DENVER - AUGUST 29: Wide receiver Antonio Brown #84 of the Pittsburgh Steelers beats cornerback Cassius Vaughn #41 of the Denver Broncos and scores a touchdown at INVESCO Field at Mile High on August 29 2010 in Denver Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Steelers Lose To Broncos In Pivotal Third Preseason Game
Can Dennis Dixon seize the opportunity tonight in Denver, as he lines up with the first-team offense? There's plenty to watch for tonight. Stay tuned for live updates.
Steelers Lose To Broncos In Pivotal Third Preseason Game
I think Jonathan Dwyer must've read this story stream on the sidelines. As soon as I say he looks sluggish, he takes a handoff and drags about a million Broncos defenders for a 10-yard gain. Then, on the next play, he hurdles a fallen defender and hussles 40 yards down the field. Nevertheless, I'm still not convinced the rookie will (or should) make the cut with Rashard Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore, and Issac Redman ahead of him.
Charlie Batch sure looked good for a while dissecting a bunch of Denver's scrubs in the fourth quarter. He hit Justin Vincent on a beautiful 20-yard floater down the sideline, then threw a touchdown strike on a quick slant to Antonio Brown. On the next drive, he took a hit and delivered the pass to Emmanuel Sanders for a first down. Later, due to a miscommunication with one of his receivers, Batch threw the game's second pick-six to Syd'Quan Thompson. Of course, it's unlikely all of this means much of anything at all. Batch's presence in the quarterback controversy has been something of a formality only. It's really been Leftwich v. Dixon for quite some time.
The Steelers allowed Thompson to return a punt for 50 yards. Obviously, the Steelers coverage units are still very much up in the air when it comes to personnel, but it's discouraging to see this anyway, considering the number of huge, game-changing returns they allowed in their checkered 2009 regular season campaign.
Final score (not like it's terribly important): 34-17, Broncos.
Joe Buck compared Troy Polamalu to John Lynch, who chuckled uncomfortably in the broadcast booth like someone receiving a compliment they know they do not deserve.
Jonathan Dwyer is not going to make the roster. The sixth-round rookie running back has been battling injuries throughout training camp and finally saw the field again this evening after missing the preseason matchup against the Giants. He looked indecisive and sluggish, usually failing to burst through the offensive line. After three drives, he had 23 yards on eight carries.
Justin Hartwig has often been a liability in pass protection in the past. Tonight, for some reason, he shifted his hips away from a Denver pass rusher, allowing an easy sack on Leftwich right up the middle. I don't know how anyone could make the argument that the veteran is a better option at center than rookie monster Maurkice Pouncey.
Rookie cornerback Crezdon Butler picked off rookie messiah quarterback Tim Tebow and nearly returned it for the Steelers first touchdown. Dwyer punched it in for five yards out two plays later. With Butler, Joe Burnett, and Keenan Lewis, the Steelers look they have a very good crop of young cornerbacks for years to come.
The coaching staff gave Dennis Dixon another series after a disastrous first half, which I suppose speaks to their willingness to let the young quarterback audition for the starting job. Or maybe they wanted to see how Dixon would respond to adversity: he completed passes to Mewelde Moore and Hines Ward, then went on a 29 yard scamper when there was nothing down the field. (Just for comparison, Byron Leftwich has exactly zero runs over 20 yards in his seven-year career.)
Later on the drive, Dixon hit Tyler Grisham in the numbers on an absolute strike, threading the needle between two Broncos defenders. It was a true NFL throw. The following play was a 4th & 1 deep in Denver territory, exactly the kind of situation in which the Steelers floundered last year. Rather than running it straight ahead -- which admittedly didn't work too well last year -- the Steelers got cute and ran a bootleg right with Dixon, a play the Broncos sniffed out immediately for a six-yard loss.
I am already sick of hearing about Tim Tebow. And it's preseason in his rookie year. This is not a good sign. Also, his release is still hideous.
Leftwich relieved Dixon midway through the third quarter, promptly leading the unit to a three-and-out. He attempted two passes, both of which were off the mark. We'll see what Leftwich does with his remaining playing time and whether or not Dixon's slight third quarter rebound will be enough to keep him in the quarterback conversation. Could this all come down to the fourth preseason game?
Keenan Lewis gave Brandon Lloyd "something extra," in the words of the referee who issued the unnecessary roughness penalty, meaning Lewis pushed the receiver to the ground after making the tackle. (Translator's note: "something extra" is synoymous with "giving him the business" in referee-speak.) Mike Tomlin was understandably less than pleased with the second-year cornerback, sending him straight to the bench.
Tackles Max Starks and Flozell Adams were flagged for false starts on consecutive plays during Dixon's third drive. (Dixon: "Thanks a lot, guys. I'm trying to win a job here!") Penalties are a legitimate concern for Adams, who in addition to switching away from his natural left side was positively notorious in Dallas for his penchant for racking up the penalty yards.
