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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mid-week thoughts

To a man, there's nobody in the Steelers locker room who does not expect Ray Rice to play Sunday.

That's the bottom line in this game. Neither team wants to be the first to blink. And Rice sitting out would be the Ravens blinking.

© I asked Max Starks today if he's had to explain to all the new guys starting on the offensive line what kind of game they're in for.

He said he has with Maurkice Pouncey, but that Doug Legursky has been here long enough to have seen the battles.

I asked about Flozell Adams. He replied, "I don't have to explain anything to Flozell. He hates everybody. We just tell him, 'Flo, we don't like these guys.' He's like, 'Cool, I hate them too.'"

© A reporter asked John Harbaugh today about the Stanford Cardinal, the team coached by his brother, Jim.

"They're kicking butt and taking names," Harbaugh said before correcting himself. "Actually, they're kicking so much butt they don't have time to take names."

© Jim Wexell reminded me today how much I liked Cleveland running back Peyton Hillis coming out of college.

At the time, I thought Hillis might end up being a better player than the two guys he blocked for in the Arkansas backfield, Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.

I don't know if that has come to fruition, but McFadden and Jones have both been very injury prone.

Hillis, meanwhile, went for nearly 150 yards on Sunday against the Ravens.

© The Steelers' practice Wednesday was more subdued than usual. Usually, they are very boisterous during practice.

But, as PR man Dave Lockett noted when I mentioned something about it to him, the Steelers weren't in pads.

Mike Tomlin was giving the players an easy day of practice in anticipation of the kind of game they will play in Sunday.

© I sit here watching "The Big Lebowski," one of the most underrated comedies of its kind.

Gotta love The Dude.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Interesting stuff

Ray Lewis just had his conference call with the Pittsburgh media and had some interesting things to say.

Lewis said he and Ben Roethlisberger were exchanging texts last night and Roethlisberger was lamenting the fact he won't be playing against Baltimore this weekend.

Lewis said he exchanges texts with a number of the Steelers regularly.

It's a far cry different from the days when he and Joey Porter went back and forth with a war of words.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tuesday with Tomlin

Mike Tomlin on Tuesday called the Steelers-Ravens rivalry the best in football.

While I haven't been able to witness first-hand many of the other good rivalries around the league, I have seen all 30 games between Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

They are all memorable, particularly since the Ravens became a factor around 1998.

In the past 24 meetings, 11 of the games have been decided by three or fewer points.

In the past 11 meetings, four have gone to overtime.

The Steelers are 5-2 against the Ravens under Tomlin, but the aggregate score of those games is 99-83, showing just how close the margin is.

© Tomlin said defensive tackle Chris Hoke (knee) and guard Trai Essex (ankle) could be available this week.

© And, of course, Charlie Batch will start at QB.

And then there were three

Three weeks into the season, we're already down to just three unbeaten teams.

What kind of odds do you think you could have gotten at the beginning of the season that those three unbeatens would be the Steelers playing without Ben Roethlisberger, the Chicago Bears and the woeful Kansas City Chiefs?

Which one is the biggest surprise to you?

Even though I picked against the Steelers to win the first two weeks, I'd still have to go with Kansas City.

I'm still nowhere near sold on the Chiefs being a playoff contender – I think Chicago and Pittsburgh are – but they've already beaten San Diego and San Francisco - a pair of teams picked to win their respective divisions by many.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Post-Tampa Bay thoughts

Am I vindicated now?

I pick the Steelers to win and cover and they do so with great ease.

Some felt this game could be a bit of a trap game, coming before a big showdown with the Ravens. But this is a highly motivated, highly focused team.

If anybody nearly got caught in a trap Sunday, it was the Ravens, who struggled to beat the Browns in a game sandwiched between meetings with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

It's still early, but the Steelers have the look of a team that wants to make its third Super Bowl trip in the past six years.

Injuries will play a big factor in that, but as the Steelers have already shown, they are not only talented, they're deep.

In fact, Mike Tomlin referenced the fact that every offensive lineman on the team's 53-man roster has already seen playing time this season. That can only help this team down the road.

