By Teresa Varley
The Steelers started the 2009 preseason with a 20-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals at Heinz Field, with most of the scoring coming from the team's reserves.
The game gave some rookies their first shot to impress in game action and they fared well as running back Isaac Redman scored on touchdown runs of three and five yards, defensive end Ziggy Hood had a sack and cornerback Joe Burnett an interception that he returned 42 yards.
The starters didn't see a lot of action as they played just two series, with Ben Roethlisberger completing four of six passes for 33 yards.
"Overall without looking at film I think it was okay," said Roethlisberger of the performance of the offense. "I think we had a couple plays with few breakdowns, but it just felt good to go against someone other than your own guys."
The Steelers opened the game on offense with Rashard Mendenhall getting his first carry since suffering a season-ending shoulder injury last season. Mendenhall was knocked for a one-yard loss on the carry, but would come up big two plays later when he had a three-yard run on third-and-one.
Tight end Heath Miller had a three-yard reception and Mendenhall came back with a four-yard carry to set up a third-and-three. Roethlisberger wasn't able to connect with Santonio Holmes and the Steelers were forced to punt. Punter Dan Sepulveda saw his first game action in over a year, after being placed on injured reserve last year during training camp. Sepulveda was met with cheers when his 46-yard punt was fair caught at the 15-yard line.
Kurt Warner got the Cardinals out of their own territory with a nine-yard pass to Steve Breaston. Warner went right back to the air and hit Ben Patrick for 17 yards to the Cardinals 45-yard line. Warner and Breaston connected again for nine yards, but the drive would quickly come to a stop when LaMarr Woodley sacked Warner for a two-yard loss.
"You get a chance to see actually where you're at right now," said Woodley. "Both of us went to the Super Bowl last year, and with the offense that Arizona has and the defense that we have, it was a good comparison to come out here early and see them early in the preseason game."
The Steelers offense went back to work and Roethlisberger went to the air and found Hines Ward for 13-yards to their 24-yard line. Limas Sweed, who is battling for the third receiver job, made a leaping catch for 11-yards and a first down, holding on to the ball in traffic. Justin Vincent added a five-yard gain, and Mendenhall one-yard, before being stopped on third down and punting again.
The Cardinals went back to work with Warner still at the helm, hitting Larry Fitzgerald for eight yards and later connecting with Anquan Boldin for nine yards. The Cardinals switched quarterbacks during the drive, bringing in Matt Leinart. Leinart threw incomplete to Boldin, before connecting with him for seven yards. James Harrison brought the pressure on the next play, forcing an incompletion to Breaston and another punt for the Cardinals.
Sweed continued to impress on the next series when he had a 45-yard reception down the right sideline from Charlie Batch, who had just come in to the game.
"I knew that he was going to have a great preseason this year," said wide receiver Hines Ward. "What happened last year was last year. He is going to grow as a wide receiver and make some big plays for us."
The Steelers weren't able to convert another first down and Jeff Reed got them on the board with a 5/-yard field goal for the 3-0 lead.
The Cardinals started deep in their own territory at the eight yard line and Leinart moved them down the field with a 17-yard completion to Sean Morey and a 14-and 12-yard completion to Breaston. Leinart worked the offense all the way to the Steelers seven-yard line, but on fourth-and-one he couldn't connect with Leonard Pope and they turned the ball over on downs.
Dennis Dixon came in, but it was a quick three and out for the black and gold. The Cardinals got the ball back with 38 seconds and took advantage of a pass interference call on Anthony Madison to set up a 29-yard Neil Rackers field goal to tie the game 3-3 at the half.
Former Steelers back-up quarterback Brian St. Pierre started the second half for the Cardinals, but the defense wasn't allowing anything as they forced a three-and-out.
Dixon got in gear on his second drive with a 10-yard completion to Shaun McDonald and a 13-yard pass to Mike Wallace to the Arizona 43-yard line. Wallace made a nice catch across the middle for 22 yards to the 22-yard line. The Steelers weren't able to convert when Piotr Czech's 36-yard field goal attempt went wide left.
The defense came up big in the second half, with Sonny Harris and Arnold Harrison combining to sack St. Pierre and Keiwan Ratliff shutting the door on the drive with another sack.
On the Cardinals next drive Burnett intercepted St. Pierre at the Cardinals 45-yard line and returned it 42 yards to the three-yard line. The Steelers took advantage when Redman took it in the end zone for a three-yard touchdown and a 10-3 lead.
Number one draft pick Ziggy Hood brought the Cardinals ensuing drive to a halt when he sacked St. Pierre for a seven-yard loss.
Dixon hit McDonald for a four-yard reception and went back to him for a 14-yard gain. Redman added carries of 13 and six yards, and then Dixon went right back to McDonald for 19 yards. McDonald came through again with an 18-yard reception on third down. It was Redman again who bulled his way into the end zone for a five-yard touchdown, extending the lead to 17-3.
Tyler Palko came into the game late for Arizona and led them on their first touchdown drive of the night, hitting Onrea Jones for a 20-yard score to pull the Cardinals within a touchdown at 17-10.
Czech added a field goal late to give the Steelers a 20-10 advantage.
Notes: Defensive end Brett Keisel was held out of the game as a precautionary measure with a calf injury. Travis Kirschke started for him at defensive end. Rashard Mendenhall started at running back for Willie Parker, while Doug Legursky started at center for Justin Hartwig. The Steelers came out in a two tight end set, with Matt Spaeth started in place of fullback Carey Davis.