Preseason Week Four: Carolina Panthers at Pittsburgh Steelers

PITTSBURGH - AUGUST 28: Dwayne Jarrett #80 of the Carolina Panthers catches a pass in front of James Harrison #92 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during a preseason NFL game on August 28, 2008 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

This week at Cat Crave, we did something a little different. We went “outside the box,” so to speak. As the regular season nears, we’re going to try and bring you an outsider’s opinion on their team; the team which our Carolina Panthers will be playing against this week. This week’s edition takes us outside of the realm of Fansided, to a site somewhere out there in the blogosphere, known as The Steelers N’at.

In the final preseason game for the Carolina Panthers, there is a sense of urgency eminating from the stands. We will not see much of Matt Moore, which for some is a good thing, but the fact remains that Moore is still the starting quarterback next week, when Carolina kicks off the regular season against the New York Giants.

Quarterback Jimmy Clausen will also see limited playing time. The main quarterbacks in tonight’s game are second-year QB Hunter Cantwell, and rookie Seventh-Rounder Tony Pike.

We’ll be looking for more completions and better play by the receivers, of course. How likely that will play out, remains to be seen.

The defense has been stellar for the entire preseason, and will likely put up a strong front again when playing against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Special teams showed some signs of competency last week, by not fumbling the ball on any returns, and even ran one back for a score. Building off of that success from less than a week ago, will be critical to the morale of the special teams’ unit.

All-in-all, there’s not much “new” news to harp on that hasn’t been raked through the coals for the first few weeks of preseason, already. Other than the team is now missing a few faces and final cuts are coming up this Saturday, everything else is pretty much status quo, with plenty of room for improvement, especially on offense and special teams.

Before we transition to the interviews, I would like to point out a very interesting fact. Look back to the 2000 season. The Baltimore Ravens had a very aggressive defense, two premier running backs (in Jamal Lewis and Priest Holmes), a strong offensive line, a mediocre-at-best quarterback, and decent wide receivers. Who would have ever imagined that the Ravens of 2000 would go on to convincingly win (with it’s defense) the Super Bowl 34-7, over the New York Giants?

To the interview. I received a surprising message via Twitter the other day from Ian of The Steelers N’at, asking if I wouldn’t mind doing a Q&A with him, in regard to our teams’ upcoming game. Here is an insider’s look at what Ian had to say in his interview with Cat Crave.

CC: The fourth preseason game is one where we usually don’t see a whole lot of playing time for the starters. The guys at the botom of the roster tend to see a lot of playing time so that the coaches can figure out who is going to make the final roster cut. That being said, what are you looking for out of the Steelers for this game to be considered a “success?”

TSN: For this game to see a success, I want to see some of our roster questions answered. In particular, this means that I need to see young guys making tackles on special teams. The Steelers cut veteran linebacker Andre Frazier this week, who had been the No. 3 oustide linebacker on the depth chart entering the season. Frazier was injured early in camp and placed on IR, so cutting him wasn’t a huge loss. However, the Steelers spent two draft picks on OLBs – Jason Worlids (Virginia Tech, 2nd Round) and Thaddeus Gibson (Ohio St, 4th Round). They’ve looked okay on defense so far, though the Steelers haven’t run the patented LeBeau Fire-X blitz at all this preseason.

The place I’m more concerned about is Special Teams. Patrick Bailey, an undrafted free agent from Duke two years ago, has been an absolute special teams monster for us (he had four ST tackles in a game two years ago). However, Bailey has never shown much on defense, and with Frazier’s injury he became the No. 3 OLB on the depth chart. It’s hard to say who has been the best of the three (Bailey, Worlids, Gibson) on defense and special teams is where one of them is going to have to step up and make an impact and prove they deserve to be on the final 53-man roster.

