DENVER -- Coach Mike Tomlin was keenly interested in evaluating several players against the Denver Broncos, including quarterback Dennis Dixon. By the end of the 34-17loss Sunday night, he could not have liked what he saw.
Getting a chance to play with the first-team offense for the first time in the preseason, Dixon threw two interceptions -- one was returned 77 yards for a touchdown -- and did not produce any points after replacing Ben Roethlisberger at the start of the second quarter.
After completing 13 of 15 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown in the first two preseason games, Dixon was 6 of 13 for 58 yards with a 19.6 passer rating in the first half against Denver. That's not the performance Tomlin was hoping to see from his third-year quarterback.
Dixon finished 9 of 16 for 94 yards and a passer rating of 33.9.
"It speaks for itself," Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. "I didn't like the interception in the red zone. Hopefully, he'll get better."
But it wasn't just Dixon.
Cornerback Keenan Lewis, making his first start for injured Bryant McFadden (pectoral muscle), got turned around and was out of position on several plays, none more evident than on an 8-yard pass to Broncos receiver Brandon Lloyd.
But what really upset Tomlin was that Lewis was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct for kneeing Lloyd after the play. Tomlin pulled Lewis from the game and lectured him.He never returned.
"He stunk it up," Tomlin said.
After the game, a frustrated Lewis smashed a sign on the wall outside the Steelers' locker room, shattering glass. When Tomlin was told of the incident, he told conditioning coordinator Garrett Giemont to make sure Lewis pays for the damage.
"I just hit the wall," Lewis said. "I got to control my actions."
It wasn't much better for rookie Emmanuel Sanders, either.
The Steelers were using him at flanker for the first time after spending training camp and the preseason at split end. But Sanders, a third-round draft pick, twice failed to come back to the ball on sideline routes, the latter resulting in a 77-yard interception return by cornerback Andre Goodman.
Worse, in the fourth quarter, he ran the wrong route that resulted in Charlie Batch's pass being returned 48 yards for a touchdown by cornerback Syd-Quan Thompson.
Linebacker James Farrior sustained an Eli Manning-type injury in the first quarter when he received a cut on his head after his helmet popped off while making a tackle.
Farrior left the field holding a bloodied towel on his head and did not return. He needed sixth stitches to close the gash.
"A little friendly fire," Farrior said. "My helmet came off when I was trying to make the tackle, and I finished off the job."
Rookie running back Jonathan Dwyer, who missed most of training camp with a shoulder injury, looked good in his first extensive action. He finished as the leading rusher with 89 yards on 13 carries and had runs of 17, 18 and 40 yards. He also scored on a 5-yard run.
Rookie center Maurkice Pouncey started and played the entire time with the first-team offense, further proof he has ousted incumbent Justin Hartwig. When Hartwig started the first two preseason games, he rotated with Pouncey on the first-team offensive line. But there was no rotation against the Broncos.
Tomlin said he wanted to see how Pouncey performed against Pro Bowl nose tackle Jamal Williams, and he wasn't disappointed. The team's No. 1 pick played well for the third game in a row.
Byron Leftwich, who is expected to start the regular season while Roethlisberger serves his suspension, came into the game with 6:36 remaining in the third quarter and was roughed up.
Playing with the second-team offensive line, Leftwich was hit repeatedly nearly every time he attempted to pass.
He was also sacked by linebacker Joe Mays.
The Steelers have to make five roster moves to get down to the 75-player limit by Tuesday.
Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org .