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Steelers Rebound With Outstanding Performance In Second Preseason Game, Throttle Philadelphia, 24-14

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PITTSBURGH - AUGUST 18:  'That is what is above you' head coach Mike Tomlin said to his team as they overwhelemed  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH - AUGUST 18: 'That is what is above you' head coach Mike Tomlin said to his team as they overwhelemed (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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I was unable to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers' preseason opener last Friday night against the Washington Redskins. Thank God for that, as it seemed like not a whole lot went right for the six-time Super Bowl champions. This Thursday night though, the Steelers played their second preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles in front of a nationally televised audience. I didn't watch too much of the second half, but I didn't need to. The first half showed me everything I needed to see and then some. Look out NFL. 

Some thoughts on the 24-14 victory by the Steelers, a score, by the way, that fails to illustrate just how convincingly Pittsburgh manhandled Philadelphia for the first 30-plus minutes Thursday night. 

  • Let's start with the running backs: Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman both looked great. Mendy, fresh off a controversy-filled offseason, reminded fans that he's mighty fun to watch regardless of what thoughts he decides to share with the general public on Twitter. The 225 pound fourth-year back didn't exactly light up the boxscore. He finished with just 28 yards on 6 carries, and 2 receptions for 17 yards. Forget about the stats though --  the dude is in tip top shape and is set to again roar past the 1,000 yard marker in 2011 provided he stays healthy. He's lean, explosive, good at making the first guy miss (too often in the backfield or near the line of scrimmage) with his lateral nimble side steps, sufficiently tough and he possesses above-average vision when decided where the running late is materializing. He's a special player, no two ways about it. Redman meanwhile has cemented his status as someone who Mike Tomlin and Bruce Arians are going to rely on throughout the season. Mendenhall might hold up all season despite carrying the ball 324 times in '10, but he'll be more effective if Redman is able to take another 75-125 carries away from him this year. Redman, who gave fans a scare when he left momentarily with an ankle injury in the second quarter, returned to the delight of fans to finish off his night with 26 yards on 8 carries. Finally, Jonathan Dwyer looks like he's back in the running to make the 53-man roster. My guess is he will, but won't dress on gamedays too often provided Mendy, Redmna, and Mewelde Moore are healthy. 
  • Only three running backs? Sure, why not. I personally believe the Steelers will dress just three RBs on Sundays (four if you count David Johnson or some other TE as a 'FB' in certain formations) while retaining six wide receivers. Perhaps only five will dress some weeks, but I feel like Arnaz Battle will be retained. Emmanuel Sanders' health is a giant question mark for starters, but even if he does look like he'll be able to play at a reasonably high level this season, do the Steelers have any other WR that can play special teams? No. Kickoffs might have been neutered by the new rule changes, but guys will start running it out from the back of the endzone more frequently during the regular season. Battle's ST play will still mean something when Tomlin is making final cuts. He definitely helped his cause by showing that he can still be a weapon in the passing game. He finished with three receptions for 47 yards. 
  • Before we go any further, how about a shout out to Mike Tomlin for the job he's done. Pardon my french, but we are so fuck&ng spoiled as Steelers fans its sick. This man has managed to strike the perfect balance between keeping everybody hungry, rewarding past performances of veterans, and fostering a competitive environment where not a soul feels complacent or unmotivated. Wow, he really is special. Yes, he has room to grow as a gameday coach. But there seriously is no better people-person patrolling the sidelines in the National Football League. I don't say that because of anything that happened Thursday night. But last night's game definitely can be filed as evidence about just how incredible Tomlin is at managing the ebbs and flows of group dynamics.
  • Hines Ward is going to be just fine. His 20-yard TD reception in the second quarter convinced me he's not lost a step and can still create sufficient separation to make plays, particularly when plays break down or Roethlisberger is playing Superman, which undoubtedly will occur more frequently than we might ideally like. Fantasy sleeper, particularly early in the season when he's historically been solid and while Roethlisberger gets comfortable with play makers he's far less accustomed to throwing to. 
