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Tim Benz: Can the Steelers defense be that bad? Real vs. hype from 2nd preseason game

September 5, 2018

As we did last Monday following the preseason-opening win in Philadelphia, it’s time to look at what was real and what was hype coming out of the preseason loss in Green Bay.

The defense is going to be worse than we thought: HYPE.

Oh, it might be, but we can’t tell that from what happened in Green Bay.

Sure, the defense was awful. It was responsible for 37 of the 51 points allowed. The tackling was poor, even though it was supposed to be a point of emphasis in training camp. The angles taken to set up tackles were just as bad. The only turnover created was a fumble recovery on special teams. The four Packers QBs had a collective passer rating of 121.6.

But we have to keep in mind the defense that took the field Thursday didn’t feature Cameron Heyward, Joe Haden, T.J. Watt, Mike Hilton or Sean Davis. Surely, they would’ve helped.

Now, if concerns exist over individual players or specific aspects of the unit, that I buy.

Through training camp and preseason, there is reason to believe the inside linebackers are every bit the worry we expected. The same can be said about outside linebacker depth. It appears Morgan Burnett has a long way to go before becoming the major upgrade at safety the Steelers wanted. Javon Hargrave might have regressed or at least plateaued.

But to assume the defense will be worse than last year based on a performance from half the starters is hyperbole.

It’s time to start elevating James Washington: REAL.

That should’ve happened a long time ago. Washington was no worse than the third-best receiver on this team the moment his name was announced on Day 2 of the NFL Draft.

Typically, an attitude of “don’t give him too much too fast” is great when it comes to wide receivers. You can look across the locker room and see what happens when wideouts get a big head.

But by all accounts, Washington is the anti-wide receiver in that context. He bucks the trend when it comes to a me-first persona. The Steelers drafted him in part because of his work ethic and determination.

Yet, for whatever reason, despite many highlights in Latrobe and Philadelphia, the Steelers coaches seem intent on making Washington earn his playing time the hard way. They appeared to be intentionally deflating his reps and his slot in position groupings.

By Ben Roethlisberger’s own admission during a WDVE radio interview, he hadn’t even thrown Washington a pass in drills after about a week’s worth of work.

That’s just silly.

It’s time to stop worrying about controlling the hype on Washington because this isn’t hype. And he doesn’t appear susceptible to that anyway. Let the kid play with the first team as the club’s third wide receiver.

James Conner is ready to take snaps from Le’Veon Bell: HYPE.

Don’t get me wrong. The Pitt product is far better than a year ago. And, who knows? Maybe if he had been injury free as a rookie, he could’ve shown more of what we saw Thursday night en route to 57 yards on five carries.

For now, though, he’s a healthy player running through tackles, past defenders, hitting daylight when it was there and even busting beyond facemask penalties.

However, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner has already said he’s not going to use 2018 as a training ground for ’19 when it comes to Conner or any other running back as a potential replacement for Bell after the season.

So expect Conner to merely relieve Bell on occasion and primarily be used in case of injury to the Steelers starting running back.

The Steelers offensive line depth isn’t so bad after all: REAL

Conner had some nice holes to run through even though Ramon Foster and Maurkice Pouncey didn’t start.

B.J. Finney played center, and Will Feiler was at left guard. And they did well. Chukwuma Okorafor was also good in the time he got at tackle.

The loss of Chris Hubbard and the injury to Foster made some Steelers observers panic at first about offensive line depth. Unless Mike Munchak leaves, the Steelers will always be able to maximize snaps out of their reserve offensive linemen.

Coty Sensabaugh’s lowering the helmet penalty will be the first of many to make us irate: REAL

If that hit was properly called according to what the league wants, this year is going to be a disaster.

As I said before the season, this helmet rule might have to be like the catch rule. It might need to get so incredibly bad that there is total outrage before making it better.

Well, we are off to a good start then.

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