strong side formation with three players to his left after Pat Freiermuth motioned to the side. Diontae Johnson ran a shallow cross over the middle of the field from the left. However, Cam Heyward did not even try to rush the passer, but instead sat near the goal line, got his hands up, and batted the ball down. He keyed in on the play from the jump. Arthur Maulet trailed Johnson in coverage.
🏈: With a condensed stacked set to the right side with Chase Claypool, Eric Ebron and JuJu Smith-Schuster the Steelers’ offense created a lot of traffic as Smith-Schuster crossed the field against James Pierre. Alex Highsmith was in a spot drop zone and tried to help mask the weakness in the defense, but Roethlisberger found a wide-open Smith-Schuster in the endzone for a touchdown.
🏈: It was this play that made Roethlisberger mad. Trai Turner jumped early and the entire defense jumped with Turner’s movement. Roethlisberger just went into the offensive line after the penalty.
🏈: Mason Rudolph then came into the picture for seven shots. With no one open on the play on either side, Rudolph turned to his right nd attempted to hit the bigger Eric Ebron over Miles Killebrew. However, he threw it too far to the inside of Ebron, allowing Killebrew to easily break up the pass for Ebron.
🏈: Rudolph wanted to go to the field side bunch set on this play. Notably, he seemed to have his first read to Rico Bussey on the speed out, but Shakur Brown had tight coverage and blanketed Bussey. After being pressured up the middle by Buddy Johnson, Rudolph threw the ball out of the back of the end zone over the reach of Ebron.
🏈: Dwayne Haskins finally got his reps in the period. Matthew Sexton beat Stephen Denmark’s inside leverage on a slant route. However, Isaiah Buggs keyed on Haskins’ eyes as he stared Sexton down from the jump. Buggs tipped the ball in the air and the fluttering ball fell right into the arms of the waiting Denmark for the interception.
🏈: Haskins this time had Zach Gentry isolated on the in-line spot to his right. As Haskins took three steps on his drop, he immediately fired a floater to a wide-open Gentry over the middle of the field. Gentry dove for the ball and made the catch for the touchdown in front of a charging Donovan Stiner.
Batted balls have become a familiar sight at the last two practices for the Steelers. There were multiple ones on Monday, with Quincy Roche, Cam Heyward, and Carlos Davis all netting one throughout the team periods. In the short seven shots period on Tuesday, there were two batted balls, including one that went for an interception off the hand of Buggs.
However it is taken, this can be sliced in two ways. On one hand, the defense is doing a great job of getting their hands up and causing batted balls at the line. For the defense, that is an undeniable positive no matter the point of view. Anytime the secondary either gets bailed out or gets an interception thanks to the defensive line in part, that is the defense working together as a cogent unit.
On the other side of things, this is oddly reminiscent of how the Steelers’ offense appeared down the stretch at points in 2020. Specifically on Heyward’s batted ball on Tuesday, he did not even rush the passer. Roche did the same as he sat back to wait on a short route. Note that all of these were in the red zone and in those drills. So, in that manner, they are not doing this at the fifty-yard line. Even still, it is concerning to see some of these pass rushers dropping out and not even rushing on some reps like they did last year.