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Finally, Let The Real Games Begin - Steelers Finish Preseason 3-1

Well, I'm going to save much of my energy and thoughts until tomorrow, when the final roster is unveiled by the 5 pm deadline. But, a few thoughts on the game for now, followed by a final roster prediction later today.

* In my book what mattered was the lack of injuries last night, and for most of the preseason for that matter. Sure Charlie Batch went down, Troy Polamalu missed some time, numberous players battled a nagging injury or two, etc. But, for the most part, we stayed out of harm's way. That's lucky. Success in the NFL is not predicated solely on luck. But, for better or worse, it's a relevant factor. The teams are just too bunched together for the most part for luck not to play a (sometimes frustratingly large) role. Let's just hope there's some magic left in the dice for the actual games.

* Hmm. Rookie RB Rashard Mendenhall fumbles again. Can somebody please inform me, and whomever else was not able to see that play live, what exactly happened? There should be no excuse, save a terrible handoff, for Mendy to be fumbling so soon after his problems last week and the new $100 per fumble rule in practice. There's only so much to say about it for now, but there comes a point when you can not just hope it goes away. We're nowhere near that point yet with Mendenhall, but I can't say I'm thrilled the discussion is even on the fringes of the radar.

* One more thing about Mendenhall. Anybody got a logical explanation as to why he got 21 carries? Isn't this a guy we plan on using a fair amount this year alongside Willie Parker? Isn't this guy guaranteed millions of dollars as a 1st round draft pick? That's too many carries for any one guy in a preseason game, unless that player is heading to the proverbial scrap heap real soon anyway.

I did however like that Arians called his number on consecutive plays following that fumble. No time to feel sorry for yourself and overthink things when you've got 250+ pound men trying to obliterate you. Smart move by the coaches there. This isn't a problem he can hide from and the coaches aren't letting him.

* Dennis Dixon man. I'm telling you. He can play and he can lead. People who prepare well and dilligently, more often than not, execute when it matters. Dixon definitely has the preparation aspect down in spades. He got the results when it counted most last night, going 4-4, with an 11 yard scamper to boot, during the Steelers final drive of the game, which ultimately led to a Jeff Reed FG as time expired.

I'll be interested to see how Tomlin handles this one down the road when Batch returns. You know, he might not be the coach if the Rooneys had insisted on sticking with the old guard and 'safe' choice.

*That said, Byron Leftwich has played some solid football this past two weeks. He certainly deserves no ridicule or scorn. That's not my point or intention. I just hope Dixon gets rewarded for doing absolutely everything in his power to make his case and improve in very visible ways.

* Jeff Reed's money. I think I said as much in some comment thread yesterday, but it took me awhile to convince myself that Reed was an elite kicker. He's not Morton or Gary Anderson elite, but he's kicking pretty much at a perfect level for nearly a year and a half now, if you include preseason. With that schedule of ours, you better believe Jeff Reed will play a huge role in whether or not we win the necessary amount of close games (3 points or fewer) to make the playoffs.

* Mewelde Moore and Keyaron Fox - one man's trash is another man's treausre. I've been saying that just about since Day 1 of their tenure here in Pittsburgh. It's not clear yet whether Fox will see much of the field on defense (he will on special teams), but I'm more convinced than ever that Mewelde Moore is going to be vital to our success this year. We just did not have that versatile 3rd down back last year in Najeh Davenport. He was ok, and his numbers were good. But when it was time to make a catch out of the backfield on 3rd and 7, during the most important series of the game, Najeh was rarely able to make that cut and burst to move the chains and keep hope alive. Moore will be able to do just that.

* Someone mentioned in a recent comment thread that perhaps the battle between Dallas Baker and Willie Reid is for the #4 spot, not the #5. Limas Sweed, as this commentor mentioned, really hasn't done much to deserve that upper-hand. He struggled to hold on to the ball again last night.

Let me say this thought about what I know of Sweed. He often played his very best when the stakes were highest. He is forever cemented into Longhorns lore because of his clutch, and very tough, late TD snag against Ohio State, early in 2005, the year Texas won the BCS Title. The NFL's a different animal, but I'll still hold on to the conviction (at least for now) that Limas will find a way to deliver on a couple of critical occasions this year when we really need him to. However, I think the commentor is correct. Sweed has likely played himself out of tons of playing time, at least early in the year.

* I don't know what to say about Willie Reid and Dallas Baker. Especially Baker. I think Reid's in, but you just never know. This is a tough call for the coaches.

* There was a Bruce Davis sighting last night. A couple of nice plays, including an assisted tackle with Chris Hoke on a 4th and 1 rush attempt during the first half. Good to see from the guy BTSC has kibbitzed with on several occasions.

* Having not been able to watch much video of the game, I'll skip any attempts at commenting on the play in the trenches. I'm dying to know though, so those of you who watched and care to fill in the blanks, I'd be quite appreciative. Hills? Stapleton? Paxon? Roye? Eason?

* Are y'all ready for some football? We're there. Like actually there. No tricking yourself into getting psyched for presesaon games. The real deal begins next Thursday, and just three short days later, the Steelers take to the field for the first time in the 2008 regular season. And we'll be doing so with basically our entire cast of characters. So far so good.



A couple other quick notes before signing off for the time being.

* It looks like we've got about 30 players selected in our 'Adopt-A-Player' exercise. Nice. Be sure to check the updated list to see who's off the board.  BMac, DeShea, Brett Kiesel - all available. Same with Kendall Simmons, who actually, in my opinion, may be one of the most important players on our team this year that is never talked about. He sank last year. So did the team.

And oh yeah, Sean Mahan's still available too. That much quality time with Sean may seem overwhelming and cause your heart to flutter, but if you're up for it....

* We've got some decent numbers entered already into our Pick 'Em Challenge. Somewhat surprisingly though to me, there's fewer than there were people eager to participate in the 'adoption' activity. HELLO!!??! A free, fun crack at cash? This ain't gambling either for you tee-totalers. I respect that position of not wanting to gamble for moral and/or legal/professional reasons, but if it makes a difference, let me reinforce the fact that you're not required to pay a cent to play, and we're talking about an independently operated site and contest.

The fewer the entrants, the better my chances to defend my moola I suppose, though. My guess is that there will be many who get their picks in each week, meaning it would be tough to win if you entered late. Join the fun now while it's on your mind if you care, but again, I'm infinitely more pleased that the reception for the other idea was so quickly adopted by the group. Adopted the 'adopting' game. Get it? Ok, that's enough.