© Many people feel the Steelers, at 3-0, are playing with house money in regard to these first four games without Ben Roethlisberger.

But these guys honestly feel like they should win every game.

© It's easy to second-guess Tomlin for his decision to start the season with Dennis Dixon at quarterback rather than Charlie Batch. But, in reality, he had painted himself into that corner.

Dixon had gotten way more work in the preseason and training camp than Batch. And then there was Batch's lengthy injury history, something Tomlin noted was part of his decision to start Dixon.

The bottom line is that the Steelers are 3-0. It hasn't always been pretty but it has been effective.

© One of the key plays in Sunday's game is something that likely won't be mentioned in any of the game stories - including mine.

But, trailing 3-0, the Steelers went three-and-out on their second possession. Punting from his own 29, Daniel Sepulveda nailed a kick 62 yards with no return to the Tampa Bay 9, completely changing field position.

Tampa Bay then went three-and-out and punted from its own 15.

The Steelers took over from the Tampa Bay 45 and two plays later, Batch hit Mike Wallace on his first long touchdown pass.

© Chris Hoke's sprained knee doesn't look bad, but it could be a big thing if he can't play against the Ravens in what will be a battle of the trenches.

© Speaking of the trenches, the Steelers did not allow a sack Sunday.

The last time that happened was when the Steelers played at Baltimore last November, a game started by Dixon.

Steelers-Bucs game day

It's 10 a.m., I'm at the stadium and it's already hot and sticky here. Can't imagine what it's going to be like come game time.

© Early word had it that both Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown will be active. But that could change between now and game time, specifically because of the heat index, which will be in the 90s.

That was the case as Sanders is inactive today.

He's joined on the list by Dixon, Keenan Lewis, Jonathan Dwyer, Crezdon Butler, Tony Hills, Trai Essex and Thaddeus Gibson.

© Cody Grimm, Russ Grimm's son, will start at safety for the Bucs in place of suspended Tanard Jackson.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Who I like - Tampa Bay edition

Two defenses that have given up a combined 41 points in their first two games will meet Sunday in Tampa.

But one is for real and the other is a product of having played the Browns and Panthers.

The Steelers are 4 1/2-point favorites over the Bucs Sunday and that seems like a layup, particularly with Charlie Batch at quarterback.

What's that? You think I can't be talking about the same Charlie Batch who threw for 25 yards in two and a half quarters last week.

Batch's numbers would have been much better had his teammates helped him out a bit. He threw some nice passes, moved in the pocket well and got the ball to the correct receiver.

The touchdowns will still be tough to come by. But with the way the Steelers defense is playing, it doesn't matter.

Take the Steelers to win, 20-6.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ward, Kemoeatu fined $5,000 each

Chris Kemoeatu was fined $5,000 for their part in what was one of the best football fights I've seen in 18 years of covering the league.

That said, I don't believe Ward deserved a fine.

Let's go back to the play in question against the Tennessee Titans.

On the Steelers' first offensive play from scrimmage, Dennis Dixon threw a pass that was deflected, hit the ground and bounced into the hands of a Tennessee defender.

The play could have been ruled a lateral and Hines Ward immediately grabbed the Tennessee player - defensive tackle Tony Brown - and tried to wrestle him to the ground. Moments later, the entire Tennessee defense ploughed into the play.

Kemoeatu came running and ploughed into the pile as well. Brown and Kemoeatu both drew fines for the play.

Ward was also fined for excessive face masking, whatever that may be. Ward was not penalized for grabbing anyone's facemask in the game.

Those two penalties come on top of the $5,000 James Harrison was fined for spiking Titans' QB Vince Young in the third quarter.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Just an FYI

As the Steelers reminded reporters this morning, we are not permitted to write or discuss who takes what first-team snaps at quarterback - or any other position, for that matter – once the regular season begins.

That should give you an idea of what they're doing at the position - or not.

© James Harrison has been named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week.

© Steve McLendon has been re-signed to the practice squad.

