Finally, the NFL preseason is over and we can get ready for the Denver Broncos. First things first though, the Carolina Panthers came into Heinz Field on Thursday night to finish things off for this part of the 2012 campaign.
Ben Roethlisberger did not play at all, neither did Maurkice Pouncey, Ryan Clark, Troy Polamalu, Isaac Redman, Ike Taylor, Antonio Brown, and others. It was a night for Charlie Batch to shine, as Tomlin said he would “play a bunch” in this game. Batch played the entire first half and if you didn’t know that he is 37 years old, you’d never be able to tell after watching him. On the first series to open the game Batch got popped in a helmet to helmet hit, gaining 15 yds and a first down on the personal foul against Carolina. After that Batch went to work on a 5 play, 80 yd drive that culminated in a 37 yd TD pass to Emmanuel Sanders. Batch put the ball right where it needed to be and Sanders was able come up with a beautiful catch in traffic to put the Steelers up 7-0 early on.
Batch finished up the night with a 120.8 QB rating, and stats of 11/14 102 yds and the TD. Sure it’s preseason so you can rationalize that any way you like but the fact is that Batch is reliable on the field, knows the offense and when called upon he’ll get the job done. Final roster cuts will come on Friday to get to 53, and depending on how things shake out, perhaps we have seen the last of Charlie Batch in a Steeler uniform. If that is indeed how it works out, you have to feel that Charlie will be in Pittsburgh and available should they need him later in the year if injuries hit any of the QB’s. No matter what, Charlie showed that he is still capable of playing and if called upon this year, you can rest a little easier because even at 37, he’s not too old just yet.
Jonathan Dwyer started out the game and played the first half as the primary ball carrier. He finished with 13 carries for 63 yds, and a long of 18 yds. Dwyer has looked better than ever this preseason and showed again that he’s got not only power but quick feet and a nice burst in the open field. A stiff arm here, run over a player there, and finishing runs like it’s drawn up are exactly what he’s has given the Steelers so far. He’ll be the primary backup to Isaac Redman, but like Redman last season, Dwyer will get significant work still.
The game could have very well be 21-3 at the intermission if it weren’t for fouls called against the Steelers on two Chris Rainey punt returns for Touchdowns. The first was a 78 yd return called back on a penalty by Will Allen, the second was 90 yds, nullified by Ryan Mundy’s penalty. It doesn’t take away from the explosive play of Chris Rainey though, who figures to take over primary return duties for the Steelers this year. Mike Tomlin liked what he saw in Rainey, saying “it’s encouraging to see him make unblocked guys miss”.
Jerricho Cotchery also had 2 catches for 15 yds in the first half of action.
The second half saw Jerrod Johnson at Quarterback, who is fighting for a roster spot. The offense struggled in the 3rd quarter without many positive results but in the 4th quarter they were able to rally with Johnson at the helm. He finished off the game 7/10 78 yds and 1 TD to Wes Saunders late in the game to take the lead.
Johnson engineered a 10 play, 89 yd drive that was highlighted by passes of 31 and 29 yds, and key 3rd down conversions that kept the drive alive. The touchdown pass to Weslye Saunders was a “thread the needle” type of play, placed perfectly for Saunders as he was able to reach the ball across the plane of the endzone for the go ahead and ultimately winning score.
If Johnson is to make the team, it will be because Mike Tomlin decides to carry 3 QB’s, rather than 2 which is an option based on all the injuries and the players the team will have to carry to start the year.
The win came at a price though as rookie LB Sean Spence went down with a wicked left knee injury and is likely done for the year. Follow the link for more information on Spence and a picture of his knee getting caught in the Heinz Field grass. Also Curtis Brown and Robert Golden were injured in the contest as well.
We’ll have more breakdowns of this game coming up and a full roster run down on Friday when the final cuts are announced and our 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers regular season team is revealed.