I think Eli Manning and his ginormous head are safe. Rhett Bomar started for the Giants in their preseason game against the Steelers, and even though he was serviceable at times, I’m not sure what we can say about Pittsburgh’s first-team defense.
On the upside: they more than held their own against a practice squad QB. And maybe Ike Taylor, in an effort to even things up, started throwing punches 90 seconds into the game and was promptly thrown out. (By the way, how awesome was it that Ike’s hands are so bad that he couldn’t even hit Hakeem Nicks in the head. I’m almost positive that Taylor connected with Nicks’ chin, completely missing his noggin with a couple haymakers.)
Dumb fights aside, there was still plenty to like from the Steelers. Here are some random thoughts to prove it:
* ROBO-PUNTER was on kickoff duty for the first half, and while his kicks didn’t travel any farther than a typical Skippy effort, there were some positives to having Sepulveda out there:
1) This is completely anecdotal, but the hang time on Sepulveda’s kicks appeared to give the coverage team time to get down the field. Which is funny when you consider he’s often accused of out-punting his coverage.
2) He didn’t get a chance to make a tackle during a kickoff return, but ROBO-PUNTER was the only reason Aaron Ross didn’t score on a 2nd quarter punt return. Sepulveda fought off a blocker and made a form tackle near midfield after a 54-yard boot. Pretty sure Skippy ain’t doing that.
(Also worth mentioning: I guess Reed was on Pittsburgh radio last week explaining that the Steelers’ special teams didn’t suck last year because of his short kickoffs, they sucked because nobody could tackle. Ed Bouchette called Reed’s comments “out of line,” but I’ll be honest: I’m with Skippy.
The short kickoffs didn’t help, but the tackle-optional approach to special teams doomed last year’s team before the ball was even in the air.)
* Big Ben made his triumphant return to meaningless football and aside from one wobbly interception/punt intended for Mike Wallace, he looked like the same guy who had a career year in 2009. And maybe that’s what we should focus on — the fact that after such a long layoff, and a tumultuous offseason, Ben didn’t look rusty. And if anything, he looked sharper than anybody else on the field.
This is good news for Flozell Adams. Assuming he makes the team (I’m guessing it’s a done deal although Eddie B. wondered if a bad showing against the Giants might seal Flozell’s fate), and doesn’t get Byron or Dennis killed during the first month of the season, Ben’s ability to absorb and avoid hits while still making the improbable play routine means that deficiencies along the o-line are mitigated. This shouldn’t be news to anybody who’s half-paid attention to the Steelers the last few seasons.
* I’m still intrigued by what Dennis Dixon brings to the offense, but I’m coming around to the realization that Byron’s the guy for September. Partly because of what Wex has been saying recently — basically, Leftwich commands respect from his teammates and Dixon, well, doesn’t — but also because he will stand in the pocket, take his licks, but keep his head downfield and make some plays. The Giants game was a perfect example (in fact, I scribbled this after the 68-yard TD bomb to Wallace: “Dear Richard Grieco, No. 17 there? that’s Mike Wallace. Whatever you do, KEEP HIM IN FRONT OF YOU.”), but the flip side is that Leftwich takes a beating, the beatings lead to turnovers, and the whole plan blows up in Tomlin’s and Arians’ faces.
One way to counter that — and I suggested this after the Lions game — is to have Leftwich take, say, 75 percent of the snaps, and give Dixon 25 percent. Dennis has shown he can run, and he appears more confident in throwing the ball down the field. Maybe he’s not ready to start, but I think it’s clear that he’s ready to contribute. Might as well use him.
* Also ready to contribute? Isaac Redman. Two things I noticed about Redman’s presence on the field:
1) In terms of body type, he’s a slightly smaller version of James Harrison. If Deebo was a running back, this is what it would look like. This is a good thing.
2) Redman’s a Flozell neutralizer. The first time Redman touched the ball, he was lined up as a fullback, took a quick handoff, and rumbled for eight yards or so. There wasn’t time for Flozell to whiff on his block. I think there’s a lesson to be learned here.
* Things I hope to never see again: an Antwaan Randle El reverse. Look, if Antwaan’s in motion, or looks like he’s running an end-around, guess what? He’s getting the ball. This isn’t novel, Bruce. Everybody knows it’s coming. Please stop. Thanks.
* We can take some positives out of the final drive of the first half, starting with Joe Burnett’s hands actually working well enough to make a pick on a tipped pass. (Two things: where the hell was that against the Raiders last year? And: I can’t get too jazzed about that play because I distinctly remember William Gay having a couple preseason interception in 2007. We all know how that movie ends.) But I have no idea why anybody would think to throw a fade pattern to Randle El, or why the goal-line rushing game should consist of Mewelde Moore standing in the backfield by himself and expecting him to do anything other than lose yardage as the clock ran out.
I understand the sentiment — establishing the run, being men, and all that crap — but how about we get Frank the Tank and Redman in there? Or better yet: Legursky and Redman?
That aside, the running game was clicking for most of the night, which means that Jonathan Dwyer’s tenure in Pittsburgh will be over in three weeks if not sooner. Too bad the regular season doesn’t start in May.
* Finally: I love Manny Sanders and Antonio Brown (although I could do without all of Browns’ Holmes-esque first-down gesticulating, especially when he’s four yards short of the sticks). And even Randle El impressed me with a couple catches. And while I miss Holmes, I have to keep reminding myself that this team won the Super Bowl with Hines playing opposite Cedrick Wilson. It could be a lot worse.