Where the Cleats Meet the Gridiron: Pittsburgh Steelers Preseason Game 1

Phillip BuntingContributor IAugust 15, 2009

PITTSBURGH - AUGUST 13: Dennis Dixon #2 of the Pittsburgh Steelers warms up prior to a preseason NFL game against  the Arizona Cardinals  on August 13, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Have you ever heard the Firestone Tire shibboleth, ”Where The Rubber Meets The Road”? Well, the Pittsburgh Steelers pretty much fit that bill, except it is more like, “Where The Cleats Meet The Gridiron.” Trust me, the Steelers will defend every blade of grass in 2009 with their cleats meeting the gridiron.

Just like I promised, here is the new segment I'll be writing for the season. Mind you I will not be a stat freak, Just write as I see things.



The Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals 20–10, with some promising performances from their rookies and second year players. It wasn't a Super Bowl rematch of sorts as others were making it to be. The game was merely used to evaluate the depth of players to help determine which of them will comprise the 53-man roster for 2009.

The first team offense was playing to the cord of staying injury-free, playing two series. So, you knew nothing spectacular was going to happen. Though the first team held their ground. The first team defense held the cardinals first team offense scoreless, that is what is expected of them.

Limas Sweed looked pretty confident out there catching an 11-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger and a 42-yarder from Charlie Batch, even though he dropped one from Dennis Dixon in the third quarter that could have been a first down. Limas Sweed looks night and day compared to last year.

Charlie Batch looked great out there connecting with Limas to bring the ball down field for Jeff Reed to kick a 50-yard field goal. Jeff Reed looked like he was in mid-season form. Yes, I know it was the heart of summer when he kicked that field goal, now it's time to see if that continues during the regular season in the wind and cold.

Lamarr Woodley, Ziggy Hood, and Sonny Harris all took part in sacking the Quarterback twice. I look forward to the defense being ranked No. 1 across the board.

Piotr Czech looked okay even though one of is field goals sailed wide left. I still don't think he'll unseat Jeff Reed.

Boy, wasn't it great to see Daniel Sepulveda boom those punts for a near 50 average in yards? It was doggone awful seeing Mitch Berger and Paul Ernster rotate in punting duties last year.

Mike Wallace handled himself well connecting on a 35-yard pass from Dixon, and returning a kickoff for 35 yards also. He looked very fluid with his route running and adjustment to the ball.

Joe Burnett did well on punt returning duty, fair catching one at the nine yard line and blocking to let one go for a touchback. He also ran one back for several yards.

I like how he intercepted Brian St. Pierre for 49 yards to set Issac Redman up for a three yard touchdown. Redman also had a nice five-yard touchdown.


Final Thoughts

I thought the Steelers played a great game, and are headed in the right direction. Some players were more noticeable than others and that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Sometimes it is great not to be noticed, especially along the defensive and offensive lines. There is still a lot of work to be done before a 53 man roster is pieced together.


Notes and Quotes:


Coach Mike Tomlin: That was a good start for us on a lot of fronts. This is going to be a good take for our football team to make corrections. Of course we are far from perfection. That is why we go through this process.

We saw some things that we don’t like (12 men in the huddle and delays of game), things of that nature that are a part of August football. Those are things that we need to put behind us to get to 200-level problems, if you will.

We saw some positive things and some young men who distinguished themselves. We had some guys who made plays inside stadiums for us, and it was enough for us to win.

From that standpoint it was good, but by no means are we going to wear our hands out patting ourselves on the back. We have a lot of work here in front of us, and we will continue to work our football team to build for the ’09 season.


Did Limas Sweed carry his strong play into the game?

Really, it was what we expect from him. We are not going to be pleasantly surprised by production from that young man, or any of them for that matter.

There is a standard of expectation around here and we expect them to exceed it. I thought that he did a pretty good job tonight.


Does Isaac Redman know how to get into the end zone?

It was relative. Hopefully we will get some more looks at him against some varsity guys, if you will. He did a nice job with what he was faced in front of tonight.

We are not going to make too much out of it. We will continue to work and move forward.