  • Jerricho Cotchery, welcome to the family baby! Impressive stuff. Been with the team for less than a week? No problem. I wondered if Cotchery would even play in Thursday night's game. He not only suited up, but managed to lead the team in receiving yards with 49 on two catches, one of which picked up a fresh set of downs on a 3rd and 20-plus while the other found pay dirt. 
  • Antonio Brown looks great and I couldn't be more excited for him or what his contributions could mean for the team. The 2010 sixth round draft pick, who I brazenly labeled as the No. 10 Draft Success of the Kevin Colbert Era, hauled in a 29-yard TD on the Steelers opening drive. The score came against Asante Samuel thanks to Dominique Rodgers Cromartie's pathetic attempt at a corner blitz -- he froze up a few feet shy of Big Ben instead of going after him and forcing a quick throw. Samuel, expecting an intermediate route because of the blitz, planted about 15 yards down the field in anticipation of a hitch route. Doing so allowed Brown to get behind him for the easy score, but Samuel's not really to blame. (As a side note, it's funny to me how so many folks want to bash Bryant McFadden, citing guys like DRC as more talented options at the ever-important CB position. Uhh, no thanks. I'll take a guy with some toughness who doesn't allow that kind of crap to happen because he's inherently not a physical football player. No toughness, no role on Dick LeBeau's defense.) Back to Brown real quick -- believe me, no one is more excited to see him thrive than I am, but at least one person said in the open thread tonight that they thought Brown was going to have a better fantasy season than Ward. Maybe if Ward gets injured. But assuming he doesn't, Ward's going to put up something along the lines of 75 catches for 900 yards and 6 TDs. Antonio Brown ready to surpass those numbers? Not yet. Thankfully though it looks like he has that type of potential in him sooner rather than later.
  • I'm going to comment on the offensive line over the weekend, but a quick update on the injuries suffered by Jonathan Scott and Marcus Gilbert. Thankfully both appear to have hyper-extended their knees and avoided dreaded ligament damage. We'll need to keep an eye on both, particularly Scott who's expected to start at left tackle, but for now, it doesn't appear as if either was injured too severely.  Even though the injury situation doesn't appear to be dire, might Max Starks be getting a call this weekend? Could be. 
  • How trim does Tony Hills look? Starting at right guard, Hills almost looked out of awkwardly out of position in the interior of the Steelers' offensive line Thursday night. Aren't guards supposed to be stocky? Hills looks tall and lean. But what can you say? He held his own yet again and appears to be the front runner to start at RG assuming injuries don't force him back to one of the two tackle positions.
  • Ramon Foster certainly didn't do himself any favors in preseason game No. 2. Looked pretty suspect from what I saw. Same might be said of Chris Scott
  • While we're on the subject of the offensive line, let me quickly mention that I continue to be wowed by Maurkice Pouncey's athleticism. I'm not technician really of what Pouncey does well at the point of attack in the trenches, but it's amazing to watch him quickly get to the next level and then finish off plays down the field. The guy is fast. He's paid to be mean and strong, but his athleticism, quick burst and willingness to seek contact down the field is a big part of why he'll be so dominant in the early stages of his professional career. 
  • Good to see Willie Colon back in the fold. Loving the 'locks by the way.
  • Was it just me or was anybody else wondering why Isaac Redman was being worked so hard in the second quarter? No need to 'take a look' at what they've got in the undrafted free agent from Bowie State. He's proven himself by now, and he best be fresh and healthy for the '11 season in order to diversify the Steelers running game and spell Mendenhall more frequently over the course of a grueling regular season this fall and winter. Thankfully the injury he sustained was inconsequential, but I'm not a big fan of seeing him be responsible for milking the clock on meaningless plays this preseason. 