© James Harrison was fined $5,000 by the NFL for a hit on Vince Young on which he drove Young - and teammates Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith - into the ground.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Steelers get some back, lose some others

As expected, Mike Tomlin announced Tuesday that quarterback Dennis Dixon has a meniscus injury to his left knee and will undergo surgery at 8 a.m. Wednesday to repair it.

Tomlin is holding off saying how long Dixon will be out - or if he'll be placed on injured reserve until after the surgery.

On the plus side, it appears that Byron Leftwich, Casey Hampton and Max Starks will all be healthy enough to play this week.

Even with Leftwich healthy, Tomlin said he's leaning toward Charlie Batch starting Sunday against the Tampa Bay Bucs based on the health issues. That could change over the course of the week.

Guard Trai Essex will be limited this week with an ankle injury. If he can't play, Doug Legursky - not Ramon Foster - would start at right guard.

Jason Worilds and Emmanuel Sanders will also practice all week after sitting out last week.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Post-Tennessee thoughts

Wow. In previous years, it was the Tennessee Titans who delivered the butt kickings to the Steelers in Nashville.

But it was the Steelers, both offensively and defensively, who were the aggressors in this one.

The video board at LP Field continually showed pro wrestler Ric Flair imploring the crowd to get loud, finished with his trademark, "Woo."

That was ironic since the Titans looked like they were in a studio wrestling match against and MMA fighter. The Steelers kept punching them in the mouth and hitting them over the head with chairs throughout this game, while the Titans landed the fake blows.

That may be a little harsh. Actually, Tennessee's defense was as physical as ever.

But the Titans' offense got manhandled.

© I've never seen anything like the offensive line rotation the Steelers used in the second half.

Guys were coming and going - other than Maurkice Pouncey - and playing different positions.

© The Steelers won a game in which they threw for 21 yards. Think about that for a moment.

© I know there are those of you out there who are angry with me for picking against the Steelers in each of the first two weeks.

Mike Tomlin is obviously paying attention to those who doubt this team.

But let's be honest. Quarterback is a pretty important position and the Steelers are playing with, essentially, their third choice at the position.

But Tomlin knows the Steelers will be favored to win next week in Tampa Bay. He could be heard in the locker room as the team entered telling them that they'll have to get it up again next week to face an unbeaten team.

Tomlin's looking for any edge he can get.

© Lawrence Timmons should be the early favorite for Defensive Player of the Year. That's two games and 26 tackles. He's also played a huge part in shutting down both Michael Turner and Milli Vanilli wannabe Chris Johnson.

By the same token, if James Harrison doesn't win AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors after making 11 tackles, two sacks, forcing two fumbles and recovering another, they should stop giving the award.

Harrison totally took the game over in the third quarter. Tennessee had one yard in the third quarter, with Harrison making five tackles, two sacks and forcing two fumbles - in 12 plays.

Why Leftwich was released

The release of Byron Leftwich Saturday was an interesting move for the Steelers.

Looking at the forecast in Nashville today, the Steelers saw that temperatures were going to be close to 90.

That necessitated a move to add nose tackle Steve McClendon to add to the defensive line rotation.

The Steelers weren't going to play Leftwich this week, so they used his roster spot to add McClendon to the active roster.

Leftwich will be re-signed Monday. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised if he's the team's starting quarterback next week in Tampa Bay.

© You won't see Antonio Brown returning punts today. In fact, I was told by a good source that you won't see him or any rookie returning punts until Ben Roethlisberger returns.

The Steelers are taking a no Roethlisberger, no rookies tact to punt returns. They don't feel they can overcome a possible mistake with Dennis Dixon or Leftwich at QB.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Who I like Week 2, and other stuff

Let me just say this from the start, the Steelers are going to be without nose tackle Casey Hampton and left tackle Max Starks Sunday in Tennessee .

That's two pretty big guys to be without, especially when you're already running without starting QB Ben Roethlisberger.

That said, if the game was in Pittsburgh, I'd be picking the Steelers this week. Vince Young doesn't scare me as a passer and one-dimensional teams are going to have a tough time against this defense.

But, the game is in Nashville, where the Steelers have traditionally struggled.

I think the Steelers can win. But I don't think they will.

