Big Ben tough on himself in limited action for Steelers
By Will Graves
The Associated Press
PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger believes his right arm feels as good as it has at any point in his 15-year career. Maybe too good.
While the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback threw for 114 yards and a touchdown in his brief preseason cameo during a 16-6 victory over Tennessee on Saturday, the 36-year-old admits it’s the throws he didn’t make that will stick with him as the defending AFC North champions get ready for the Sept. 9 season opener at Cleveland.
“I wasn’t real happy with the way I threw the ball tonight,” said Roethlisberger, who completed 11 of 18 passes in three series. “I was kind of sailing some passes.”
Blame it on a combination of rust and the adrenaline rush that comes when facing an opposing pass rush for the first time in eight months.
Still, there was plenty to like from Roethlisberger and the starting offense even without star wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell, including a 32-yard rainbow from Roethlisberger to Justin Hunter in the first quarter for Pittsburgh’s lone touchdown.
“I wanted to leave one in play for him and I’m glad he made the play,” Roethlisberger said.
New offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner allowed Roethlisberger to do a little bit of everything. They dabbled in no-huddle, earned at least two first downs on all three drives and Roethlisberger managed to spread the ball around even as he tried to get a handle on his accuracy.
“A lot of guys caught passes and guys made plays,” Roethlisberger said. “So when you don’t have those big names out there, I like it because it showed to everybody that we can do it.”
Off the mark
Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota’s hot start to the preseason — he’d led the Titans to touchdowns on two of the three drives he worked coming in — came to an abrupt halt against a defense that led the NFL in sacks last season.
Mariota completed just 5 of 8 passes for 43 yards while playing most of the first half. He missed a wide-open Corey Davis for what would have been a long touchdown on Tennessee’s opening drive and his afternoon ended late in the second quarter when Steelers rookie safety Terrell Edmunds picked off a floater intended for Taywan Taylor.
“Should’ve made that throw on third down, give Corey a chance to score,” Mariota said. “They busted the coverage. We should’ve made the most of that one.”
Davis took the blame for the incompletion, calling it a “miscommunication.” Either way it was as close as Tennessee’s first-string offense came to a big play. Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis combined for 23 yards rushing on eight carries. Tennessee’s lone touchdown came on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Blaine Gabbert to tight end Anthony Firkser in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve shown flashes of stuff we can do, we show flashes of potential, but potential means nothing,” Mariota said. “You’ve got to go out there and continue to get better and looking at this game, this past game, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”
BACKING UP BELL
While Bell remains away from the team while waiting to sign his franchise tender, James Conner and rookie Jaylen Samuels impressed against the Titans. Conner ran 10 times for just 18 yards but also caught six passes for 52 yards, a portion of his game that has not been a strong suit.
Samuels, a fifth-round pick trying to earn a roster spot, was a workhorse in the second half. He ran 11 times for 41 yards and caught four passes for another 36.
“I’m not even happy,” Samuels said. “I’m not satisfied yet. I had a good game but there’s still work to do, still improvement to do.”
The Steelers signed inside linebacker Vince Williams to a new four-year deal on Thursday just hours after inking Pro Bowl kicker Chris Boswell to a new five-year contract. Both showed why they’re worth the money. Williams took down Mariota in the second quarter for the first of Pittsburgh’s six sacks while Boswell converted all three of his field-goal attempts.
There were no outward signs of protest during the national anthem.
The Steelers remain in search of a punt returner. Pittsburgh gave second-year safety Cam Sutton a shot in the first half. He ended up fumbling on his first return (though it was recovered by teammate Rosie Nix) and making a fair catch on another. Rookie wide receiver Quadree Henderson, an All-American as a return specialist at Pitt, returned two punts for 14 yards.
Landry Jones appears set as the primary backup behind Roethlisberger. He completed 6 of 9 passes for 44 yards and a pick. Rookie Mason Rudolph hit on 7 of 11 passes for 65 yards. Second-year quarterback Josh Dobbs did not play.
Titans rookie linebacker Harold Landry, in the midst of an impressive first camp after being taken in the second round of the draft, left with an ankle injury in the first half and did not return. Tennessee remains without Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker, who is out after getting hurt during a joint practice with Tampa Bay. Linebacker Brian Orakpo (shoulder) missed his third straight game.
Pittsburgh rookie wide receiver James Washington left in the second half with an abdominal injury. Wide receiver Marcus Tucker went down with an ankle issue and tight end Jesse James has a contusion on his back.
Titans: Finish up the preseason when they host Minnesota on Thursday.
Steelers: Play their annual exhibition finale against Carolina on Thursday when the Panthers visit Heinz Field.