On the next play, Dixon stared down rookie receiver Emmanuel Sanders on a hitch route. Andre' Goodman jumped the route to break up the play, nearly getting a second interception for the Broncos.
William Gay made a case to retain nickleback duties after an awful stint as the team's second cornerback last season and strong preseason performances from second-year guys Lewis and Joe Burnett. Gay ran a shallow zone, getting underneath a Broncos curl route and extending his body to pick off Kyle Orton.
Dixon looked much better on the impending drive, his fourth, finding Mewelde Moore and Matt Spaeth over the middle of the field on a couple plays, throwing the ball away in the face of excellent coverage, and flinging a nice pass to Antonio Brown in the flats. He stood strong in the pocket the whole time. And then...
...he took a sack when Robert Ayers came flying up the middle. You can't blame the quarterback entirely for that, of course, but you can pretty much blame him for the following pick-six he threw to Goodman. The defensive back made a terrific play, jumping the route and gathering the bobbling ball, but Dixon's placement wasn't stellar either, as he placed the ball on the inside shoulder of the receiver (Sanders) instead of toward the sideline, away from the defender. It looks like Byron Leftwich will be under center in Week 1.
Rookie Antonio Bryant -- emphasis on rookie -- made what Joe Buck charitably called "a mental error" when he failed to let a Denver punt go over his head and into the end zone. Instead, he fielded the ball inside the five, then seemed surprised that the guys in blue and orange were waiting to tackle him. Brown is trying to make the Steelers roster, and this obviously doesn't help his case.
Buck also observed that rookie center Maurkice Pouncey has "a lot of ink for a guy who's only 20 years old." (In the tragic case that you are less hip than Joe Buck, "ink" is slang for "tattoos.") I only wish that Buck had continued the train of thought, maybe saying something like, "I mean, I didn't even get my Troy Aikman chest piece colored in until I was 28!"
Speaking of Pouncey, he seemed to hold his own against Jamaal Williams, a 13-year veteran who at least used to be a premier nose tackle in the NFL. Just another positive in what has been a tremendous preseason for the first-round selection out of Florida.
Ike Taylor came on 3 & 7 and recorded a sneaky sack on second-string deer in headlights quarterback Brady Quinn. Poor Brady. He gets traded from the Cleveland Browns and he still can't escape Pittsburgh pass rushers.
Dixon had some problems with accuracy during his first two drives. His first pass attempt was tipped at the line -- not really the quarterback's fault, although this can result from a passer staring down his receiver -- then Dixon missed tight end David Johnson in the flats, despite sitting comfortably in the pocket. However, he found Johnson a few plays later for a third down conversion.
Then, Dixon had some problems with decision-making. His second drive ended with a bonehead play: Dixon rolled right, but had only blanket coverage in the end zone. Instead of throwing the ball away, Dixon forced the ball into coverage and rookie defensive back Perish Cox made a spectacular, toe-tapping interception.
FOX reported that Ben Roethlisberger will meet with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday to determine whether or not his suspension will be reduced from six to four games.
Head Coach Mike Tomlin called tonight's game "a big litmus test" for young quarterback Dennis Dixon. He should be coming in following a few series from Roethlisberger, since Byron Leftwich has already seen plenty of time with the first-team offense this preseason.
Daniel Sepulveda continued to attempt kickoffs, but his first went out of bounds, sending the Broncos straight to their own 40. Such mistakes may result in the Steelers reverting to kicker Jeff Reed, who is allergic to making a tackle on kickoff coverage, unlike Sepulveda.
I don't care if he scored a touchdown on the Broncos opening drive, LenDale White is still a fat, mostly useless player. Nine yards on five carries is pretty consistent with White's 3.7 career ypc.
James Farrior gashed his head when his helmet came off in the middle of a scrum. It's unlikely he'll return to action tonight.
Broncos fans (understandably) booed Roethlisberger on the Steelers first play; the quarterback promptly shot a 47-yard laser down the field to Mike Wallace. If this is a sign of Roethlisberger's ability to block out the boos, that's a good thing -- but I can't imagine what we heard in Denver during a preseason game will even come close to the clamor he'll endure during regular season games at Cincinnati and Baltimore.
Rashard Mendenhall looked good on the Steelers opening drive. He was elusive and decisive, keeping the chains moving and gashing the Denver front seven for 19 yards on three carries. Oh yeah -- his arm isn't broken, either.
The Steelers offense sputtered in the red zone -- a familiar sight for fans who suffered through 2009's often agonizing 9-7 season -- settling for a field goal.
The Steelers will face off against the Broncos tonight at Denver for their third preseason game, typically a "dress rehearsal" for most NFL squads.
There's no shortage of storylines and position battles to watch for this evening, but taking center stage is the quarterback controversy between veteran Byron Leftwich and young scrambler Dennis Dixon, who will line up with the first-team offense -- presumably against a first-team Denver defense -- tonight after forcing the issue with his terrific play earlier in the preseason.