Happy Monday Steeler Nation and all the rest checking in on this last day of August. I just returned from four days in Denver at a dual bachelor party for two old friends. Was tempted to plug in but ultimately was happy to have shunned the internet and my cellphone for the weekend. A few thoughts on this and that to start off the week - the final week of the 2009 NFL preseason. September 10th is rapidly approaching, no longer some far off date in the future that seems impossibly far off.
* Let's start off with a few thoughts from the Pittsburgh Steelers 17-0 shutout over the Buffalo Bills Saturday night at Heinz Field. How about Ben Roethlisberger's return to action?!? Good stuff. Not that too many - if any at all - were worried about Big Ben heading in to this season. Nevertheless, it's always excellent to watch Big Ben when he's in rhythm and has the offense humming. Roethlisberger finished 15/19 for 168 yards in one half of action before Mike Tomlin decided he'd had enough work for the night. Steelers fans are simply blessed to have one of the best in the business under center. And to think we've likely not even seen the best of him yet...
* Steelers quarterbacks threw the ball 31 times on Saturday - Roethlisberger 19; Batch 9; Reily 3. They were collectively sacked just once. That's good stuff from the Steelers offense live in the passing game.
* Now, in the running game, the line's play was a bit less deserving of adulation. The Steelers play calling became overwhelmingly vanilla after they scored 17 2nd quarter points and continued to stifle Buffalo's fledgling offense. And there were a few holes opened up at various points in the game. For the most part though, the line was only so-so in the running game. Rashard Mendenhall finished with 48 yards on 16 carries, but 13 of those came on a single run, meaning he had just 33 on his other 15 carries. Isaac Redman wasn't much better, finishing with just 31 yards on 13 carries.
* I did, however, like what I saw from Mendenhall. Besides his fumble deep inside Buffalo territory of course. If you recall, fumbling was a mounting issue for him last preseason. Let's hope we're not seeing something similar materialize with him right now. I doubt we are, and if not, I think we should feel pretty good about what he's going to add to this offense, with or without a healthy Willie Parker complimenting him in the backfield.
* Tip of the cap to the front office for bucking its trend of not re-signing aging players like James Farrior. The veteran linebacker got what's his financially. The team, meanwhile, continues to reap the benefits of having him on the roster. On Saturday, Farrior returned a Trent Edwards interception 22 yards for a touchdown. I imagine he'll come up with similarly momentum-changing plays when the regular season starts next week. He's a special player in so many ways.
* If this defense can stay healthy at several positions in particular, look out. I'm still a bit nervous about William Gay and the pass defense, particularly if the pass rush is somehow slowed down a bit, but that's a conversation for another day. But that preoccupation isn't a huge one for me. For the most part, it's hard for me to see any way that this defense isn't one of the league's top two or three defenses in all significant statistical categories. On Saturday, Buffalo was held to 55 yards in the 1st half. They turned it over once and picked up just two first downs against the Steelers first-string defense.
* Stefan Logan continues to make it impossible for the organization to not strongly consider keeping him on the 53-man roster. Logan returned 5 punts on Saturday night for an average of 15.8 yards per return. The leading punt returner last year, Roscoe Parrish, averaged 15.3 yards per return. We'll see. The moment of truth for Logan and his future with the Steelers is coming quite soon. Congratulations to him for making the most of his opportunity and putting himself in this situation at all.
* There's a few key bodies that need to heal up a bit before the regular season starts two Thursdays from now at Heinz Field against the Tennessee Titans, but for the most part, the Steelers have avoided major injuries during training camp and in the first three preseason games of 2009. Fans can breathe a sigh of relief now knowing that the top-line guys on both sides of the ball won't play much, if any, in the team's final preseason game. It's customary for teams to not play their starters much in the fourth and final preseason game. They instead are content not risking an unnecessary injury. Let's get Santonio Holmes and Willie Parker feeling better and get this party started. So far, so good.
* More from me later, but I wanted to at least get a few thoughts out there after stepping away for a fun (and overly expensive) long weekend. I hope to have plenty more time in the coming weeks as we inch ever closer to what we all have been waiting for not long after the Steelers won an unprecedented sixth Lombardi Trophy last February - the return of NFL (regular season) football.