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Packers vs. Steelers: 5 Takeaways from Pittsburgh’s 24-19 Preseason Win

The Pittsburgh Steelers don’t have to worry about a winless preseason.

But they do have to worry about Maurkice Pouncey.

The Steelers’ All-Pro center was injured in the first quarter of Sunday’s 24-19 victory over the Green Bay Packers at Heinz Field.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pouncey broke a bone in his ankle and will have surgery today. He could go on the injured reserve/designated to return list, which means he’d be out for at least the first six weeks of the season.

It’s already been a costly preseason for the Steelers, who lost kicker Shaun Suisham for the season with a torn ACL in the NFL Hall of Fame Game.

Without a definitive diagnosis, it’s too early to analyze Pouncey’s injury and its impact on the Steelers. We’ll know more in the coming days.

Based on what we do know from Sunday’s game, here are five takeaways.

Players will get hurt no matter how teams prepare for the season

Sunday’s game, in which Steelers defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt, backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski (non-throwing finger) and Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson also were injured, is prime evidence supporting the argument against preseason games.

Reducing the preseason from four games to two makes sense, but scrapping the preseason altogether won’t prevent teams from losing starters before the games count. Players get hurt in practice, too. Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and Miami Dolphins safety Louis Delmas went down for the season in the same joint practice.

The Packers might have come out of the game worse off than the Steelers. Nelson could have a torn ACL, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Media via Pro Football Talk. That would be the equivalent of the Steelers losing Antonio Brown. Whether it’s in practice or a game, players have to get ready for the season somehow. Any kind of football activity comes with an injury risk.

The defense showed promise

Stephon Tuitt’s ankle injury doesn’t appear nearly as bad as Pouncey’s and he might only be out a couple of weeks, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said in his press conference.

Tuitt and the rest of the Steelers defensive linemen aren’t exactly penetrating the backfield the way new defensive coordinator Keith Butler envisioned.

It took the Packers 10 plays to move 80 yards and score on the game’s opening drive. Eddie Lacy ran for a seven-yard touchdown and James Starks ran for the two-point conversion with troubling ease. They were barely touched.

The defense redeemed itself on the Packers’ next possession. Green Bay was backed up to its own 1. Rookie linebacker Bud Dupree tackled John Kuhn for no gain. Cortez Allen’s coverage forced an underthrown pass to Davante Adams and then James Harrison sacked Aaron Rodgers for a safety.

Also sacking quarterbacks were Jarvis Jones, Shamarko Thomas, Dupree, Ian Wild and L.J. Fort, who was waived by the Bengals in April.

After getting burned repeatedly by Nelson on the first series, Antwon Blake rebounded to lead the Steelers with six tackles. He also broke up a pass. Thomas added five tackles and looked a little bit more like a legitimate starting safety. Rookie cornerback Doran Grant also broke up a pass. Grant carries the cornerback torch for the Steelers’ 2015 draft class with shoulder surgery likely sidelining Senquez Golson for the year.

Le’Veon Bell looks like he’s 100 percent

Le’Veon Bell’s stat line was nothing special. He ran the ball six times for 16 yards. But he wasn’t easy to bring down and showed athleticism in fighting for every yard. He looks like he’s fully recovered from the knee injury that kept him out of the wild-card playoff loss to the Ravens.

After the rash of injuries Sunday, the Steelers will have to hold their breath Saturday at Buffalo. It’s the next-to-last preseason game, the one in which the starters play the longest. The Steelers already are bracing for two regular-season games without Bell, but they need him to be healthy for Week 3.

Landry Jones is learning

There were some rough spots, but Landry Jones took a step forward Sunday.

Jones completed 10 of 19 passes for 172 yards with two touchdowns, both in the fourth quarter, and an interception.

His passer rating has climbed from 44.8 in the first preseason game to 70.9 in Jacksonville to a career-high 96.8 Sunday. Of course that’s a career preseason high because Jones hasn’t suited up for a regular-season game.

Jones stood up to pressure and even completed a shovel pass on a broken play. He completed six of his last seven passes, throwing a 22-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Murphy to pull the Steelers within 19-18 with 10:18 left and a 20-yard TD pass to Shakim Phillips with 4:32 left to provide the winning margin.

Jones’ roster spot seems secure because the Steelers released Tajh Boyd. Jones made some bad throws Sunday, but there also were a few drops. There’s still hope that Jones could turn out to be a serviceable backup to Ben Roethlisberger. He’s fortunate he wasn’t thrust into a situation where he had to start right away. He’s been a slow learner, but his mistakes haven’t hurt the Steelers.

Don’t forget about Heath Miller and Markus Wheaton

Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are the stars of what could be an offensive juggernaut and Martavis Bryant is expected to make a meteoric rise in his second season.

It was Heath Miller and Markus Wheaton, however, who fueled the Steelers’ first touchdown drive Sunday. Miller caught an 11-yard pass from Roethlisberger and on the next play Wheaton hauled in a five-yard pass for the touchdown and a 9-8 lead.

Miller caught 66 passes last season and Wheaton quietly caught 53 in his second year. The Steelers will need their reliable hands over the middle to keep defenses from double-teaming Brown and Bryant.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets

 

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