  • Was that a Keenan Lewis sighting? Nice pick of Michael Vick. That wasn't Lewis' only nice play though. He looks like he may be ready to be a part of the rotation on Dick LeBeau's defense finally. 
  • Did anyone make sure that Dan Rooney or some other senior denizen of the Steelers' front office didn't drop dead when they saw Troy Polamalu channel Ed Reed during his long interception return? Yikes. Please keep running during the regular season, Troy. Please slide like Peyton Manning in the preseason. Capiche? 
  • Lord help us if we are talking about him during the regular season, but let's get in our commentary while we can: After looking abysmal out of the gate, Byron Leftwich looked competent enough after getting his feet underneath him. Yes, his pocket presence seems mind-bogglingly poor, but I think we're kinda spoiled by Big Ben. Make no mistake about it, Leftwich can't survive and thrive unless he has a good protection, but the man can still make the tough throws. He threaded the needle on both of Cotchery's two receptions. 
  • Is Donovan Warren now a legitimate part of the conversation as to who rounds out the depth chart at cornerback? He certainly stated his case to be given a good, hard look. Yes, Bryant McFadden was out, but I found it interesting nonetheless that Warren got the starting nod over Lewis or even William Gay
  • Back to Polamalu real quick: on his interception, a crazy play where Vick scrambled moments after the snap only to heave an ill-advised ball down the middle of the field deep, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman were too busy (A) gushing about Polamalu's knack for being in the right place at the right time and (B) ranting about his decision not to slide that they totally failed to mention that somebody was responsible for timing his jump personally and deflecting the pass so that No. 43 could snare the pick. That player? LaMarr Woodley. I may have gone on record for well over a year about how it might not be wise to extend Woodley to a long-term deal, but it wasn't because I didn't think he could ball and contribute in 2011-2013. I'm more concerned about when he's on the wrong side of 30 and can't make those types of plays anymore. But anyway, I was super impressed by the athletic display there -- too bad I didn't get to see his perfectly timed jump from a better angle. 
  • A business partner asked me who the Steelers starting kicker would be for 2011. I said Shaun Suisham. Then I realized that some guy named Swayze Waters was either hitting a screamer that was easily blocked, or sealing his fate in the National Football League with a 27-yard miss in the fourth quarter. Apparently Suisham has been 'ill' (Tomlin's words, not mine) this past week.  I never thought I'd say it, but please get your butt back in uniform Shaun. 
  • James Harrison looked just fine, but he's still working his way back from two offseason back surgeries. According to his FB page this evening, he was set to get some 6 inch acupuncture needles jammed in him, presumably to help relieve some sort of pain. He'll be just fine, but he's got a ways to go still. He's the best player on the Steelers defense, or at least he has been the past three years, but he definitely is not looking like an unstoppable wrecking ball just yet. He'll get there. 
  • News flash. Heath Miller's good at football. Never much flash, but man, if there was one guy who I'd trust with my life to make a tough catch with his hands in traffic and then hold on to the ball while absorbing hits from multiple defenders, it would be No. 83. So steady. 
  • I gotta end somewhere, so how about with these two open-ended questions that I plan to explore and write about: is there any team in the NFL that has as many guys as the Steelers who have played their entire careers with one team? I'm too tired to start counting, but I seriously doubt there is. On defense that is. Secondly, is the kickoff rule change going to prove to be one huge blessing in disguise for the Steelers? Ddon't be sad that, as fans, we'll be treated to a bit less entertainment because of the new kickoff rule. We're not going to miss out on Josh Cribbs' electrifying run backs or Devin Hester's game changing play making. We might lose out on a few yards of field position on offense, but we're also going to force opposing teams to go 80 yards on Dick LeBeau's unit. Pretty much every time. Good luck with that!!!
More Friday. Y'all enjoy your weekends. Yes, it's the preseason, but even if it's meaningless, Thursday night should have reminded you that the Steelers are absolutely stacked and perfectly positioned to whoop some serious ass in 2011. Get excited, this team is going to be fun to watch this season.