MIRZA ZUKIC: Steelers make too many mistakes in opener
PITTSBURGH — Apparently, Mike Tomlin didn’t get through to his players.
Sure, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 18-13 loss to the New York Giants was only a preseason game — and only the first one, at that — but Mike Tomlin dislikes losing all the same. Especially when the outcome can be pinned on a slew of self-inflicted mistakes.
And the mistake-prone Steelers had only themselves to blame for Saturday’s loss.
“Just the errors, the Steelers defeating the Steelers,” Tomlin said when asked what stood out to him about the game. “Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it can be characterized as part of August football, but I’m not buying into that. I think that we can set the bar higher than that for the first time out.”
Late last week, Tomlin didn’t say the Steelers needed to win Saturday night to have a successful preseason opener, but he hoped for a clean performance.
Tomlin’s goal for the opener was “that we go out and we play football, and we don’t have one mistake become three mistakes,” he said. “I want to see our ability to put negative plays behind us and move forward individually and collectively, and that’s what is going to determine whether this is a positive outing or not. With so many young guys and particularly the ones getting their first opportunities, I think that’s going to be an important element of it. We’re going to talk openly about that leading right up to kickoff.”
Apparently, it was in one ear and out the other for the Steelers players because the mistakes seemed to come in bunches.
For starters, the Steelers piled up seven penalties, while the special teams unit had a forgettable showing in coach Danny Smith’s debut.
The mistakes started for the Steelers on the opening possession of the game, a drive that began well but fizzled quickly thanks to mistakes.
First, young tackle Marcus Gilbert was called for a holding penalty, resulting in a third-and-long. On the next play, the protection broke down and Ben Roethlisberger was sacked in the pocket, leaving Pittsburgh with a fourth-and-24.
And then, on the first punt attempt of the season, Drew Butler’s 55-yard kick was negated by another penalty.
That one turned out to be costly.
On the re-kick, the Giants’ Damontre Moore came through the line untouched and blocked Butler’s kick, leaving the Giants inside the Steelers’ 10-yard line on their first offensive possession.
As Tomlin feared, one mistake turned into a series of them, and the Giants quickly had the lead.
Also in the opening quarter, when the Giants struck for a 57-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Victor Cruz, it wasn’t just cornerback Willie Gay who was on the hook for the deep score.
Jason Worilds dropped into coverage when he shouldn’t have, while LaMarr Woodley’s feeble attempt to put pressure on Manning wasn’t close.
Late in the first half, Worilds, a youngster the Steelers are hoping to develop into another star outside linebacker, was called for two personal-foul penalties two plays apart, accounting for 22 yards and setting up the Giants inside the Steelers’ 15-yard line.
New York capped the possession with a short field goal to take a 13-6 lead into halftime.
“Just too many mistakes, penalties getting us behind the chains offensively,” Tomlin said. “We gave them 30 yards in real estate in the two-minute drive prior to the half. That’s self-inflicted wounds.”
The Steelers had even more of them on special teams in the second half.
Receiver David Gilreath didn’t help his chances of making the team by unwisely fielding a punt inside the 5-yard line. A penalty worsened the situation, leaving highly touted rookie Landry Jones at the 4-yard line for his NFL debut.
On his first NFL snap, Jones collided with Baron Batch on a handoff, resulting in a safety for the Giants.
Again, the Steelers let the mistakes compound, exactly what Tomlin hoped to avoid seeing.
“We can’t be penalized,” Tomlin said. “We can’t have punts blocked, we can’t make poor decisions from a fielding the ball standpoint. All of those things happened, and we need to fix it.”
But Tomlin also knows that for a franchise undergoing a youth movement, the mistakes might have been nerves for many of the youngsters.
“We had some young guys, maybe in some instances, being overly aggressive, trying to impress, and obviously, it working against us,” Tomlin said. “We’ll learn from this and move forward.”