Along the same lines, I want to see continued development out of the rookies, particularly wide receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. Steelers quarterbacks threw three interceptions against Denver last week and at least two can be partially attributed to Sanders. The first, he was running a hitch route and didn’t come back for the ball. If Sanders comes back for that ball instead of waiting on it, he at least breaks up the INT, if not makes the catch. The second was a complete mis-read. Sanders was running a fly-route and Charlie Batch threw an out-route pass. Both INTs were pick-sixes, and the Steelers lost by 17. If Sanders makes the right plays on those, it’s a three-point game.
Antonio Brown has been everything we expected to be when Pittsburgh drafted him in the Sixth-Round: fast, faster, and fastest. He has shown some skills running crossing routes and is dangerous any time he gets his hands on the ball. He is on the verge of ousting Stefan Logan from the kick-returner position. However, Brown fielded a punt on his own 2 yard line last game, getting tackled inside the 5. We need to see better decision-making out of him in the return game if he is going to become a permanent fixture back there.
CC: I recently learned that Steelers safety Troy Polamalu’s hair has been insured by Head & Shoulders for a cool $1 million. Might Polamalu tuck his hair under his helmet, now that there is so much green riding on his head?
TSN: No way. However, something that people may not know is that Troy generally wears his hair tucked up. In fact, even before games when he is out on the field for warmups and practice, his hair is usually tucked up. I’m just a joke blogger and don’t have inside access to the players like the actual media does, so I don’t know if letting his hair down is part of his pregame ritual. However, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play a game with it up, and he’s not about to change that now. Seeing him fly around out on the field is reminiscent of the great hockey players of the 80s and early 90s with their mullets flapping out the back of their helmets while they burned down the ice. Exhibit A: Mario Lemieux.
CC: What kind of repercussions or setbacks might the Steelers experience while quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is serving his league-mandated suspension, following accusations of rape?

TSN: As coach Mike Tomlin likes to say, “The 11 on the field represent us and the standard of expectations does not change.” That being said, there is obviously a drop-off in talent between Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich/Dennis Dixon. However, one of the great things about the NFL is that style points don’t count. Sure, with Ben Pittsburgh could probably beat Tampa by 30. However, the Steelers don’t need to beat Tampa by 30. The real question is: Can they beat Tampa with Byron under center? Personally, I still believe the answer is yes. If you look at the first four games of the season, they have Atlanta, Tampa, Tennessee, and Baltimore. To be honest, a Steelers-Ravens game is going to be pretty much the same regardless of who the quarterback is. It’s going to be a slug-fest where points are at a premium. Chances are, the last team to get the ball will win the game. All stats go out the window for the Baltimore game. Therefore, we’re looking at three games: Atlanta, Tampa, Tennessee. Would Pittsburgh have a better chance to win with Ben in? Of course. However, just because Ben won’t be playing doesn’t mean they can’t win. So what if they only beat Tampa by seven or Tennessee by three? A win is a win and it counts the same no matter how you get it.

On another note, the place where there will be repercussions is with the Steelers image. The Rooney family has always prided themselves on running an organization that does not tolerate certain things. The trade of Santonio Holmes showed this. The Steelers don’t have the same image around the league that other teams, like the Bengals (who have stripes in their end zones because it reminds their players of jail bars, making them feel more at home). The Steelers will have a much harder time rebounding from the damage done to their “brand” so to speak. Ben himself will have to do a lot to help this healing process. And no, I’m not talking about coming out, throwing for 300 yards against New Orleans and leading a game-winning 85-yard drive in the last 1:35 to beat the defending Super Bowl Champs. I’m talking about off the field. He needs to show that he really has changed, and isn’t just doing lip service, because it’s what his public relations people told him to say.
So far, I feel like he has done exactly what he’s needed to do along those lines. But that doesn’t just mean it’s forgive and forget. Ben needs to show, over an extended period of time (I’m talking in years here, even though the NFL is a very fickle animal), his commitment and dedication to leaving his old persona in the past and becoming a new, better, human being.
CC: Any under-the-radar players that you think will be a big surprise this year?
TSN: Before last week’s game I would have said cornerback Keenan Lewis, but after two personal foul penalties in a little over a quarter, Lewis spent the rest of the game on the bench. I’m not sure if we’ll even see him this week. The guy with the biggest “splash” potential is rookie WR Antonio Brown. The top-three wide receivers are pretty much set with Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, and Antwaan Randle El.
Brown has already shown good route-running and excellent speed. The mistakes he’s made, like fielding a punt at the two-yard line, are coachable errors. Similarly, with rookies Emmanuel Sanders and Jonathan Dwyer, their mistakes have all been things that coaches can change. There are things, like not being able to catch the ball (Limas Sweed), that aren’t really “coachable” are more of a problem. Mistakes like not coming back for the ball on a hitch-route (Sanders), are things that they can learn with time. Brown and Sanders will probably be the No. 4 and 5 receivers on the depth chart to start the season, so they’ll have time to learn the offense before getting thrust into the thick of things. We’re not asking for a lot out of any of our young players this year (besides Maurkice Pouncey who more or less has solidified himself as the starting center).

