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Observations from a loss in Denver

Posted Aug 30, 2010

DENVER – Some non-expert observations and unsolicited opinions following the Steelers 34-17 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Aug. 29 at Invesco Field:

* In retrospect, the flight to the Rocky Mountains should have served as an omen for what was to come. The team’s charter was delayed for 90 minutes in Pittsburgh for “maintenance issues,” but in the end everything was fine and the trip was a smooth one. If only coaches could invoke similar measures for their football teams.

* If the flight wasn’t an omen, then the opening kickoff certainly was. Throughout the week leading up to the game, Coach Mike Tomlin had talked about how Daniel Sepulveda would get an opportunity to do more kickoffs against the Broncos, and how kickers and punters often look forward to performing in the mile high atmosphere. Sepulveda’s opening kickoff went out of bounds, with possession to Denver on the 40-yard line.

* It was only a preseason game and thus it’s unfair to be completely negative about the exercise, and so here is a positive: Maurkice Pouncey. Starting the game and going against a decorated nose tackle talent in Jamal Williams, Pouncey did nothing but strengthen his bid to be the center on Sept. 12 against Atlanta. On an 11-yard run by Rashard Mendenhall, Pouncey engaged Williams, turned him and then possibly with the help of some bodies already on the ground, put Williams on his back. On the next play, a pass, Pouncey stood Williams up and kept him from collapsing the pocket on what was an incompletion by Dennis Dixon.

* Sticking with the positive, Mike Wallace made a Santonio Holmes-like play on his 47-yard catch-and-run in the first quarter. Wide receivers coach Scottie Montgomery refers to it as “sticking your foot in the ground,” which means the receiver makes a move after the catch to gain more yards. Wallace stuck his foot in the ground and turned Broncos CB Renaldo Hill in as circle.

* The 15-yard penalties on Keenan Lewis will draw a lot of negative attention, but he didn’t have a good night before the whistle either. Lewis was allowing the Broncos to complete passes in front of him rather easily, and on a wide receiver screen he actually appeared to turn his back on the play after the ball had been caught.

* You can call rookie LB Stevenson Sylvester a guy with two first names, but against the Broncos you could have called him a pretty good special teams performer. On the kickoff following the Jeff Reed field goal that made it 7-3, Sylvester was the first man down the field, he came off a block and smacked Perrish Cox to the ground at the 21-yard line after a return of only 9 yards.

* Dennis Dixon had an opportunity to convince the coaching staff that he could be more than just a quarterback capable of executing a specific package against a particular opponent, that he would be able to go into a game and run the offense. That didn’t go so well, because some of the mistakes Dixon made were similar to the ones he has made through the offseason program and to this point in the preseason. Making critical mistakes – for quarterbacks these most often come in the form of bad decisions that become turnovers – has been something upon which Dixon has improved, but as the throw at Matt Spaeth in the back of the end zone showed, there still is work to be done.

* In the light of the following day, Tomlin found some players worthy of praise, and the names he named belong to guys who will have to be solid contributors if the Steelers are to return to the playoffs in 2010. Lawrence Timmons, Rashard Mendenhall, Will Allen and Ben Roethlisberger were four of the players cited by Tomlin for the things they have been doing well, including the time they spent in the game against the Broncos. And really, isn’t it more important, for example, that Lawrence Timmons is playing well than who might be ahead in the battle for the ninth linebacker spot?

* Anyone notice Flozell Adams on Sunday night? Except for the one false start penalty, which came after one on Max Starks and was part of the team’s initial attempt at using a silent count this summer, Adams was anonymous. Perfect for an offensive tackle.

* At this time, fans are busy putting together their personal 53-man rosters, and as a part of that they will designate some players as bound for the practice squad. The idea being that those individuals are worth keeping around for the future but as yet are unworthy of a spot on the final 53. Well, before putting Jonathan Dwyer’s name there, consider this: The Broncos situation at running back is dismal, with Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter both injured, and with LenDale White looking at a four-game suspension to open the season. With such a thin backfield, might Denver be interested in a player who rushed for 89 yards on 13 carries right under their very noses?

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