Random Thoughts: Steelers-Giants Preseason Game

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.

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  • RoB D

    I share your qualms about Brown. He is clearly full of pee and vinegar and I recognize the WR as a species seems to require guys who would have been termed swashbucklers in another era but…He kinda needs to tone it down when he doesn’t get the 1st down and pretends he did. A little too much Plaxico there…I mean “Spike”….hee hee..Adams had one play where he basically got beat cleanly but seemed OK (to my tired eyes anyway, I await JJ’s determinations on the subject) for the most part. He needs some help on some plays and they gave it to him tonight on a few passing plays..was it Moore in to help with the blocking a few times? (forgive me, I couldn’t sit down and watch the whole game uninterrupted tonight)

    I hope Randle El is not a No. 3 receiver for us. I liked him in 2005 but I just don’t see how he helps us much at this stage of his career. He got flattened a few times on those “everyone in the free world knows he’s getting the ball” plays as Ryan points out.

    I really like Redman but that was true last year. He gets yardage. Tough yardage. And he makes people miss. I’m really impressed with him. I think perhaps..and I know this will be controversial..that he and not Mwelde with an empty backfield (grrrrrrr…) should be our short yardage back! Since he’s like..good at it. This is where Arians and his insistence on bone headed plays makes me want to throttle him. He wants to be the mad scientist who gets everyone involved and has the least likely player scoring the TD. Sometimes Its ok to go with the guy who specializes in short yardage, Bruce. IT’s really OK..(I like Arians BTW..I think he’s done a lot with some very serious lack of talent along a certain line etc…)

    I hated that catch by Steve Smith over McFadden. Too reminiscent of our secondary woes of last year. Polamalu missed a few tackles. So did Gay (rather pathetically on one of them I thought) But I liked a few plays by Keenan..

    Anyhoo..my totally random and damn near incoherent thoughts on a game I will try and watch all the way through tomorrow..

  • Anonymous

    I agree about Brown’s gesticulating. Showing excitement is great. A quick celebration in the spirit of comeraderie with your team (for example the popular chest bump and jump hug) are fine. Demonstrative self-aggrandizement is just embarassing. Yes, Brown, I saw that you made a first down (or didn’t). No, Santonio, that’s not a salt shaker, that’s a football. Yes, practically any player in the NFL, I see that you just made a positive play, there’s no need to run downfield another ten yards after the play with a puffed out chest – besides, don’t you have a huddle to get to?

    I’m not too happy with the way my team is behaving in general. Aside from those demonstrations, you have Ike Taylor getting into a fist fight. And you have Mike Wallace doing a completely needless front flip into the endzone. Way to risk separating your shoulder in a preseason game doing something that only serves to make you look like an ass.

    Jerry Rice had best end zone celebration in football.

  • Ted

    Good points, Ryan. Those rookie WRs catch everything in front of them and have much confidence, especially Brown. Flozell looked horrible, and probably would have given up two more sacks if Leftwich starts instead of Ben; all the more reason to start Dixon in the opener.

    I watched the punt return multiple times to see what went wrong. He played a great game overall, but Anthony Madison outran the punt on that play and then was easily blocked when he tried to turn around. Keyaron Fox took a poor angle and whiffed on what should have been an easy tackle. William Gay whiffed low on a diving attempt for a shoestring tackle and then no one came close to making a tackle until Robo-punter near the sideline.

    It is disheartening when two of your veteran, special-teams players – at least one of whom is unlikely to make the team – mess up and allow a big return. But then again, no franchise has been anywhere near as bad on kick and punt coverage as the Steelers over the last 20 years. Pittsburgh goes to the SB in 2001 with a home win over the Pats with decent coverage and of course last year’s team is easily in the playoffs if it did not have the worst kick-coverage unit in modern NFL history.

  • Ted

    Ike has always had two problems: He has hands like an offensive guard and what goes on in his head. Once every few years, he loses confidence and then lacks effort (see 2006 and 2009).

    When he is playing well (see 2005, 2007 and 2008), his over-confidence leads him to do stupid things, like too much trash-talking and going against coaching and playing over-aggressive. For example, he lined up in press coverage against Fitzgerald late in the Super Bowl, while giving up the inside shoulder. He was not taught to do the latter and was not told to do the former on that play, when there was no safety help. But yet he did both, which was less moronic than throwing blows (thank God he missed) at a player with a helmet in a preseason game.