CC: Final thoughts?

TSN: In our opinion, there are seven roster spots up for grabs in this game, with 13 players “on the bubble,” in order of importance:

1. Running Back – Isaac Redman v. Frank Summers v. Jonathan Dwyer:
In our opinion, Redman has earned his place on the team. They even used him at fullback a few times last game, showing that they are exploring the option of letting Frank the Tank go. Personally, we feel like Tank needs a year on the practice squad. He made the roster last year and only appeared in one game. Dwyer is going to have to show something on special teams to show he belongs on the team and not on the practice squad.
2. Linebacker – Stevenson Sylvester (ILB) v. Thaddeus Gibson (OLB) v. Patrick Bailey (OLB):
As we said before, this is going to come down to who can make the plays on special teams and show that they deserve to be on the roster. Sylvester is a good athlete that is always around the ball, but his height gives him a high pad level that he might need some more time to work on getting lower.
3. Offensive Line – Tony Hills (T) v. Justin Hartwig (C) v. Kraig Urbik (G):
Hills has had easily his best camp to date and looks better at Right Tackle, maybe than anyone. Urbik was a Third-Round pick last year and it would be a shame to lose someone that young because of roster numbers. Hartwig is an aged veteran who probably has seen the writing on the wall. Pouncey has supplanted him at center, and the Steelers seem set on center-guard combo Doug Legursky as the No. 1 backup at center. Ramon Foster is solidly on the lineup as the No. 1 backup tackle and backup LG, where he filled in for Chris Kemoeatu last year.
4. Secondary – Crezdon Butler v. Anthony Madison:
Madison, a special teams ace, was cut from the team last year. Only after the special teams units took a nosedive did the Steelers bring him back, and voila, improvement! Madison has looked okay on defense this year, but Crezdon Butler’s combination of youth, speed, and ball sense (he made a great interception of Tebow last week that he almost took to the house) might make the Steelers opt to keep him on the roster as the No. 6 corner rather than Madison. Once again, Butler will have to show something on special teams if he wants to make the roster.
5. Defensive Line – Sonny Harris & Doug Worthington v. waivers:
Our defensive line is old. Starters Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, and Brett Keisel are all over 30, along with No. 2 backup defensive end Nick Eason and backup nose tackle Chris Hoke. Last year’s first round pick Ziggy Hood became the No. 1 backup this year, and will be a huge boost to the rotation. Pittsburgh drafted Sonny Harris in a late round last year and Doug Worthington in a late round this year to add youth to the unit. However, we don’t think the roster numbers are going to work out for either of them to stay on the team. Harris was picked up on waivers last year by Carolina, but came back to join the Steelers after Aaron Smith was injured. Obviously, there is interest in him out there and the Steelers might have to put him on the roster to keep him with the organization — but is there space for him?
Other guys who might end up on the outside looking in: Charlie Batch (QB), Arnaz Battle (WR):
For Batch, we know what he brings to the table, but the Steelers may opt to only keep two QBs. Battle has looked good in camp, but for the Steelers to keep six WRs on their roster would be a stretch.
In conclusion, there are a lot of roster battles that we’ll be watching. Obviously, they’re all for backup spots, but after giving up six return touchdowns last season, we’ll be watching the punts and kickoffs with great intensity, maybe sometimes more-so than the offense or defense. Finally, we’d like to thank Eric for the opportunity to drop by his blog and share some knowledge about the Steelers with you. Hopefully we’ll be able to come back and work together again in December right before the holidays when our teams face off again (hopefully with both teams fighting for division titles and playoff berths)!
When: Thursday; September 2, 2010
Where: Heinz Field; Pittsburgh, PA
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Follow Cat Crave on Twitter @THECatCrave.

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Tags: Anthony Madison Antonio Brown Arnaz Battle Ben Roethlisberger Byron Leftwich Carolina Panthers Charlie Batch Crezdon Butler Dennis Dixon Doug Worthington Frank Summers Heinz Field Isaac Redman Jason Worlids Jonathan Dwyer Justin Hartwig Kraig Urbik Mike Tomlin NFL Patrick Bailey Pittsburgh Steelers Preseason Rooney Family Sonny Harris Stevenson Sylvester Thaddeua Gibson Thaddeus Gibson The Steelers N'at Tony Hills Troy Polamalu Week 4

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