- Are we really into the preseason already? The off-season sure goes by a lot more quickly when your team plays into February. Well, I suppose a little motorcycle and baby momma drama doesn't hurt either, at least in that regard.
- Let's dive right into the negative: the special teams performance left something to be desired. Neither the coverage nor the returning looked poor, exactly, but the returners looked tentative and had little room to work, and the coverage teams had a few Benny Hill-music moments tripping over each other while whiffing on tackles. I normally avoid looking at the play of entire units in the preseason, but I might make an exception for the special teams since they're not hindered by a vanilla scheme or the lack of game planning. On the other hand, a lot of the guys playing special teams right now probably haven't had a lot of game-speed experience at it yet, so there's obviously room for improvement.
- Did lackluster special teams improve the roster chances for both Sean Morey and Chidi Iwouma?
- Speaking of special teams, Neil Rackers may have transformed from comically inept in Cincinnati to robo-stud in Arizona, but he still has the funniest pre-kick stance around. Does it really help your kicking to stick your butt out like a prancing show pony?
- Okay, Ben Roethlisberger is back. Next question.
- Seriously, is there a quarterback in the league who does more to make his line look good than Roethlisberger? They're a mediocre pass-blocking crew, but he performs behind them like they're Carson Palmer's bunch. Tom Brady does the same for his line, but with less scrambling and more standing strong in the pocket ... and despite being the best quarterback in the league, he can't run right and throw left across his body like Roethlisberger can.
- The running back situation stays interesting. Willie Parker looked strong on his few carries, running with the burst we've come to expect and what looked like more power than we saw at the end of last season. He caught a bullet from Roethlisberger above his head with just his hands, which was nice to see. The added bulk on Verron Haynes was evident, though I'm not sure how it affected his running one way or the other. He can still convert improbable third downs with those draws and screens that the fans all hate, though. And call me crazy, but Duce Staley looked like what I remember from 2004: a hard runner who drives through tackles and almost always falls forward. It's not his fault that he gets tackled for a three-yard loss when a defender comes through unblocked. Cedric Humes doesn't look as big as he measures, which might be because he's taller than most backs. The question at running back remains, will any of those guys be able to handle short yardage anywhere close to as well as Bettis did? That didn't get answered either way on Saturday.
- I was not at all interested in T.J. Duckett earlier in the off-season, but I will confess that he looked good in his own preseason game over the weekend, and could make a nice addition if he's still available.
- Jeff Hartings made a great block on safety Adrian Wilson to spring Parker for a short gain after that catch. He circled downfield around Parker to pick up Wilson with mobility that made me look for a fullback's number on his jersey. He looks like an average lineman blocking in-line, but when he gets out in space he shows why he's one of the best in the business.
- Speaking of Wilson, Bob Pompeani apparently wanted to underscore how unknown he still is despite his stellar play last season by announcing him with Arizona's starting defense as "Adrian Watson."
- Brett Keisel picked right up from his performance in Denver, making plays at a high clip in limited playing time. He really disengages from his blocker to get after the ball carrier well.
- Preseason games ought to remind us to temper our enthusiasm when a young player like Nate Washington tears it up in camp but shows little in a live game despite ample playing time. At the same time, we should remember that it's only the preseason and a very limited sample size, and it doesn't mean that he won't start showing on the field what we've seen in camp because of a couple of missed passes against Arizona. He did look smooth running that end-around, at least.
- Quincy Morgan probably didn't help or hurt his cause any; he is what he is, and he looked like what he is.
- To reiterate, Ben got hit and his face didn't fall off. Though, he clocked in with a mere 7.25 yards per attempt on a whopping four passes, down from his career average of 8.89, so I fully expect at least one national writer to insist that he clearly isn't the same player anymore.
- Don't get too worked up about the pass coverage: it's preseason, and the entire secondary was playing ten yards off. All it showed was that the league's best receiving corps can make catches when wide open in a meaningless game. This is not a defense that plays well with vanilla schemes. That's not to say that it's all scheme and no talent, but rather that the talent is tailored to fit the scheme and looks vanilla when it plays vanilla. And still Arizona couldn't run the ball on them at all.
