On the Steelers: Big Ben looks ready to play
As the Steelers and Giants slugged it out -- sometimes literally -- Saturday night, one mystery hung over the New Meadowlands Stadium:
Ambassador Dan Rooney flew in from Ireland just for this?
The second preseason game for both teams featured one starting quarterback who cannot play for the first four games of the regular season, and a third-string quarterback forced to play the entire game because the two in front of him were hurt.
Ben Roethlisberger got his feet good and wet, throwing his first interception in the process but otherwise looking like he's ready to start the season now and not Oct. 17, when his suspension could end. And the Giants' Rhett Bomar, a fifth-round draft pick last year from Sam Houston State who spent virtually all of his rookie season on their practice squad, helped terrorize one of the NFL's best defenses on one 75-yard touchdown drive.
That drive began when Bomar completed a deep pass down the left side to Steve Smith for 45 yards in which cornerback Bryant McFadden had good position but failed to come up with it or knock it down.
Bomar also completed a 9-yard pass on third-and-9 at the Steelers' 18 for a first down. On the next play, Ahmad Bradshaw ran on a straight line outside left tackle untouched into the end zone while linebacker James Harrison and defensive end Brett Keisel were caught inside and McFadden bit that way as well.
"They did a good job moving the ball down the field," Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. "We did a poor job tackling and we got beat on a big play, so the guys up front got to do a better job putting pressure on the quarterback, not allowing him that much time to throw the big bomb."
Said defensive end Aaron Smith, "It was just a matter of some missed tackles and making some plays and making a few little mistakes."
It was not a good night for Steelers cornerbacks, other than an interception on an athletic move by Joe Burnett on a tipped pass. McFadden continued his so-so preseason. Keenan Lewis left with a concussion. And Ike Taylor was tossed out after the fourth play of the game for trading punches with Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks.
More points of interest from Saturday night:
As a whole, the offensive line did a good job and provided protection for all three quarterbacks. Roethlisberger was sacked once -- although his interception came after Justin Tuck beat tackle Flozell Adams to the inside and chased the quarterback out of the pocket. Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon were not sacked.
Leftwich had ample time to throw for the most part, unlike the breakdowns around him in the preseason opener. The line set up a good pocket for him on the 68-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace.
"The line did a good job and the backs picking up the blitz and we moved the ball down the field pretty well as a unit," Roethlisberger said. "I'm a little disappointed we couldn't put the ball in the end zone when I was in there but we'll improve on that."
The Steelers lined up in plenty of two-back formations and many of them were not fullback-halfback but two halfbacks, particularly Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman.
Redman has neither played nor practiced at fullback this year as Frank Summers settles into that role, and when he lined up with Mendenhall it was not in the I formation.
Coordinator Bruce Arians talked about using a Pony backfield with two halfbacks early in 2008 with Willie Parker and Mendenhall, but never really deployed one and scrapped the idea last season. Perhaps Redman's ability to block has prompted him to take another look at it.
Their ground game continued to build on a decent first-game performance by running 41 times for 161 yards and touchdowns by Redman and Dwayne Wright. It's the second game they've run more than they passed. Against Detroit, they ran 35 times for 117 yards.
"I did see improvement from a production standpoint, just raw numbers," coach Mike Tomlin said. "But raw numbers never tell the story. We had linebackers running through us pretty good in the second half, so we still have some work to do."
Burnett's interception gave the Steelers the ball on the Giants' 44 with 53 seconds left in the half, and Leftwich moved them sharply to the 1, including a 11-yard run up the middle by the quarterback.
But it fell apart after Antwaan Randle El took a short pass and ran it 15 yards to the 1. From there, with 23 seconds to go, the Steelers called their second time out. Leftwich then tried a quarterback sneak that went nowhere and they called their final timeout. On second down, with 15 seconds left, his pass fell incomplete. With 12 seconds left, Mewelde Moore lined up as the lone back and took a handoff up the middle that was stopped and time ran out before they could call another player or kick a field goal.
"You know we wanted to kill that ball when we got that ball down there to the 1, but we ended up sneaking it," Tomlin explained. "We had to burn our last timeout, and at that point with 15 seconds left, you've got issues. Thankfully it's the preseason."
At least it beat lining up in an empty set from the 1.
Add one more stadium to Hines Ward's career list. He also played in Toronto when the Steelers faced the Buffalo Bills in the preseason in 2008.
His play Saturday night in the New Meadowlands, then, gives him 40, counting preseason.
First Published August 23, 2010 12:00 am