Admit it Steelers Nation – the Steelers preseason offensive masterpiece vs. New Orleans was satisfying, even if the results don’t count. And so it should. The Steelers offense, both with Ben Roethlisberger and Landry Jones were in mid-season form.
Often times, preseason does provide fans with a lot of valuable insight into the direction a team is headed. Not that the insight is always pleasant as a previous post 5 Times When Steelers Preseason Troubles Signaled Regular Season Stumbles reminds.
- Yet there are times when preseason offers Steelers fans false flags.
The Steelers preseason history offers plenty of false flags, times when the action on the field in preseason failed completely to foreshadow what was to come in the regular season. Scroll down or click below for 5 Steelers preseason false flags.
Jarvis Jones recovers a fumble as Marshall McFadden looks on in the Steelers 2013 preseason. Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire, USA Today
1. 2000 – Plaxico Burress Plays Lights Out in Preseason Debut
Going into the 2000 NFL Draft, many if not most expected Bill Cowher and newly arrived Kevin Colbert to make Chad Pennington their first draft pick. The Steelers opted for Plaxico Burress instead, even though they’d taken Troy Edwards a year before.
In his preseason debut Burress played like a stud, as Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recounted:
Burress made a smashing NFL debut, leading Steelers receivers with four catches for 60 yards, all in the first half.
He jump-started the Steelers’ offense with three big plays on their second series, one a leaping catch over the back of a 6-foot cornerback. He also caught a looping, ally-oop like touchdown pass from Kent Graham just before halftime, as the Steelers crushed the Dallas Cowboys 38-10 at Texas Stadium.
Burress wasn’t the only receiver to impress. Malcolm Johnson, the Steelers 6th round pick from the 1999 NFL Draft, started opposite Burress. One writer, (perhaps Mike Prisuta) whose article is lost to digital oblivion went so far as to argue that Burress and Johnson were fighting to which would be the alpha-male of the Steelers wide receiving corps.
- There’s no doubt that both men played well, and the strong overall offensive performance gave hope after the dark days of 1998 and 1999.
However, Plaxico Burress most memorable rookie play was spiking the ball after making a catch, but before he’d been ruled down, which was an immediate turnover. Overall, Burres never aught more than 4 passes as a rookie, and his catch percentage was woeful 33.8%.
As for Malcolm Johnson? He didn’t even make the 2000 Steelers final roster team.
2. 2005 – Ben Roethlisberger Struggles Mightly in Preseason
If there was ever a quarterback who made an immediate impact as a rookie, that rookie was Ben Roethlisberger. But NFL history is littered with rookie one-year wonders (think Kendrell Bell).
And so it was that Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers first string offense failed to produce a touchdown in the first four preseason games. After it took Charlie Batch to rally the Steelers to victory in their final preseason game, Bill Cowher remarked: “I like this group of guys, but we’re no where near where we need to be.”
- Ben Roethlisberger’s 2005 preseason statistics seemed to vindicate Bill Cowher’s pessimism.
Over four games, Roethlisberger completed just 16 of 36 passes, for no touchdowns, two interceptions, and a passer rating of 32.8. Ron Cook of the Post-Gazette quipped that the Steelers starters looked more like a team set to go 1-15 instead of the previous year’s 15-1. Indeed, it seemed like an inglorious preview to a team with Super Bowl hopes….
- …That is, until the game started counting.
In the season opener, Ben Roethlisberger went 9-11 for 218 yards, throwing touchdowns to Antwaan Randle El and a rookie named Heath Miller. A week later he went 14 of 21 throwing a pair of TD’s to Hines Ward.
The Steelers victory in Super Bowl XL the next February proved that, if there was ever a exhibition effort that should have been written off with “Its only preseason” it was the Steelers 2005 preseason.
3. 2009 – Joystick Video Game Like Preseason Kick Return Statistics
For a defending Super Bowl Champion, the 2009 Steelers training camp and preseason would mid-wife future Steelers Nation house hold names like Isaac Redman, Ramon Foster and Doug Legursky (hey, Legursky started a Super Bowl so he counts).
- But perhaps none captivated the imagination of Steelers fans the way Stefan Logan did.
In his first preseason outing, Logan averaged 39 yards on four kick returns in a preseason loss to the Redskins. The next week in the Steelers shutout over the Bills, Logan returned four punts for 63 yards, including a 27 yarder. The following week Stefan Logan returned a punt 82 yards as the Steelers defeated the Panthers.
- It seems like the Steelers had their first legit return threat since Antwaan Randle El had departed following Super Bowl XL.
It would be both unfair incorrect to declare Stefan Logan return efforts in 2009 as a failure.
In 2009, Stefan Logan averaged 26.7 yards per kick return, and 9.3 yards per punt return. Stefan Logan had an 83 yard kick return in the ’09 Steelers ugly loss to Oakland, and he also managed returns of 56, 51, an 49 yards in other games.
But Stefan Logan neither took a kick return nor a punt return to the house, and he was never the type of weapon as a return man who could give the Steelers offense a jolt in a season where the team cried out for one. Mike Tomlin once chided Logan when he critiqued blocking of the Steelers return teams, and often times on deep punts Tomlin had deployed Mewelde Moore’s sure hands in favor of Logan.
4. 2013 – Jarvis Jones’s Stud-Like Presason Campaign
It might seem hard to believe now, but in 2013, Jarvis Jones was the toast of the Steelers preseason. Dick LeBeau declared that Jones “Had ‘it,’” after Jones preseason debut where he recovered a fumble. Jones forced another fumble with a heads up behind the line of scrimmage play in the Steelers second game vs. the Redskins. He recorded an interception in the Steelers third preseason game vs. the Chiefs. Then Behind the Steel Curtain editor declared, “Jarvis Jones is simply making plays.”
- The Jarvis Jones of preseason 2013 teased he might make Steelers Nation forget James Harrison.
Alas, that was not to be. Jones did get the opening day starting nod, but he would relinquish his starting role before midseason. The fact that Jones’ play turned heads in the Steelers win over New Orleans shows that Steelers fans are still wanting for Jones to realize his potential as a first round draft choice.
5. 2015 – Preseason Death of Steelers Defense Greatly Exaggerated
In the 2015 preseason the Pittsburgh Steelers did something they hadn’t done since Alonzo Jackson was a rookie – fielded a defense coordinated by someone other than Dick LeBeau. All eyes were on Keith Butler to see if the long-time understudy could reverse the downward trend of Steelers defense.
- The early returns disheartened even faithful scribes like Steelers Digest’s Bob Labriola.
During the 2015 preseason the Steelers defense gave up scores of 14, 23, and 24 points, before giving up an alarming 43 points to a no-name Buffalo Bills trio of quarterbacks, who completed 90% of their passes. Likewise, opposing teams yards-per-catch grew as the preseason wore on.
It’s true that the Steelers defense did show signs of getting more pressure on the quarterback, and eventual starters Mike Mitchell and Will Allen didn’t play much.
While no one would confuse the Steelers 2015 defense with the 2008 Steelers defense, the Blitzbrugh defenses of the ‘90’s, let alone the Steel Curtain of the 1970’s, Keith Butler did turn the unit around.
No one would have predicted that based on what they saw in preseason.