Random Thoughts: Steelers-Broncos Preseason Game (It’s All Yours, Byron!)

Scribblings from a game that finally settled the age-old question: Jesus loves Crezdon more than Tebow…

Alright, let’s get right to it:

* Rashard Mendenhall not only looked great for a one-armed running back, he looked like a legit NFL starter and fantasy sleeper. Asinine Mark Madden rumors aside, it’s easy to forget that there were some positives to take from a mostly forgettable Sunday night effort. And Mendenhall’s five-carry, 28-yard performance may not have been spectacular, but it was steady. And this team is going to need a whole lot of steady in Ben Roethlisberger’s absence.

* When Santonio was shipped to New York and Mike Wallace moved into the job, the biggest question was whether he could be anything more than a straight-line deep threat. Ben’s first completion hit Wallace on a slant and he weaved in and out of traffic, made a couple guys miss, and ended up with a 47-yard gain, almost all of it after the catch. Question answered.

* Hines finally caught a pass this preseason, which means that the Steelers don’t have to cut him now. It was the tried and true slip screen that went for four or five yards, one of the staples of the Hines Ward air attack. Truthfully, Ward looked slower than I remember, but like he says all the time: he never was fast, so it’s not like losing a step is a big hindrance to what he does well. I like to think of him as another tight end — a great blocker and a middle-of-the-field threat — and as long as he continues to do that, great.

* James Harrison. I should be able to leave it at that, but I’ll also offer this public service announcement: if you’re an NFL quarterback and your wideout fumbles, and Deebo has gobbled up the loose ball and is headed toward the end zone, and you think if given the chance, Deebo will run out of bounds instead of tread you into the turf … well, GET OUT OF THE WAY. Seriously. Act like you pulled a hammy, were shot — anything but try to tackle Deebo. Because Deebo will try to kill you. And Deebo will likely succeed. Because that’s how Deebo rolls.

* Isaac Redman had three carries for 11 yards, but he’s almost as important to the running game as Mewelde Moore, just for different reasons. Moore’s a solid third-down back who can block and catch. Redman is the first Steelers back in a long time who can line up as a fullback in the I-formation, take a handoff, and get tough yards. That doesn’t necessarily make him a short-yardage specialist, but if preseason’s any indication, he can certainly handle the role. Speaking of which…

* I can’t believe I’m about to write this because I’ve been killing the kid for most of the month, but after two horrific series, Jonathan Dwyer not only settled down, he looked like the guy that had a lot of people pegging him as a first-rounder this spring. Of course, it took a few one-yard runs, a negative play and a blown assignment before he got his head out of his ass. But there was the touchdown jaunt around the right side, and more impressive: the 11-yard/11-man carry late in the fourth quarter followed by a 40-yard gain. Is it enough to make the team? I’m guessing no, but, hell, word on the street is that the coaches loved Dwyer after OTAs, and I’m sure there’s some roster math that includes him on the final 53. Right now, I just don’t know what that is.

* As the Steelers broke training camp, Mike Tomlin said Juan Timmons had a fantastic few weeks in Latrobe. He’s played up to expectations against the Broncos. But as past season’s have proven, long-term success is as much about quality starters as it is about quality backups. Which brings me to Keyaron Fox. He was just a guy in Kansas City, a designation that had as much to do with the players around him as it did with his actual ability. But since coming to Pittsburgh, he’s been a special teams mainstay and a dependable inside linebacker behind Potsie and Juan. It just goes to show you how “just a guy” in one system can be a valuable asset in another. That obviously doesn’t hold for everybody (if it did, Alonzo Jackson would still be playing), and more than anything, speaks to the front office’s success at finding the right players.

* Dennis Dixon can take a hit. And Mork Florio was proven wrong. Those are the only two positives I can think of regarding Dixon’s performance against the Broncos.

* I love that Antonio Brown’s teammates now call him Rod Tidwell because all the premature celebrations from the first two weeks of preseason games. I also love that Brown continues to make plays on offense even though he can’t read or write, and consequently has no shot in hell of learning the playbook. It’s a heartwarming story, really.

* Other positives: the first-team pass protection wasn’t bad, Flozell Adams consecutive false start penalties aside. (Better get used to that, by the way — the competition committee actually contemplated renaming the penalty “The Flozell” because he made it so popular with the Cowboys.)

