Rallying Packers Spoil Tomlin’s Home Debut
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|Sunday, August 12, 2007
By Eddie Griffin
Steelers Fever Columnist
After getting out to a 9-0 lead in the second quarter, it looked like the Steelers were well on their way to winning their preseason home opener and remaining undefeated in the preseason. But, it was not to be, as the Packers’ backups rallied for a 13-9 win at Heinz Field last night.
Ben Roethlisberger played only the first two drives of the game before giving way to Charlie Batch. The first didn’t end well, as Packers DT Craig Jenkins forced and recovered a Roethlisberger fumble inside the Green Bay 40, after a short punt had gifted the Steelers great field position. Big Ben completed both of his passes for 14 yards during his short stint. Even though he had his foot stepped on during practice on Thursday, he was expected to play very little, as he did in the Hall of Fame game against New Orleans, when he played just one series.
After a three-and-out on Batch’s first drive in the game, two big plays helped Pittsburgh open the scoring late in the first quarter. Najeh Davenport rumbled into Green Bay territory with his best run of the night, a 21-yarder from the 45 to the Packers’ 34. Three plays later, following a sack by Jenkins, Batch hooked up with Walter Young on a 41-yard touchdown to put the home team on top. But, Jeff Reed’s extra point was blocked, and it was only a 6-0 lead after one quarter.
The Steelers added to their lead early in the second quarter, as Reed kicked a 27-yard field goal to make it 9-0 with just over twelve minutes left in the half. The big play on that drive was a 49-yard pass from Batch to Santonio Holmes that put the ball inside the 15.
The Steelers did a great job of shutting the Packers down in their first seven drives of the half, but the comeback began in the last one, which started with less than two minutes to go in the half. Starting from the 11, the Packers drove 75 yards in 12 plays, highlighted by backup Aaron Rodgers’ five completions. Dave Raynor kicked a 33-yard field goal as time expired to make it 9-3 at the half. It would’ve been closer, as it looked like Rodgers had connected with Russell Martin on a 15-yard TD with ten seconds left, but it was brought back by a penalty.
It didn’t take long for the Packers to complete the comeback and take the lead. On their first drive of the second half, they drove 71 yards in eight plays, culminated by Rodgers’ three-yard TD pass to Carlyle Holiday to make it 10-9. The Packers tacked on to their lead later in the quarter with a 52-yard field goal by rookie Mason Crosby. That would turn out to be the last scoring of the game, as the Steelers drove into Green Bay territory twice in the final quarter but came up empty both times.
It was a pretty even game statistically. The Steelers outgained the Packers 309-306 in total yards, and held a minute and a half edge in time of possession. But, ultimately, it was the defense that won it for the Packers.
Rookie RB Gary Russell had another solid game. After running for 41 yards on eight carries against New Orleans, Russell was the team’s leading rusher against the Packers, running for 56 yards on nine carries. With consecutive impressive performances, the rookie free agent out of Minnesota is really helping his case in a bid for a roster spot.
As a whole, the running game did well again. After rushing for 173 yards as a team in the Hall of Fame game win vs. the Saints, the Steelers ran for 132 yards against the Packers on only 28 attempts, for a 4.7 yard average.
Rookie punter Daniel Sepulveda bounced back from a so-so debut and had an absolutely stellar night. Sepulveda showed off his strong leg, with four of his five punts going for 47 yards or more, including a long of 59. Three of the five kicks pinned Green Bay inside their 20, and another put the Packers at their 21. It’s safe to say the two-time Ray Guy award winner from Baylor went a long way in his attempt to wrap up the starting punter job, and showed off why the Steelers used a fourth-round pick to draft him.
The offense flashed its big-play potential for the second week in a row. Last week, Cedric Wilson and Santonio Holmes both caught long bombs. This week, Holmes caught a 49-yarder, and Walter Young caught the 41-yard touchdown from Batch. Speaking of Holmes, he had the edge this week against Cedric Wilson, who he is competing with for the starting split end job. He only had the one catch, but Wilson went without a catch, after his four-catch, 99-yard outing against the Saints.
While the running game had another solid game, the passing game was down. After putting up good numbers last week (8-14, 129 yards, one TD), Brian St. Pierre was only 10 of 23 for 99 last night.
It certainly didn’t help that, for all the good it did for the run game, the offensive line had its struggles in pass protection. The O-line gave up five sacks, taking the total to eight in two games. No one wants to see the quarterbacks taking too many hits in the preseason, even if the backups are getting most of the reps. I know there are some injury problems and position battles to deal with when it comes to the line, but you have to hope that the protection fares much better when the games really matter.
The defensive rotation did an excellent job for the most part in shutting Green Bay down – with the exception of the three consecutive scoring drives spanning the second and third quarters. In their first five drives, the Packers had five straight three-and-outs and managed only eight yards, and were held under 25 yards in nine of their 13 possessions. But, their three scoring drives went for 75, 71, and 57 yards, accounted for 203 of their 306 total yards.
Unfortunately, the Steelers’ offense suffered from the same futility the Packers’ did, as they were held under 25 yards on nine of their 13 drives. And, the Steelers were in Green Bay territory three times and failed to score. In a 13-9 game, that makes a huge, huge difference.
The Steelers go on the road for their next preseason game, as they will travel to Washington for a game against the Redskins next Saturday night (8 p.m. EST).
We’ll see if the Steelers can bounce back from last night’s defeat and continue to build towards their regular season opener at Cleveland, which is now less than a month away. There’s still a lot of improvement to be made, and a lot still to be decided, but each preseason game is a step towards doing all of that and setting up the Steelers for yet another run at the playoffs in the first season of the Mike Tomlin era.