Steelers - Vikings

<p>PITTSBURGH - Steelers head coach Bill Cowher should take with a grain of salt what he saw of his first team offense and defense Thursday night here at Heinz Field against the Minnesota Vikings.</p> <p><br>

The offense moved the ball with relative ease. The defense stopped the Vikings from doing the same. And the Steelers led 14-0 when Cowher began pulling the starters midway through the second quarter.

By the time Minnesota quarterback Daunte Culpepper connected with wide receiver Randy Moss on a 5-yard touchdown pass, the Steelers' starters had their hats on backwards and a cold drink in hand.

But before you get too excited, realize this group of Vikings is not nearly as ferocious as their marauding name would suggest. Minnesota was 5-11 last season and because of salary cap restrictions could do precious little to improve its lot. Heck, first-round draft choice Bryant McKinnie, an offensive tackle, remains a holdout with the start of the regular season just over one week away.

The Steelers were playing against an NFL junior varsity team. OK, this JV team had Moss and Culpepper on it, but precious few other good NFL players.

That being said, there were some positives the Steelers can take out of Thursday night's game.

Running back Jerome Bettis gained just seven yards on his first five carries, having the same trouble getting out of the backfield that he has had throughout the preseason. But on his sixth carry, Bettis rolled through the line of scrimmage of right tackle for a 27-yard gain.

On his final rush of the game, Bettis slipped two yards into the end zone for a touchdown, giving him a very respectable 36 yards on six carries with 1:42 remaining in the first quarter. Apparently, that was enough for Cowher to see as Bettis was the first regular out of the game. After scoring, he did not return to the game.

Quarterback Kordell Stewart, who had thrown just 17 preseason passes, stuck it out a little longer.

Showing no signs of the concussion he suffered two weeks ago at Washington, Stewart completed 7-of-12 passes for 105 yards. He also ran the ball twice for 18 yards, both of which converted third downs into first downs on the team's first touchdown drive, a 98-yard march in the first quarter.

Stewart wasn't perfect. He under threw a couple of passes and botched a fourth-down pass to fullback Dan Kreider, throwing the ball at Kreider's feet.

Overall, however, it was the best he has looked during the preseason.

Defensively, the Steelers did a solid job of keeping Moss in check.

When Pittsburgh's defensive starters were in the game, Culpepper threw Moss' direction six times, completing four for 55 yards.

That's not great. But it's not bad either, especially when you consider about the only thing the Steelers did special to stop Moss was to roll the safety to his side of the field. Had this been a regular season game, you can bet that defensive coordinator Tim Lewis would have had more than that in his bag of tricks. Cowher said he wanted to get his starters some good work heading into the regular season. He realizes that with the team's first two games being against New England and Oakland - two of the other top teams in the AFC - the Steelers can't afford a lackadaisical start.

Whether or not his philosophy of giving the starters more work than usual in the preseason finale pays off or not remains to be seen.

But considering how things went Thursday night, it can't be a bad thing, even if they weren't playing against the varsity.

--Dale Lolley

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