Steelers-Cowboys notes

<b>PITTSBURGH -</b> Baby steps. That's what we're seeing with the Steelers thus far during the preseason.<br><br> Their first preseason game against Detroit was an abysmal effort. Against Philadelphia in their second game, they made small, but marked improvements.

Thursday night at Heinz Field in a 15-14 win over Dallas, we finally saw a glimpse of what this team could be like when everything comes together.

While the offense still sputtered at the end of its first two drives, quarterback Tommy Maddox moved the ball with considerable ease against a Dallas defense that was one of the better units in the league last season.

Playing most of the first two quarters, Maddox completed 10-of-14 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown before giving way to backup Charlie Batch with just over two minutes remaining in the first half.

And the first-team defense, which had been spotty in the first two games, yielded yardage grudgingly to the Cowboys.

But there is still plenty of work to be done.

The offensive line continues to be a problem.

Marvel Smith is still having trouble with his move from right tackle to left. Smith was penalized for holding once, negating a 50-yard Tommy Maddox touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress, and consistently let whoever was lined up against him get pressure on Maddox.

He has to get better if the Steelers are going to be a serious challenger in the AFC this season.

Speaking of penalties, they continue to be a problem. After being penalized 13 times for 90 yards in the first two games, the Steelers continued to be troubled by violations. In addition to the Smith penalty that negated a long touchdown pass. Linebacker Clint Kriewaldt was penalized for holding, ruining a nifty kickoff return by rookie Ike Taylor that went to the Dallas 32.

On the positive side, both of those infractions occurred during the same drive and the Steelers still easily moved the ball down the field to score their lone touchdown of the first half. Head coach Bill Cowher has to be at least a little concerned about the team's lack of ability to run the ball effectively with its first unit.

A day after being named the team's starting running back, Amos Zereoue struggled to get out of the backfield, gaining 12 yards on seven carries. That gives Zereoue 30 yards on 13 carries during this preseason, hardly the stuff starters are made of.

And while Jerome Bettis had a little more hop in his step Thursday night - likely to show people that he's still alive after being benched by Cowher - his preseason rushing totals aren't any better than Zereoue's. Despite gaining 18 yards on three carries against the Cowboys, Bettis still has just 42 yards on 14 carries, a 3.0 yards per carry average.

Certainly some of the trouble running the ball must fall on the shoulders of the offensive line, but at some point one would like to think two players being counted on to carry the running game could do better than that.

So despite a spotty week of practice leading up to this game, the team is at least heading in the right direction.

But there are just a couple of weeks remaining before the team lines up Sept. 7 to face the Baltimore Ravens in the regular season opener.

The baby steps have to turn into full-blown strides before this team is ready for that.

© The nickel defense is really starting to look good. And the different things they can do out of it are really intriguing. A couple of times Thursday night Joey Porter slid to the middle, with Kendrell Bell sliding over to an end position at the last moment. Offenses aren't going to know who's coming from where, especially with very little film to look at with this new defense.

If the Ravens start rookie Kyle Boller at QB in the opener, I'd play the nickel exclusively if I were Cowher. They could drive the rookie out of the league with all of the different looks.

© In the what they heck is he doing category there's this: On third-and-four from the Pittsburgh 8, Chad Scott gave Joey Galloway a nine-yard cushion. Galloway caught the pass at the two and got the ball into the end zone.

Note to Chad: Galloway's fast, but he's not going to beat you deep from the eight.

© If the Cowboys had a quarterback, they might be a playoff team.

Of course if the Steelers had a right tackle, they might be a Super Bowl team.

© I'm beginning to wonder about the left tackle position, too.

© Now we know why Ike Taylor was moved from running back to cornerback. Dude can't catch.

© The Steelers will be looking to sign at least two guys for their practice squad from other teams. Not sure who's going to be left out in the cold, but I'd guess it will be J.T. Wall. Donte Brown has made this team, meaning they won't need to keep a running back on the practice squad. I'd look for another offensive tackle.

© Note to Clark Haggans: How do you miss sacking the QB not once, but twice on the same play?

© Note to Alonzo Jackson: Nice work on the sacks and strips kid. Keep that up and you'll be getting more playing time. Then again, you won't be lining up against some rookie from Morehead State every week.

Dale Lolley

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