Falcons Vs. Steelers: Byron Leftwich Injury Mars Otherwise Positive Night For Pittsburgh

Follow this storystream for news regarding the Steelers' Week 3 preseason matchup against the Atlanta Falcons.

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Mike Tomlin Mum For Now About Steelers Backup Quarterback Situation

If everything goes to plan during the 2011 NFL season, there will be little need to worry about who is holding the clipboard for Ben Roethlisberger. But as we all know, injuries happen in the National Football League, and it would be foolish to beleive that Big Ben, despite being as sturdy as they come, is immune to the injury bug, particularly with all the hits he takes.

During Saturday night’s preseason victory over the Atlanta Falcons, Byron Leftwich broke his left arm in gruesome fashion. The veteran underwent surgery on Monday to repair the fracture. Leftwich could theoretically return later on in the season, but one would think that Tomlin would opt to not devote a roster spot on Leftwich on the off chance that he is needed later in the year. Don’t count on Tomlin tipping his hand just yet about what course of action the Steelers will take with Leftwich and the other candidates to back up Roethlisberger:

“We’re going to wait until he comes out of surgery and let it calm down for a couple of days before we make that determination,” Tomlin said.

Tomlin did not give Roethlisberger many snaps at practice today, giving them to Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon. Tomlin said the new backup will not be determined until after the final preseason game against Carolina.

“We’re determining that,” Tomlin said. "That’s part of what we’re doing today. We’re giving Charlie and Dennis a lot of work. We didn’t give Ben a lot of work today and that’s probably will be how it shakes out in the game.

“In terms of the pecking order with those two, we’ll determine that as we get closer to game time. Then we’ll make a determination after that game.”

Again, hopefully Roethlisberger stays healthy and both Batch and Dixon are relegated to spectator roles, but based on what transpired during the first four games of the 2010 season, one would think that the veteran Batch would get the nod over Dixon were Big Ben to go down for any extended period of time.

For more Steelers coverage and conversation, head on over to Behind the Steel Curtain.

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Steelers Injuries: Maurkice Pouncey Injury Could Linger, But Keenan Lewis Fine

Ed Bouchette of the Post-Gazette reports that center Maurkice Pouncey and cornerback Keenan Lewis should be on the field despite their injuries during the Steelers’ preseason game against the Falcons on Saturday.

Pouncey said before practice today that he reggravated the same injury that caused him to miss Super Bowl XLVI. He said it is still painful, but when the time comes, he will be able to work through the pain and play when it counts.

It sounds like Pouncey’s ankle might affect him all season, as Steelers Depot points out, although it won’t keep him from playing against the Ravens in Week 1. He’ll sit out practice this week, but he still wants to play in the Steelers’ last preseason game on Thursday, against the Panthers.

Lewis’ prognosis is fine – he has “swelling and tendonitis” in his knee, according to Bouchette. But that won’t keep him from practicing.

For more on the Steelers, check out Behind The Steel Curtain.

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After Byron Leftwich Injury, Dennis Dixon Likely To Remain With Steelers

Gerry Dulac writes that just like last year, an injury to Byron Leftwich before the start of the season has moved Dennis Dixon up the depth chart. This time, he’s their third quarterback instead of their fourth, and it appears unlikely he’ll be traded. Leftwich might be back at some point this season, however.

The Steelers have not updated Leftwich’s condition, but a source told the Post-Gazette his injury is not season-ending.

“It’s tough,” Dixon said. “That’s why you got to play the preseason games. You have to have a dress rehearsal for everybody. Unfortunately, that’s the way it went.”

It appears that in Leftwich’s absence, Charlie Batch will be the Steelers’ backup quarterback, and Dixon will be third. I wonder if, ironically, Leftwich’s injury might mean Dixon will play less against the Carolina Panthers. Dixon was supposed to play a fair amount as the Steelers shopped him around to other teams, but since Batch didn’t play against the Falcons, the Steelers may want him to play a fair amount against the Panthers.

For more on the Steelers, check out Behind The Steel Curtain.

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Falcons Vs. Steelers: Byron Leftwich's Season Might Be Over With Broken Arm

Following up on Pete Wilmoth’s post on Steelers injuries from Saturday’s preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons, it appears that quarterback Byron Leftwich’s season may be over after breaking his non-throwing arm.

“I don’t have the time he is going to be out, but I am sure it will be an extended period of time,” [Mike] Tomlin said.

Leftwich injured the arm after landing on it while running the ball.

It now looks like the Steelers will keep Dennis Dixon, whom they had been thinking about trying to trade. Charlie Batch will likely back up Ben Roethlisberger, and Dixon will be the third quarterback.

