Steelers slapped into cold, hard reality

Mike Tomlin won't blow up his plans for September football, but SCI.net's Jim Wexell, in today's notes column, says Tomlin ought to be thinking long and hard about it.

From the notebook of a sportswriter who'd be tempted to blow up four months worth of planning if he were the coach:

* Charlie Batch anyone?

* After watching Dennis Dixon revert to his mistake-prone days of spring last night, and after watching Byron Leftwich turn into a pillar of salt against second-team pass-rushers, Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin has to seriously consider Batch to start the opener in place of suspended Ben Roethlisberger.

* Batch showed nifty footwork, the same sweet short game he's always had, and of course the veteran leadership of a player who'll turn 36 in December.

* While Tomlin won't trash his plans to start Leftwich in the opener, he should reconsider his plan to cut Batch. By keeping Batch on the roster, Tomlin will have an option should Leftwich and Dixon play the first two weeks of the season the way they did last night.

* Ken Whisenhunt and the Cardinals certainly need some quarterback help, but the word from Batch is that he wouldn't leave Pittsburgh should another team claim him.

* Of course, plans change when pride's wounded.

* While I don't understand Tomlin's decision to not start Leftwich last night, in the traditional dress rehearsal for the season opener, Dixon's poor showing certainly took some pressure off Leftwich.

* Leftwich will be helped in the opener by having Maurkice Pouncey at center. Anyone see the rookie turn and plant three-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Jamal Williams on his back? Twice?

* The Steelers committed four personal fouls in the first half, but only two should've been called. Those were the two committed by Keenan Lewis.

* The Steelers compared Lewis to Ike Taylor when they drafted him in the third round last year. Considering the penalties in the last two games, the comparison was dead on.

* Lewis bit on a run fake and later was turned around on a short hitch, but neither mistake was as costly as either personal foul, so I'm not even close to writing off Lewis after the progress he's made this year.

* Daniel Sepulveda sent his first kickoff out of bounds and his second to the Denver 12. Jeff Reed sent his kickoffs to the 8 and the 3. Denver kicker Matt Prater sent all seven of his kickoffs into the end zone, as a kicker should in the thin air.

* Is that why Antonio Brown lined up five yards deep in the end zone before Denver's first kickoff? Or is Prater that good?

* The thin air's really not a good excuse for Brown, who had no excuse whatsoever for fielding his first punt at his own 1-yard line.

* Pouncey not only showed enough strength to bury Williams twice, he deftly picked up a blitzing Mario Haggan and allowed Roethlisberger to complete a pass to Hines Ward.

* The Broncos later blitzed two linebackers through the middle. Pouncey helped the right guard secure the first, but the delayed blitzer shot the open gap and stuffed Mewelde Moore for a loss. Pouncey should've left the first to block the second, and he will. I've watched him make that move many times in college.

* Lawrence Timmons was the most dynamic defender on the field for the Steelers. He's on the verge of a true breakout season. Before pressuring one QB, Timmons blew up LenDale White in the backfield and he looked like Kendrell Bell doing it. Timmons was also stuffing the run with some honed instincts.

* At one point in the second quarter, Timmons, after stuffing White on two running plays, left the field with an apparent injury. He returned on third-and-18 and tackled wide receiver Eddie Royal in the open field and held him to a 1-yard gain.

* Dixon's pick-six was foreshadowed on the previous second-quarter series by a floating out to Emmanuel Sanders that Andre Goodman nearly intercepted.

* If Dixon was to have been the Steelers' red-zone quarterback during the regular season, that plan took a hit with his ill-advised pass to a covered Matt Spaeth.

* And on fourth-and-1, a poorly designed rollout run/pass option for Dixon was snuffed by five – count 'em, five – Broncos who came free while receiving options Moore and Heath Miller let their men come unblocked.

* Where was the fullback on the play? Well, he was the centerpiece of the play. Isaac Redman, apparently playing the Carey Davis role of non-blocking playmaker when in the game, already had three carries out of the spot, but drew no one on this play-action fake. Therefore, the fullback, tight end and tailback were all taken out of any fourth-and-1 blocking assignments by design.

* The fullback options are worthless this year. This team has not changed its scheme or attitude in short yardage. As someone else said, they've been all talk.

* Again, the meeting room misses the discerning eye of Dick Hoak, the curmudgeonly backfield coach noted for saying, "Nope. We can't get that blocked."

* I keep hearing comparisons of Dixon with Kordell Stewart, but to me Dixon's the spitting image of Randall Cunningham.

* While Brown made a pair of mental errors in the return game, Stefan Logan did not capitalize. Tomlin should use Brown and suffer a few growing pains.

* Jonathan Dwyer looked like a Tuesday cut throughout his first extended series last night. In that series, Dwyer whiffed on a block and got Leftwich clobbered; slipped while in the open field to end an 18-yard run; ran the wrong way on a bust that resulted in an ineligible man downfield penalty; and lost two yards on 1st-and-15 and three yards on a 3rd-and-27 draw.

* Dwyer bounced back with a couple of runs that showed off his combination of power and speed. It may have been enough to get him a place on the practice squad.

* Justin Hartwig was pushed around by Denver's second- and third-teamers. Doug Legursky and Kraig Urbik, two younger and stronger interior swing players, should force Hartwig's departure.

* Urbik, in fact, is playing well enough to surpass Legursky as a game-day active. On consecutive pulling plays late in the game, Denver's most dynamic defender, Joe Mays, alternately jolted Legursky and was jolted by Urbik.

* Doesn't look like Crezdon Butler can slide through waivers and onto the practice squad now. That break on the ball, that body control, and the subsequent interception and 40-yard return guaranteed it.

* Denver's last play, a run up the middle, was stuffed by inside linebacker Renauld Williams, said to be a favorite of Tomlin's. Considering the poor play by most everyone last night, it wouldn't surprise anyone if Tomlin sticks to his instincts and keeps players such as Williams.

* That's the kind of game it was. And perhaps for that reason, for slapping the coach into a hard, cold reality, it was the best thing that could've happened to the Steelers.


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