Big plays were a major issue for the Steelers in 2013, and they spent much of the offseason talking about how to limit them this season.
Talking about limiting them and doing so, however, are separate issues.
The Steelers, who allowed 11 plays of 50 or more yards last season, gave up another big play just five offensive snaps into their 2014 preseason when New York’s Rashad Jennings took a handoff 73 yards for a touchdown in the Giants’ 20-16 victory over the Steelers Saturday night at MetLife Stadium.
Jennings, who began his college career at Pitt before transferring to Liberty, went untouched through a huge hole on the left side of the line, shook a high tackle attempt by safety Will Allen, starting in place of Troy Polamalu, who dressed but did not play, in the secondary and outraced the rest of the Pittsburgh defense for the score.
“We’re going to have runs that break out every now and then,” said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. “We have to get it on the ground in the secondary. Sometimes those things break free, but they’ve got to be 8-, 10-, 12-yard runs, not (73).”
Cam Heyward, in the game as one of two down linemen in the nickel defense, took responsibility.
“I went too flat,” said Heyward.
“I didn’t get the job done, just put it that way. I put a lot of pressure on myself and I messed up the first team. I have to learn from this and it won’t happen again.”
The long run marred what was otherwise a solid first performance by the Steelers’ first-team units.
The offense, in its only action with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, went 70 yards on seven plays - highlighted by a 46-yard screen play to speedy rookie Dri Archer - for a field goal, while the defense sandwiched the long touchdown run by Jennings with a pair of three-and-outs.
“We just had a guy get out of the gap,” said safety Mike Mitchell, the Steelers’ big free agent acquisition on defense. “We have to continue to work on it, be more disciplined and work on our run defense. It’s preseason game one. As we continue to grow and develop and gel as a unit, we’ll cut down on those mistakes. Guys will continue to be in their gaps. One thing as a safety, we can all take better angles in tackling.”
On the plus side, the Steelers made it through their first exhibition game without any injuries.
Guard Ramon Foster left in the first quarter after being poked in the eye and did not return, but it is not considered serious.
“It’s the first preseason game,” said Tomlin. “We can be better situationally, but it’s not like we practiced a lot of situational football in an effort to prepare for this. We will, moving forward, and I expect the results to be different.”
Odds and end zones
Polamalu was held out as a coach’s decision. … Starting running back Le’Veon Bell had 18 yards on three carries and also caught one pass for six yards. … Linebacker Jarvis Jones recorded the Steelers’ lone sack, which came in the first quarter. … Rookie linebacker Howard Jones had the Steelers’ lone touchdown, scoring on a 28-yard fumble return in the fourth quarter. … California University of Pennsylvania rookie receiver C.J. Goodwin was among 11 Steelers who did not play.