- I won't say that the defense desperately needs a great pass rusher, because a team coming off of a championship doesn't "desperately" need anything, but it certainly wouldn't hurt to add a Shawn Merriman to that unit sooner than later.
- Dick LeBeau may be as important to the defense as any two players (so long as those two players aren't named Casey Hampton and Troy Polamalu).
- Larry Fitzgerald is a stud, in case you didn't realize. He's the perfect example of the advantage of size in a receiver, too; he uses that big body to block out defenders better than anyone else, and Ike Taylor—who tackles as well as any cornerback in football—was hanging onto him for dear life after that first catch.
- Will Bryant Johnson be making the step from wasted first-rounder to dangerous third receiver this year? He looked pretty decent catching some tough balls on Saturday.
- I liked what I saw from Ryan Clark. He allowed some completions, but he closed quickly and tackled well. The Steelers don't need an ace in coverage to replace Chris Hope, they just need a guy who won't get burned for big plays so that Polamalu doesn't have to play back more often. It's unfortunate that right now it looks like the talent and potential at the free safety spot is inversely related to readiness to play, with Tyrone Carter the surest and most limited option. Oh, and Anthony Smith ... it's really unfair of you to show such potential when we the Steeler faithful are not likely to see you start any time soon. Seriously. That second interception was a thing of beauty.
- In addition to Clark, all of the potential starters in the secondary tackle really well, apart from Polamalu.
- Charlie Batch looked strong out there. He showed willingness to stand in the pocket and take the big hit, as he did from Orlando Huff after throwing a strike to Cedrick Wilson for a first down. He showed poise, accuracy, and touch; he looked as good as he ever has, and should provide nice insurance against Roethlisberger's seemingly frequent minor ailments (and major face reconstructions).
- Antrel Rolle almost made what would have been a terrifically athletic interception on a ball intended for Wilson, if only he hadn't grabbed onto the receiver and used his jersey as a launching pad.
- Kurt Warner looked pretty good out there, too.
- So, it would appear that Shane Boyd knows that he throws a little erratically, and tries to make up for it by throwing so hard that he might actually punch through any defenders in his way. Of course, if there's not a defender in the way the receiver has little chance of hanging onto any of those rockets. Maybe they should always run the receivers in stacked pairs with Boyd, so that the shallower of the two can slow the ball down by clanging it off of his hands and/or face just enough to make for a catchable ball for the deeper guy. That could work ... right?
- If you ever take a physics class and they ask what the minimum amount of arc is for an object thrown from point A to point B, just ask Boyd to throw that distance and measure.
- Boyd looks too eager to tuck and run. The difference between an okay scrambler and a great scrambler is the difference between Boyd and Roethlisberger.
- Okay, I'm done dumping on Boyd.
- Antonio Smith (the Arizona defensive end, not to be confused with the similarly-named Steelers safety) blocked one of Boyd's passes at the line not with his flailing arms, but with his head. That had to be like taking a punch in the face.
- Oh, no ... did the Penn Staters just find a new long-shot tight end to champion in Isaac Smolko? The ghost of Matt Kranchick rise ...
- Speaking of tight ends, I was disappointed that Charles Davis didn't get any action apart from a fumble recovery. I'd like to see what a big, athletic body like his can do out there.
- Bill Cowher didn't sugarcoat the defensive problems on third down when talking to the media after the game. Either he's not convinced that it was more scheme than execution, or he's just trying to keep the team on edge and practicing hard, or he's coached a team with exactly that problem in the recent past and doesn't want to see a repeat.
- Both of the rookie receivers showed very well, catching balls with their hands and getting behind defenders. The future of the position looks bright.
- Omar Jacobs played okay after what looked like a nervous first series. He's surely got more upside than Boyd, and I'll be disappointed if he doesn't make the roster.
My thoughts, for what they're worth ...
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