Big Ben. He’s going to be missed. We all know that. How Bruce Arians manages the offense in his absence will determine whether the Steelers are playing for draft position or the playoffs when Ben returns in October. Also: just a heads-up, but Joe Buck and Troy Aikman brought home the point countless times Sunday: here are the 2010 Steelers storylines to start the season: BIG BEN BIG BEN BIG BEN BIG BEN. And here are the 2010 Steelers storylines when Ben returns: IS BIG BEN RUSTY? IS BIG BEN RUSTY? IS BIG BEN RUSTY? IS BIG BEN RUSTY?

William Gay. Remember last week when I said the Steelers should cut Gay if it meant keeping Crezdon Butler? Yeah, ignore me. Replace Gay with Keenan Lewis. I’m kidding about Lewis, and even though I suggested it, Gay ain’t getting cut either. But that doesn’t change the fact that Lewis looked a lot like DeWayne Washington against the Broncos. Getting turned around on several plays, giving 10-yard cushions on third-and-short — all hauntingly familiar. One thing worth keeping in mind, and I’m speaking as much to myself as I am to you: it’s unfair to speak in absolutes about the young guys. It’s one thing to lambaste Gay after what he subjected us to last season. I get that. But it’s wholly different to decree that Lewis is a bust and should have “Chad Scott” emblazoned in red across his jersey as punishment. Tomlin praised Lewis in Latrobe and the Denver game was a test. Lewis failed, obviously, but hopefully it’ll pay dividends down the road.

Chaz Batch right up till the moment Manny Sanders ran the wrong route or Batch made a Maddux-ian throw. If there’s a silver lining it’s this: the “CHAZ BATCH SHOULD BE THE WEEK 1 STARTER!” contingent disbanded before the first formal meeting. So there’s that.

Last but not least: TYLER GRISHAM. Jokes aside, a fantastic haul of a Dixon pass on third and long. Grisham came up short of the sticks, but a spiffy catch nonetheless. Next stop: practice squad.

I could go on for days pointing out all that went wrong against the Broncos, but it’s a long season and we’re not even to Week 1 yet. So I’ll skim the lowlights. You’re welcome.

* Last week, ROBO-PUNTER’s first kickoff was called back because of a penalty. This week ROBO-PUNTER doinks his ROBO-KICKOFF out of bounds. Skippy is unimpressed.

* For as good as Antonio Brown is at wideout, he struggled at punt returner. If somebody can explain this phenomenon to me I’m all ears: why do so many players insist on fielding the ball inside their 10-yard line? And “Well, it’s a rookie mistake” doesn’t work since it requires no mental reasoning or physical skill other than “get the hell out of the way” to not field a punt inside the 10. With that in mind, I agree with Eddie B. and Dulac: cut Brown. Cut him now.

* There was much gnashing of teeth among Steelers faithful about the quarterback position  after the Lions game. Those concerns were mitigated last week when Ben, Byron and Dennis all showed well. In Denver, Ben looked like Ben, but Dennis and Byron seemed to be caught up in a high-stakes “I see your crappy series and I raise you” game of QB chicken. It was hard to declare a winner (or loser, depending on your perspective), but I think it settles the question of who will be the starter against the Falcons.

The thing is — and despite what Aikman kept saying — I was under the impression that Leftwich had the gig. The only reason Dixon got first-team snaps was because a) he hadn’t worked with the unit all preseason, b) he had earned it based on his play in the previous two games, and c) the offense will feature him as a “change of pace” during Ben’s absence.

One potentially huge problem with Dixon under center: if he loses his confidence and struggles to complete short and intermediate passes, it’s a death knell for the running game. In general, I think the Steelers will be an effective running team. But if the defense knows that Dixon has a Tebow’s chance in hell of completing an eight-yard out, they’re stacking the line of scrimmage. In which case, ROBO-PUNTER better have his leg warmed up because he’s going to be busy.

* Filed under: “Things That I Say I Never Want to See Again Every Freaking Time I See Them.” And, yes, that would be Bruce Arians’ 4th-and-1 playcall that ended with Dixon’s pulling himself off the turf six yards behind the line of scrimmage. God forbid Pittsburgh run the ball with, say, Isaac Redman.