What they will do, however, is cover the 5 1/2-point spread in a 17-13 loss.

© Both Jason Worlids and Emmanuel Sanders missed practice again Friday. Even though both are listed as doubtful to play, there's no way that's happening.

© Of more interest is Mike Tomlin's decision to list Byron Leftwich as probable.

Leftwich went through a full practice Friday and could be available if Dennis Dixon struggles.

The more likely scenario is Leftwich starting next week in Tampa, unless Dixon somehow comes out of Sunday with a victory.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Just something I noticed in practice this week

Three of the players the coaching staff weren't happy with from an attitude standpoint in training camp - Antonio Brown, Crezdon Butler and Keenan Lewis – are running as scout players at practice this week, ie. dressed in the jersey number of somebody on the opposing team.

The Steelers usually do this with three or four key players on the opposing team each week.

For example, Brown is serving as Tennessee running back Chris Johnson.

It's possible that those three players would have been used in those roles anyway. But it's a good way for the coaching staff to show the young guys that they aren't bigger than the team.

© Arnaz Battle returned to practice Thursday, but pretty much everyone else who missed Wednesday - other than the vet's day off guys - did not.

That's not saying guys won't play - veterans can miss work all week and still suit up.

But it's bad news for Jason Worilds and Emmanuel Sanders, who both missed their second day. Rookies have to practice to be active.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Things that make me go hmmm

Listening to the Dan Patrick Show this morning on my drive into Pittsburgh - I was flipping through the stations and caught it - and actually heard him ask if Reggie Bush giving back his Heisman Trophy made me feel any differently about Bush.

Ah, no.

Bush pretty much blamed everyone - including the media - for giving back the Heisman Trophy.

Note to Reggie: The media didn't illegally accept any money from anyone.

© The Steelers are 1-8 playing football in the state of Tennessee. I knew they hadn't had a lot of success down there, but I didn't realize that the record was that bad.

© I was watching a show on the NFL Network late Tuesday night in which they break down parts of games from the previous week.

The analysts were raving about the play of Lawrence Timmons. Welcome to the party on that one, fellas.

Timmons will make his first Pro Bowl appearance this season. The kid is that good and gives the Steelers yet another playmaker on defense.

© Rashard Mendenhall's 50-yard TD run in overtime Sunday was the third-longest game-winning overtime run in NFL history.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tomlin denies report

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin refuted the report that offensive tackle Max Starks would be out four weeks with a high ankle sprain, saying that Starks' injury was to his lower ankle and that he could return to practice late in the week.

Tomlin also said that it's possible nose tackle Casey Hampton could practice later in the week despite suffering a hamstring injury against the Falcons.

I don't expect either player to suit up this week, but we'll see what happens.

In other news, Tomlin said quarterback Byron Leftwich may also be ready for a full return to practice later in the week. At this point, however, the team appears set to roll with Dennis Dixon at QB at Tennessee.

Monday, September 13, 2010

What the Starks injury means

Let the scrambling begin.

With reporting that Max Starks will be out a month with a high ankle sprain, the Steelers took a big hit on their offensive line.

Starks' injury leaves the Steelers without both players scheduled to be their starting offensive tackles coming out of mini-camp. Right tackle Willie Colon was lost prior to the opening of training camp with an Achilles' tendon tear.

The injury to Starks leaves the team with Jonathan Scott, who replaced Starks Sunday, Flozell Adams, signed to replace Colon, and Tony Hills as the only healthy tackles on the roster.

Starting right guard Trai Essex has also played tackle during his career, while second-year player Ramon Foster has lined up at right tackle in preseason games.

The early favorite to replace Starks in the next three games - the Steelers have a bye week in Week 5 - will be Hills.

He made big improvements during training camp this summer to make a push to earn a spot on the roster.

One emergency option for the Steelers would be to re-sign former starting center Justin Hartwig – who visited the Cincinnati Bengals Monday. That would allow the team to move Essex to left tackle, slide Maurkice Pouncey to right guard and insert Hartwig at center.

But that would be tearing up the entire line, so the first option will be using Scott or Hills.

