In an attempt to explain what he was looking for from his starters against the Buffalo Bills, coach Mike Tomlin said he wanted to see 30 minutes of Steelers football. After that, depending on his level of satisfaction, he would determine if he wanted to see more from his first-team units.
Well, after his defense, which ranked No. 1 overall in the National Football League last season, held the Bills to 50 total yards and scored on an interception return in the first half, Tomlin must have been more than satisfied that his first-team unit was ready for the regular season.
But, a funny thing happened when the second half began last night at Heinz Field: The first-team defense was still on the field, even though the Steelers were leading, 17-0.
"He wanted to see us come out strong in the second half," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "And we were able to do that."
Not even inside linebacker James Farrior, the old man of the unit, got a rest. And, after the way he performed, he should have received a vacation.
"That was the plan all along," Farrior said. "He never said how many plays we would have. We had a feeling we would go back to start the second half and still go out and play intense."
It was just another three-and-out series for the Bills, one of four they had against the first-team defense. And the reason the defensive starters have not allowed a touchdown in three preseason games.
Farrior looked like his Pro Bowl self against the Bills, registering four tackles, a sack, forcing a fumble and returning an interception 22 yards for a touchdown that gave the Steelers a 10-0 lead.
And, when he came back on the field for the first and only series of the second, Farrior nearly had a second sack when he hit quarterback Trent Edwards' throwing arm as he was attempting a pass, causing the ball to flutter and float harmlessly to the turf.
"He's a beast," Keisel said. "He doesn't slow down. The guy is a constant workaholic. That's why he's our captain."
Understand, of course, the Bills have not exactly been impersonating the New England Patriots in the preseason. Their first-team offense had not scored a touchdown in three previous games, and the only points the unit managed was a measly field goal against the Chicago Bears.
It didn't get any better against the Steelers.
The Bills were held to 28 yards rushing, 22 yards passing, and that with a 16-yard run by running back Marshawn Lynch on their fifth play from scrimmage. They also had a 16-yard catch-and-run by running back Dominic Rhodes in the second quarter.
Those two plays accounted for 32 of their 50 first-half yards, meaning the Bills managed all of 18 yards on their other 17 plays in the first half. And still Tomlin put the defense out for the start of the second half.
"I think we did pretty good," Farrior said. "There are some things that we can improve on. We can improve on our blitz timing and a couple other things."
At age 34, Farrior is coming off his second Pro Bowl season and shows no signs of slowing down. As he showed against the Bills, he is more than just the leader of a unit that was voted the best in the league in a poll of NFL scouts, personnel men and coaches by The Sporting News magazine.
He remains a playmaker, a linebacker who can blitz, force turnovers and, on occasion, return interceptions for touchdowns. That's what he did when he stepped in front of pass for wide receiver Josh Reed and returned the pick 22 yards for a touchdown.
"I have to show these guys I'm not getting old," Farrior said.
Last season, for the first time since joining the Steelers in 2002, he did not have an interception, forced fumble or fumble recovery, according to the team's 2008 statistics. Still, he was selected to the AFC Pro Bowl team, along with outside linebacker James Harrison. And, based on last night, it might not be his last.
"Hopefully, this goes on for the rest of the season for him," Keisel said.
Gerry Dulac can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .