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Pittsburgh Steelers Defeat Arizona Cardinals, 20-10. Some Initial Observations From Preseason Week No. 1

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Mike Tomlin improved to 3-0 in preseason openers as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers when his team surged late to defeat the Arizona Cardinals 20-10 in a rematch of last year's Super Bowl. It's always nice to win, no two ways about it. If nothing else, it gives lots of the younger players, many of whom we'll mention below, a chance to get in a live-game situation where they must deal with and overcome pressure. They did just that. That said, I think we all also realize that the victory means very little.

Let's still talk about a few of the notes from last night's victory.

  • Let's start with one of the more glaring positives - the return of punter Daniel Sepulveda. The 2007 4th round draft pick looked very solid last night, booming 6 punts for an average of 49.5 yards. He had two downed inside the 20 yard line and had a long of 53. If the Steelers can get consistently solid play from Sepulveda, particularly if the offense takes a bit of time to gel, I very much like the team's chances to avoid any big slip-ups. The defense, if healthy, should be able to hold down the fort if they're not compromised by bad field position, even if it takes a bit of time for the offense to hit its stride. Congratulations to Sepulveda on all the hard work he's put in to get himself back to this point. Fingers crossed he remains injury-free for the remainder of this year and for years to come.

  • Dennis Dixon also deserves kudos for his performance last night, particularly on the touchdown drive early in the 4th quarter that gave the Steelers an insurmountable 17-3 lead. The drive began at the Steelers own 20-yard line and it featured 6 pass attempts by Dixon - all completions - for 60 yards, Yes, the Cards were down to at least their 3rd string defenders. But Dixon also looked poised and confident when the team needed him to settle down, be less skittish in the pocket and lead his team down the field for points. Dixon wasn't perfect, particularly early on. He underthrew a deep ball that would have likely gone for a touchdown. And it took him a few snaps to calm down and trust his progressions ad instincts in the pocket. But that's to be expected and not at all alarming. Just so long as he made the necessary adjustments sooner rather than later. Which he did. Charlie Batch also looked just fine out there in limited action, but one has to really wonder now if Dixon might not be the better choice for the Steelers were they forced to play without Ben Roethlisberger for more than just a few series or quarters.

  • LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison are good at football. Good goodness. If they stay healthy all year, it will alleviate so much of the pressure off the rest of the defense and might even allow Dick LeBeau's unit to sustain an injury or two to a key player. But these two are the anchor of everything that the Steelers defense wants to do and if they're terrorizing opposing quarterbacks like they did last year, look out National Football League.

  • It doesn't surprise me that Lawrence Timmons was a bit hesitant and seemingly a half-step too slow on a number of plays last night. He'll be just fine. Let's just keep him healthy until when we're playing for real marbles.

  • Let's leave discussion(s) about the offensive line for a separate post, but I will say that nobody was really impressive last night. Certainly not Max Starks or the regular cast of characters that we should see lining up as the first unit come the regular season. But the two centers, Doug Legursky and A.Q. Shipley looked pretty decent. So did Tony Hills. This is one area where I wasn't able to get a complete grasp on, as I was tending to a few other things while watching and have not had a chance to re-watch the game. Anything in particular you saw in this department?

  • Was it not exciting to see Limas Sweed play with an emphatic sense of purpose last night? Wow, great stuff from the 2nd year wide receiver out of Texas, who Steelers fans all know struggled mightily during his rookie campaign. Mike Wallace also looked like stage fright won't be an issue. All of a sudden, it's possible that the Steelers wide receiving corps could be awfully dangerous if those two continue to develop nicely. Then there's Shaun McDonald, who proved to be sure-handed and reliable in the slot. The Steeers weren't great on offense last night by any means, but little of that had to do with the play of the wide receivers. Color me excited to watch this offense this year, even if the running game continues to sputter more often than not.

  • Finally, to close, a tip of the cap to undrafted free agent rookie Isaac Redman, who scored two touchdowns in last night's victory. The rookie out of little-known Bowie State runs like a bull in a china shop and could find himself assuming more of the redzone and short yardage duties than we ever imagined just a few weeks ago. Is it possible that the Steelers keep six or even seven running backs on their roster? I'm not sure just yet, but Redman sure does seem to be making it tough on the coaching staff to ignore his presence and ability two weeks in to the 2009 preseason.

Thoughts?

Go Steelers!