Post-Atlanta thoughts

Kudos to the Steelers for a big, big win. There’s no reason now that they shouldn’t go at least 2-2 with Ben Roethlisberger out, which should set them up for the 10-6 season I’ve predicted.

As I’ve constantly said during training camp and the preseason, people saying the Steelers hadn’t done anything to improve themselves weren’t looking at the big picture. Getting Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith back healthy was huge.

It also appears as if Lawrence Timmons is ready to join the team’s other three starting linebackers with a Pro Bowl trip this season.

I know it’s only one game and certainly things can fall apart - as we saw last season.

But the defense is playing with a big chip on its shoulder after faltering last season. They’ve got something to prove.

© I could say the same thing about Hines Ward. I questioned how much he had left in the tank after he had a quiet training camp and preseason.

But he stepped up in a big way against the Falcons.

© One of the unsung heroes in this game was punter Daniel Sepulveda.

Five punts with a 46.8-yard net – NET – is a pretty good day at the office.

This was a battle of field position. And while Atlanta punter Michael Koenen had a strong day as well - pinning the Steelers inside their own 20 four times – it was his 37-yard punt in overtime that only made it to midfield that was the special teams mistake of the game.

© Mike Tomlin said after the game that had the Steelers won the coin flip to start overtime, he would have taken the ball.

I think that would have been a mistake. The way the Steelers were playing defense, I’d rather have the game in their hands than in those of Dennis Dixon with a long field.

© Early word is that Tony Hills will replace Max Starks at left tackle next week at Tennessee. Hills made great strides during the preseason, but I’m not sure he’s ready for that just yet.

Jonathan Scott, who was OK filling in there Sunday after Starks went down with an ankle injury, could also be in the mix.

A better move might be to move Trai Essex from right guard to left tackle and start Ramon Foster at right guard. But they won’t want to tear up the whole offensive line.

© Imagine this if you will. If the Jets beat the Ravens at home Monday night, the Steelers will be alone in first place in the AFC North after Week 1.

© This from Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon describing the Steelers offensive line: Mammoth offensive line. Big guys up front. They do a good job firing off the ball - pretty athletic guys, and they have a quarterback who can run around.”

I’ve been saying that this is the biggest offensive line in Steelers history. They used that to their advantage Sunday.

It’s going to be a problem, especially for 4-3 teams, who are going to be giving up a lot of weight on the ends.

© I overestimated how good Matt Ryan was when I made my pick of the Falcons to win this game.

Ryan’s passes don’t have a lot of zip on them and his outs take forever to get to the sideline. Without a running game to help him, he was pretty toothless.

He was also way to dependent on one receiver. Roddy White was targeted 23 times in this game for 13 receptions.

I’ve been covering the NFL for 18 years and can’t recall seeing so many passes intended for one receiver. That made the Falcons very predictable.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Tomlin's thoughts on rookies haven't changed

Mike Tomlin may be starting a rookie today for the first time, but his overall thoughts on first-year players in games hasn't changed.

Inactive against the Falcons are Jonathan Dwyer, Crezdon Butler, Antonio Brown and Thaddeus Gibson, all members of this year's draft class. Also inactive are Byron Leftwich, Tony Hils and Ramon Foster.

From the looks of warmups, it appears that Antwaan Randle El will handle punt returns and Emmanuel Sanders will take care of kick returns.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Who I like, Week 1

This isn't likely to garner me any friends here, but I like the Falcons this week for a couple of different reasons.

First is obviously Dennis Dixon starting at QB.

I think the Steelers will try to play things close to the vest to limit his mistakes and that will be a mistake. It's like playing not to lose rather than playing to win.

Also, unlike Baltimore last season, the Falcons have had time to prepare to face Dixon. They'll have something drawn up to limit his scrambling ability and take advantage of the things he doesn't do well throwing the ball - ie. checking off his first option.

Finally, there is the old hidden vigorish. The Steelers have the league's longest active winning streak to start the season at seven. They have also won their past seven home openers.

The longer streaks like that go on, the more likely they are to end.

That's why I like the Falcons to win this one, 16-13.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Arians clarifies Mendenhall's situation

Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has clarified the rotation that will exist between Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman in short-yardage situations.