* Alright, let’s end things on a positive not:

1. Brady Quinn still sucks.

2. Tweet of the night.

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  • RoB D

    ON that Arians call you mention..the quick handoff to the back would have yielded a first down rather easily to my eyes. And for a moment, I thought that was who got the ball and I told the wife “See? Arians CAN learn!” LOL…then cruel reality hit me between the eyes. Ai yi yi..

    Your rundown is so thorough I don’t have much to add. Except this team is going to struggle early. A lot of new faces as I think we will see a lot of draft picks make the roster. The 2nd and 3rd string D really sucked. I want Crezdon to make the team but I don’t think he’s done enough unfortunately. EVery year I latch onto a new kid and hope he can come through. I just like Butler cause he plays hard..and seems to be able to catch the ball which is a skill our entire secondary seems to lack (apart from the oft injured Polamalu) Keenan.= DeWayne? That is cold, Ryan. :0 He joined a bunch of other Steelers in the PF derby they had tonight as well as getting turned around.

    I think that John Lynch said that Tomlin offered him a job this offseason. Good move if true. Lynch is a very smart guy and he was always a bit of a hitter..wink…understatement of the year. I guess he finds that raising 4 kids is a bit of a challenge.

    No. 10 showed me a lot this preaseason. He’s really come along but he”s not ready for a starting role. I guess we hope the O-line coalesces quickly and we provide a pocket for the immobile Leftwich to operate in. Pouncy is an amazing talent and perhaps solidifying the interior of the line with a center of his caliber will make everyone better. It’s just got to happen fast as we will need the run game badly to control the clock. Apart from Dwyer’s monster run carrying 11 guys and his burst for 30+ yds and the TD, the running game was pedestrian and at times non existent. Not sure what to think except I hope Dwyer makes the PS. He produced when he was under massive pressure to do something and that’s a sign of desire if nothing else. Alas, He’s probably toast.

    Do we want to talk about Robo and his pathetic night? I was one of his biggest fans but he’s been a real disappointment considering the hopes we all had for him. He’s just a guy. Watching the Broncs kicker effortlessly reach the end zone a few times makes you realize how badly we suck at it. Skippy is so clutch on figgies he’s safe. But if he ever falters I think he’s be out of town so fast it’ll make his head spin and hit a towel dispenser.

    News flash. We still suck at ST’s. Bobby April would have been nice. The ST’s coach we have seems like a nice guy. I think you need a maniac as a ST”s coach so count me unimpressed.

    It’s only preseason. I should save my angst for the real thing but I am getting antsy. 4 preseason games is ridiculous cause it’s a total tease.

  • SteelerBill

    I’m going to chalk the call on 4th and 1 call up to a ‘chance to see what Dixon could do’ versus a typical ‘Arians’ call. I didn’t see a lot of FB last night after seeing it a lot in prior weeks so I wonder…..Again it’s the pre-season and I’m sure the coaches were still placing men in situations to see how they reacted…Some, not so well….

    And yes, forgotten in all this were the nice runs by Mendy

  • http://www.steelerslounge.com/ ryan

    I just tweeted this but it bears repeating: so Keenan Lewis punched a glass sign after the game last night causing Tomlin to single him out even more. Lewis later said he meant to hit the wall, not the sign. YOU MISSED A WALL? That’s not helping your case. Please quit talking.

  • TO

    I’m not sure why they are putting BL out there with the second team line. That’s a death wish.

    The left side of the starting OL is a laugher. Essex wouldn’t be second string on a bunch of teams in this league. Adams is boderline servicable, at the very best.

    Troy looks to be operating at about 85% of top form…maybe it’s just pre-season, but maybe not. He has a great sense for the ball, so he is always near it, but he doesn’t look the same.

    The know-nothings at the Post Gazette are always good for a laugh. Of course Brown will be cut. They love to slam rookies (and Timmons) for not living up to their hype – this year its been mainly focused on Dwyer – even though he was a 6th round pick…what exactly do you expect?? Yet they never say a word about aging relics like Farrior getting trampled and abused.

    With all of this stated, my biggest concern for this team is coaching. S/T are still a mess. Oline, even with the addition of MP will likely be worse than last year – which I suppose is only partially coaching. I have limited faith in Tomlin and Arians to make smart decisions, and Dick L’s best days are behind him.