Did you want to see your return guys get more opportunity?

We take it how we can get it. There was some good situational football. We didn’t get a bunch of returns, but we did get a chance to evaluate Joe (Burnett) in some areas.

He of course fair caught a ball inside the nine-yard line. He didn’t fair catch another attempt which allowed him to be a blocker. He got a successful block which allowed the ball to roll into the end zone.

Those are just as important as fielding and running: some of the decision-making that comes with being the punt returner, if you will.

We had the same thing on kickoff returns. We didn’t get a bunch of looks, but we did get to see some judgment issues.

We had guys standing in the end zone when the ball was five-and-a-half yards deep, and so forth. That is as big a part of the process as seeing the guys with the ball in their hands.


Was that a good play to fair catch the ball on the nine?



Can you talk about the play of Bruce Davis?

I make no bones about the pressure that I apply to second-year men so that they jump forward in a big way.

It is no different than what we asked of Lawrence (Timmons), (LaMarr) Woodley, (Matt) Spaeth, William Gay and those guys to do a year ago. We expect this class to distinguish themselves if they want to be a part of this thing.


How did you assess Rashard Mendenhall?

I thought he made some nice runs. I would like to see us control the line of scrimmage a little better as a unit. I thought he represented himself quite well for the first time out. We have a ways to go as a football team.


Did your young defensive backs make some good plays for you?

Yeah, you knew they would. That was the nice thing about playing an explosive team like Arizona here this early: you knew you were going to come out and get an opportunity to get to see these young defensive backs play.

For the most part, I thought they did a nice job. They kept the ball in front of us. That is a prerequisite if we are going to be good.

We have to do a better job of catching it when we get our hands on it. That will make us great. For the most part, I thought it was a pretty good part.


Was it nice to see Daniel Sepulveda boom the ball?

It was just good to see him in uniform. It is not a good feeling to look around and see a fourth-round punter in street clothes. It was great to see him in uniform. He kind of gave us what we think he is capable of giving us.


Was scratching Brett Keisel a last-minute decision?

It was. He got kicked in the calf yesterday morning at practice. We looked at it and he ran on it prior to the game and was still feeling it. We thought we would exercise a little bit of caution and not play him tonight.

We do not expect that to be serious at all. Hopefully we can get him back out there running on Saturday.


How did Ziggy Hood do for the first time out there in a game?

Again, I have to watch the tape. He flashed and made a couple plays. I will have to hold judgment until I see how he does the mundane things...the ordinary things that don’t comprise highlights. How is his get-off, how is his pad level and how is his hand-usage. Those are the things that are going to get him into the rotation.


How did Dennis Dixon do with the mundane things?

He had some good moments and he had some moments where you would like to see him make a few more plays. I thought we had a couple guys keep down the field on some play actions that you would like to see one or two connected on.

I liked his presence and I thought he handled the group very well. We had a delay of game in there.

For the most part, like I characterized to the team at the beginning of this, I thought it was an acceptable beginning for us and something we can build off of and move forward from.


Daniel Sepulveda

When you came to the sideline after your first punt, the defenders were slapping your hand, Coach Tomlin came over... it had to feel good.

It was kind of a "welcome back" kind of thing. It’s good to be back. It’s just a blessing to be able to play in the NFL, first, and secondly, for the greatest franchise. 

You never want to take those things for granted. You never know when an injury can come up. So I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts.


How did that leg feel?

It felt great. It’s good to go. I wish I wasn’t in a brace. But once you get out there playing, you kind of forget about it. It feels good. We’re taking the necessary precautions and we’ll go form there.


You got a nice little ovation out there.

Yeah, before the kick, which was interesting. I hit a good one for them after they cheered for me before I kicked it. It feels good to be back out there, for sure.


Limas Sweed

I know you dropped one on the sideline, but tonight you had a couple of big plays.

It was all right, like Coach Tomlin said. We have to get back in the lab and work on some things. There are some things that I could have done better. 

I take it as a positive building step. I’ll look at the tape, look at all the negatives, get them corrected and just keep moving forward.


