Observations from the preseason opener

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Some non-expert observations and unsolicited opinions following the Steelers 23-7 win over the Detroit Lions in the preseason opener on Aug. 14 at Heinz Field:

  • The decision was made not to play Ben Roethlisberger, and it was the correct one in three different ways: the Steelers need to get Byron Leftwich ready for the start of the regular season; there's no way you unnecessarily stick Roethlisberger behind a backup offensive line; and it made no sense to risk boos at Heinz Field. With everything being so positive between Roethlisberger and the fans to this point in training camp, why provide the opportunity for that to re-emerge as an issue during the team's final week there?
  • Not so much a fan of the decision to play Charlie Batch in the final couple of series with guys who were in grade school when he broke into the NFL in 1998. At least Dennis Dixon has those young legs to help him escape.
  • Speaking of Dixon's legs, it appears as though Coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians will not dissuade Dixon from utilizing his running ability. Dixon finished with 31 yards on six carries, with a 6-yard gain coming on a third-and-5 and a 3-yard gain converting a third-and-2. A past offensive coordinator –Kevin Gilbride – once scolded Kordell Stewart for running for a touchdown when he believed he could have thrown for the touchdown. Hey, they all count six points, right?
  • Speaking of touchdowns, it sure appeared as though Dixon got across the goal line late in the second period, only to have the touchdown reversed on replay, but that also was the occasion of Isaac Redman's highlight of the night. Yes, Redman rushed for 60 yards on 15 carries, caught 2 passes for 17 more and was four-for-four converting short-yardage and goal-line situations. All of that was good, but on the Dixon run he showed good awareness as a potential receiver who peeled back and picked off a Lions defender to enable to Dixon to score a touchdown. Well, what should have been a touchdown.
  • Antonio Brown will be feted for his 68-yard touchdown catch, but that was a simple 8-yard throw in which he out-ran some Lions defenders who took poor angles. His best play was a shorter route to the sideline when he came out of his break, located the ball that already was in the air and made a finger-tip catch of a throw that was low and toward the sideline.
  • To put it kindly: confidence never has been a problem for Brown, and don't think for a minute that wasn't behind Coach Mike Tomlin's terse answer to a question about how the rookie receiver played in his professional debut. "Nice start."
  • When asked to assess the play of the first-team offensive line, Tomlin instead touched on fumbles by his running backs as a culprit in preventing the whole unit from developing an early rhythm. Rashard Mendenhall continues to carry the ball away from his body, and that was how Lions safety C.C. Brown punched it loose on a play that so angered Tomlin that he benched him for the next series.
  • Mewelde Moore replaced Mendenhall and fumbled on his first carry. Oh, well.
  • Back to the first-team offensive line. For all he brings to the team, Flozell Adams is not invincible. He had some trouble with 260-pound defensive end Cliff Avril, who beat him to the outside to sack Byron Leftwich. Another pass play on that series was ruined when Chris Kemoeatu didn't pick up a stunt that finished with Kyle VandenBosch right in Leftwich's face. One physical error, one mental mistake. A bad daily double.
  • It was somewhat amusing to watch the Lions offense try to push the Steelers defense around on Detroit's opening possession. On the first play, Jahvid Best gained 3 yards as right tackle Gosder Cherilus got chippy with LaMarr Woodley. On second down, Best gained 6 as guard Stephen Peterman got chippy with James Farrior. On third-and-1, Best got stuffed. No gain. Punt. There was no more chippiness from the Lions offensive line.
  • For me, Stefan Logan allows way too many kicks to bounce in front of him. Even did it with a kickoff against the Lions.
  • The Steelers have three veteran inside linebackers in Farrior, Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote. But watch the two new guys – rookie Stevenson Sylvester and CFL refugee Renauld Williams. Sylvester led the team in tackles, and Williams added four on defense and one on special teams while being on the No. 1 kickoff, kickoff return and punt teams. After the game, Tomlin greeted Williams outside the locker room by slapping him on the shoulder and saying, "Hammer and nails." There was no doubt which one Williams was vs. the Lions.
  • A lot of young guys played well in the preseason opener, but to determine if they're the real deal, pay attention to how they comport themselves in the final training camp practices and then the preseason game against the Giants on the road. Nobody makes an NFL roster based on one preseason game.
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