Steelers' playbook mostly left shut in opener
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger walks to the sidelines after getting sacked in the first quarter of last night's loss to Philadelphia.
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They dinked, they dunked, they lost.
Anyone searching for dynamics in the new Steelers offense this side of rookie running back Chris Rainey might have come away disappointed Thursday night in Philadelphia. Not only were there no deep passes completed, none were attempted.
And that just might have been the plan. This, after all, was the first preseason game, the first chance for the Steelers to work Todd Haley's offense other than against themselves in Latrobe. The full version wasn't going to be put on stage Aug. 9 in Lincoln Financial Field.
"As always, we're going to be pretty basic throughout the preseason, especially these first few games," said tight end Heath Miller, who is expected to be a key component of Haley's offense but was not targeted once in Philadelphia. "There's certainly stuff we want to be good at no matter who we play, and we tried to do that."
That would be the running game and the short passing game. It's what they wanted to do Thursday, not air it out with their haul-it-in receiver still holding out. They've done that stuff before; the ground game, the short passing game is what needed work and, on the first drive -- the only one that really counted -- they did a decent job of that.
"We really didn't open up our playbook," said wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who scored the first touchdown on a 2-yard pass from Byron Leftwich. "We just went with a small margin of our playbook. There's still a lot more to come; we didn't want to show too much. As the preseason games come along, we'll continue to expand."
Roethlisberger completed seven of his eight passes in that first, 16-play drive that ended with a field goal, the height of efficiency. In fact, the three quarterbacks approached perfection as passer ratings determine it, with a 128.4. They threw two touchdowns, no interceptions. They were sacked way too many times, seven, but that comes with preseason games and the fact the Steelers opened the game with two rookie linemen.
"We were very limited tonight," Roethlisberger said Thursday after the game. "Well, I don't want to say limited, but we didn't have a lot tonight, we kept it simple and we just tried to go out and play against someone else."
The Steelers have another chance to put some procedural pressure on holdout Mike Wallace starting today, if they wish. It is unlikely they will.
From today through Wednesday, teams can provide written notice to certain unsigned players and the union of their intent to place such players on what is called the Exempt List if they fail to report no later than one day prior to the second preseason game. The Steelers play the Indianapolis Colts Aug. 19.
A player thus notified who fails to report by then would be ineligible to play or receive compensation for at least three games, counting the preseason or regular season, from the time he reports.
Thus, the Steelers could give Wallace that notice and, if he didn't report, he would be ineligible for three games until he does report.
There is little indication the Steelers would do that. They passed on the chance to reduce Wallace's tender from $2.742,000 to $577,500 when they could have done so June 15.
Some of Wallace's teammates who have been talking with him during his holdout continue to express optimism that he will end his holdout soon.
Baron Batch had good reason to enjoy the Thursday night game in Philadelphia, at least 19 of them.
That is how many times Batch carried the ball against the Eagles, one for each month he has gone since the last time he had played in a football game.
That came Jan. 1, 2011, for Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl vs. Northwestern.
"This is the first game I played in 18 or 19 months," Batch said. "I didn't realize I had that many until I saw that I had carried 19 times.
"That's a lot. I didn't carry that much in college. It felt good."
He led the Steelers with 41 yards rushing, and it was the mere fact he was able to return from that ACL surgery one year ago that ranked higher than his 2.2 yards per carry. He had four carries on two separate drives inside the Eagles 5 and picked up a net of 1 yard, which he attributed to his long layoff, and not the fact there were no holes to be found.
"That was the first time I've done some of that stuff," said Batch, whose ACL was torn in camp before the first preseason game last year. "When we did goal line in practice, I didn't go. That was my first live since I hurt my knee. It was just good to be back out there and get one under my belt."
• With fullback/tight end David Johnson out, the Steelers will have to determine whether Will Johnson, the only fullback on the roster, can handle the job or they need to find another. Johnson went undrafted in 2011 and was out of football, working three jobs and working out. The Steelers signed him in March after WVU's pro day workouts.
• Good enough reason for Brett Keisel to skip the first preseason game: He and his wife Sarah welcomed the birth of their third child and second son.
• Practice will resume today at Saint Vincent College and will be open to the public at 3 p.m., as the final week of training camp in Latrobe begins.
• Preseason Game 2: Steelers vs. Colts.
• When: 7:30 p.m. August 19.
• Where: Heinz Field.
First Published August 11, 2012 12:00 am