Can you take us through the deep ball that Charlie Batch threw to you?

We saw those guys were playing single coverage pretty much the whole night. In the huddle, Charlie called something-go, I don’t remember.

When we were coming up to the line, he was going to pick who he wanted to go to. I figured there might be a good chance. Just like in practice, I saw the ball, got it at the highest point and made a play.


Comment re: body positioning on deep passes

That’s something that I try to work on all the time, being a bigger guy. I don’t really want to always give away that I’m going for the high ball. 

So I try to turn at the last moment. The DB, his back is turned, so he doesn’t know what I am doing. So if I can turn at the last split-second, I usually try to come down with it.

Mid-game quotes

Max Starks

With a couple of new starters on the offensive line how do you think the line did tonight?

We still have some things to work on. We need to sure up some protection things. I need to focus more myself. Now that we will have this first game out of our systems, we will know our expectations on our play.


What are some good things you did out there tonight?

I think we communicated very well tonight. That’s the most important thing that everybody is on the same page. Everybody was talking, that was very important to establish that early so there is no miscommunication, a guy coming free.


Re: you guys were backed up a few times and came out with a couple first downs to change field possession.

That’s an important thing. It’s very hard to go down and get points when you’re backed up that deep, but if you can go down and get the punter some room to get it out of there.


Hines Ward

You got hurt at the end of the year last year. How did it feel to get out there and catch a few balls?

It feels good just to be on the field healthy. Coach Tomlin has been very good to me at training camp. It has been a long off-season for me. It feels good to come out here and get hit, because at practice I don’t get hit.


Re: On the offense changing field position when you were pinned deep.

It felt real good, just to come out and get the ball moving. We played more, the first group, than we wanted to. We made some great plays and moved the ball out there.


Re: On Limas Sweed’s few catches.

I knew that he was going to have a great pre-season this year. What happened last year was last year. He is going to grow as a wide receiver and make some big plays for us.


Ben Roethlisberger

How would you rate the offense's performance tonight?

Overall without looking at film I think it was ok. I think we had a couple plays with few breakdowns, but it just felt good to go against someone other than your own guys.


Re: Limas Sweed

So far so good, he made two great catches. We just have to make sure he can keep going. I told him to keep it up.


Re: On changing field position

It was big for us. Any time we can’t go down and score, we just need to make sure we give Daniel (Sepulveda) room. We did a great job. We got a few first downs and got us out to change the tempo of the game.


Aaron Smith

How do you guys think you did in there? Did you get some good downs? Going up against the offense, do you think you did pretty well?

We did well. They moved the ball a little bit on us, but they didn’t score, and I think we played all right. We’ll see.


Especially that first possession, they moved the ball down a little bit and then you and LaMarr got the sack and we saw you guys stepped up.

Yeah, it’s just a matter of us settling in. It’s the first pre-season game and you’re going to have mistakes here and there, guys being a little rough. For the most part, it felt like it was good, though.


LaMarr Woodley

How do you guys think you did in there?

I think we did all right. It’s the first pre-season game, but we always expect the most out of ourselves. It felt like we were on the field too long.


What were some of the good things you guys did in there?

We didn’t give up the big plays. We had an opportunity when they threw the 15 down the field, and we didn’t give up the big plays. I think that’s a good thing that we did, not giving up the big plays.


Do you like going up against a top offense in the preseason? Do you think that it helps to get you guys ready?

It definitely helps. You get a chance to see actually where you’re at right now. Both of us went to the Super Bowl last year, and with the offense that Arizona has and the defense that we have, it was a good comparison to come out here early and see them early in the preseason game.


Troy Polamalu

The first time getting in against another team, how do you guys think you did as a defense?

I think we did pretty well. Obviously, the goal always to not give up any points, which we did a pretty good job of. We’re very patient, and the offense is very patient as well, so there’s obviously a lot of regrouping to do and we’ll just take it from there.


Is it good to go up against an offense early that has that much firepower? Is that going to help you down the road?

Yeah, it’s always good to face an offense of this caliber in a pre-season game. It helps you prepare for the season and the rest of the pre-season as well.


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