Redman will indeed be the team's short-yardage back, but Mendenhall will still get the bulk of the goal line carries.

The team will leave Mendenhall in the game down by the end zone because of his skill as a receiver. They want the threat of a pass to at least be there.

© Little note about Maurkice Pouncey. Not only will he be the first rookie position player to start a regular season opening game for the Steelers since Heath Miller in 2005, but he'll also be just the second offensive lineman in team history to do so. Marvel Smith is the only other rookie offensive lineman to start in team history.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Random notes

Just looking through the Steelers' depth chart in their official season-opening press release and found a couple of interesting notes:

© Tight end David Johnson is listed as a starter at fullback.

Now, everyone knew that Johnson would be used as a lead blocker quite a bit, but a starter? I guess.

© The team lists both Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon as its starting quarterback.

© Antonio Brown is listed as the starting punt and kick return man. Mewelde Moore is listed second on KR. Antwaan Randle El is listed second at PR. Emmanuel Sanders is No. 3 at both spots.

© Jonathan Scott is listed as the backup long snapper. James Harrison is No. 3.

© This may be in name only, but Keenan Lewis is listed at third on the depth chart at LCB behind Ike Taylor and Anthony Madison.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Some notes from Tomlin Tuesday

Mike Tomlin said today that Isaac Redman will serve as the Steelers' short-yardage back. That's bad news for those of you who selected Mendenhall in your fantasy drafts.

On the plus side, Tomlin did say the Steelers will use Mendenhall as the primary third-down back - as they did in the second half of last season - so he could make up for a couple of the scores that Redman may syphon off.

© As expected, Antwaan Randle El will be the team's emergency QB this week against Atlanta and will get some practice snaps at quarterback.

Randle El is also the backup holder on PATs and field goals.

© Jeff Reed will handle kickoffs this week, but I expect that to be a week-to-week thing with him and Daniel Sepulveda.

© Tomlin would not commit to saying which rookie receiver, Emmanuel Sanders or Antonio Brown - or if both - will be active on game days.

He was also non-commital with rookie linebackers Jason Worilds, Stephenson Sylvester and Thaddeus Gibson.

He wants the kids to earn their spots - though I think both rookie wide receivers and two of the three linebackers will be active.

© The Steelers released seventh-round draft pick Doug Worthington from their practice squad, signing defensive end Al Woods instead.

Woods was a fourth-round draft pick by the New Orleans Saints out of LSU.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Tomlin picks Dixon

That Mike Tomlin, he's a tricky sort.

Tomlin on Monday announced Dennis Dixon would be the team's starting QB this week against the Atlanta Falcons, choosing the third-year pro over Charlie Batch.

Tomlin said, “Dennis has had a very productive preseason and training camp. He went into the training camp as a young guy, second in the pecking order behind Byron Leftwich. He did a nice job and made it extremely competitive. He waged a battle and got some first-team reps in some preseason games. Largely, we’ve been very impressed with how he’s handled himself in game situations."

That said, it could end up being a one-week starting spot if Dixon doesn't perform well. Leftwich was a surprise participant in practice Monday. He's not ready to play after suffering an MCL injury last Thursday against Carolina, but he might be good to go in two weeks at Tennessee.

Practice squad set/Captains named

The Steelers set their 8-man practice squad on Monday. All eight are players who were with the team in training camp.

Signed were: TE Eugene Bright, OG Dorian Brooks, S Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith, WR Tyler Grisham, OT Kyle Jolly, DT Steve McLendon, FB Frank Summers and DE Doug Worthington.

In other news, the Steelers announced their four captains for the 2010 season. The only surprise here is tight end Heath Miller being named a captain for the first time.

He'll be joined by Hines Ward, James Farrior and Keyaron Fox.

Miller replaces Ben Roethlisberger as a captain.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Look for Batch to be the starter

After thinking about it for the past couple of days, the Steelers appear to be ready to head into the regular season using their backup quarterbacks to Ben Roethlisberger the same way they had planned - with one exception.

It looks like they're leaning to substituting Charlie Batch for injured Byron Leftwich and use Dennis Dixon as a change of pace.

The move actually has some merit – particularly since the Steelers feel Leftwich's knee injury will be more of the two to three-week variety. That could have him back in Week 2, with Week 3 at Tampa Bay being the better possibility.

They'll tell him to stay in the pocket and leave the scrambling to the kid.

If you remember, two of Batch's more recent injuries - a broken collar bone in a preseason game and a broken hand during a regular season start - came on him running with the ball or at least attempting a QB sneak.

The Steelers will drive home the point to Batch that he has to stay in the pocket and will emphasize a safe game plan that won't put him in a lot of jeopardy - if you can do that with a QB in an NFL game.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Hartwig among final cuts

The Steelers finalized their regular season roster today when they released 11 players, including former starting center Justin Hartwig, to reach the NFL’s 53-man limit.

Hartwig's release means the Steelers are comfortable with rookie Maurkice Pouncey as their starting center.

Also released were linebacker Patrick Bailey – a former team rookie of the year – cornerback Joe Burnett, safety Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith, wide receiver Tyler Grisham, defensive end Sunny Harris, wide receiver Stefan Logan, defensive tackle Steve McLendon, fullback Frank Summers, guard Kraig Urbik and defensive tackle Doug Worthington.

Expect Burnett, Grisham, Harris, Worthington and Cromartie-Smith to be headed to the practice squad.

The Steelers’ 53-man roster includes three quarterbacks, four running backs, three tight ends, six wide receivers, nine offensive linemen, six defensive linemen, nine linebackers, 10 defensive backs, one kicker, one punter and one long snapper.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Steelers release 10

The Steelers released 10 players from their preseason roster today in an effort to get down to the NFL’s 53-man limit for the regular season.

The following players were released by the Steelers: TE Eugene Bright, OG Dorian Brooks, OT Kyle Jolly, WR Brandon London, TE Sean McHugh, DT Scott Paxson, LS Matt Stewart, S Justin Thornton, RB Justin Vincent and LB Renauld Williams.

The Steelers must release 11 additional players by 6 p.m. on Saturday.

No real surprises in this list. The tough cuts will come Saturday.

Post-Carolina thoughts

Well, we wanted a decision on who the Steelers' QB would be against Atlanta and it's apparent that player will be Dennis Dixon.

I asked Mike Tomlin after the game if he pulled Dixon out because he didn't want to get him hurt. He said yes.

That tells me that Tomlin is planning on starting Dixon.

He could change his mind and go with Charlie Batch, though the coaching staff knows Charlie is injury prone at this point in his career - hence their decision to have him throw just four passes in more than two quarters.

But it's easier to go with Dixon and hope the defense can keep things close and overcome any mistakes he may make.

With the way this offensive line is run blocking, they should be able to take some pressure off Dixon and control the clock.

That's right, I'm raving about the run blocking of this offensive line - OK, I'm not raving. But I like the way they're getting off the ball.

We're seeing some nasty out of this offensive line, particularly when they line up and go straight ahead.

This is a big offensive line - probably the biggest in team history with the addition of Flozell Adams at right tackle. And they can use that to their advantage.

Perhaps it serves Tomlin right that his choice to replace Ben Roethlisberger during his suspension was injured when a second-team offensive lineman got rag-dolled and leg whipped the quarterback.

Jonathan Scott had played reasonably well to this point, but he's still a backup. You shouldn't have your QB in the game with backup linemen unless you absolutely have to.

It's a lesson you would have thought Tomlin would have learned last week in Denver when he nearly got Leftwich killed playing behind second and third stringers before yanking him after just two series.

He probably won't make the same mistake ever again.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Roethlisberger will start tonight

Just got confirmation that Ben Roethlisberger will start tonight's preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers.

© Bad news for Byron Leftwich. His left knee was hit while he was throwing by teammate Jonathan Scott and it appears he may have torn something.

He was taken to the hospital for an MRI, but the Steelers don't think it looks good.

Dennis Dixon may win the QB battle by default.

The injury could also open up a roster spot for Charlie Batch.