Tomlin indicated that injuries to Casey Hampton, Maurkice Pouncey, and Keenan Lewis were not serious. However, tight end Miguel Chavis tore a muscle and will probably be out the rest of the year.

For more on the Steelers, be sure to check out Behind The Steel Curtain.

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Falcons Vs. Steelers: Matt Ryan Flounders In High-Volume, Low-Efficiency Night Against Pittsburgh's Pass Defense

The casual fan might look at the box score from the Pittsburgh Steelers' 34-16 preseason victory over the Atlanta Falcons and assume that Matt Ryan owned the Black & Gold's pass defense -- one of the most disrespected defensive backfields in the league.

However, a more discerning eye reveals that even though Ryan was on pace for almost 450 passing yards in the contest before he was pulled at halftime, his performance was all volume, no efficiency.

Two-hundred and twenty passing yards in one half is nice, sure, but Ryan completed only 52.4 percent of his 42 passes for a measly 5.24 yards per attempt. (Just to put that into perspective, the San Diego Chargers, who had last season's most efficient passing attack, averaged 7.76 yards per attempt on the year; Pittsburgh averaged 6.90, despite going without starter Ben Roethlisberger for four games.)

Ryan played a bad game, and you shouldn't be concerned about the Steelers pass defense just because of a preseason volume performance from the fourth-year signal caller. 

After a three-week stretch last season that saw dubious quarterbacks like the-rookie Colt McCoy and Chad Henne author some efficient passing performances against Pittsburgh, I cautioned fans to recognize a crucial difference between passing defense and rushing defense:

Now, if the Steelers couldn't stop the run, I might be singing a different tune. Think about what can go wrong when you run the ball. Your back could fumble or you could lose, what, three or four yards on a busted attempt? By contrast, the downside on any given pass is COMPLETE AND UTTER DISASTER.

The frequency of interceptions per pass attempt is much higher than that of fumbles lost per rushing attempt, and such turnovers can happen through fluky means - a ball tipped at the line, a botched route by a young receiver - that are mostly beyond the control of the quarterback. Sacks, for their part, result in more lost yardage and more fumbles than failed runs, and they subject the centerpiece of your franchise to a physical beating.

Sure, passing plays gain more yards than plays on the ground, but that comes at a price, as they have comparatively enormous downside, too. So all things being equal, would you rather have a defense that ranks 25th against the pass and first against the run, like the Steelers, or a team that ranks, say, seventh against the pass and 28th against the run? Or how about a defense that ranks 26th against the run and fourth against the pass? What about 32nd against the run and 6th against the pass?

If it makes your decision any easier - it probably shouldn't have to, but hey - the second defense is that of the Indianapolis Colts. The other two belong to the Oakland Raiders and the Buffalo Bills, respectively. The Colts have long won in spite oftheir defense, not because of it, while the other two are systematically losing franchises. After all, passing defensive rankings can often be an indication of circumstance, but rushing defensive ranks are often an indication of deficiency.

And like I said, Ryan wasn't even efficient on Saturday night. What's more, that COMPLETE AND UTTER DISASTER I referenced last year did in fact transpire on Saturday night when Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons nearly took a tipped pass to the house (video). Several other plays nearly resulted in sacks, as Pittsburgh's pass rush was in midseason form, and Ryan nearly lost a fumble on a 16-yard scramble. That's what happens when you simply can't run against a defense. (Falcons starter Michael Turner averaged just 2.7 yards per carry in the first half.) 

Forcing Ryan into inefficiency becomes all the more impressive when you consider the injuries to Pittsburgh's cornerbacks

So don't be that casual fan, okay? Take a deep breath.

Just like last year, you can rack up a bunch of passing yards on the Steelers defense -- and they'll probably beat you anyway.

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Falcons Vs. Steelers: Injuries Tarnish Pittsburgh's Impressive Preseason Performance

While the Steelers were more or less dominant in their 34 - 16 preseason win over the Atlanta Falcons Saturday night, the meaningless exhibition victory didn't come without a cost. Pittsburgh's training staff may have pulled a few hamstrings themselves, as numerous key players on both sides of the ball were sustained injuries and were rushed to the sideline -- or in one case, the hospital. Let's take a look at what some of these injuries could mean for impending roster cuts and for regular season action.

Keenan Lewis

Along with William Gay, third-year cornerback Keenan Lewis started the contest, while veterans Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden nursed minor injures. Lewis played extremely well in limited action against the nasty receiving duo of Roddy White and rookie Julio Jones, however, he came down hard on one leg while breaking up a potential touchdown pass to White, apparently sustaining a knee injury. Lewis writhed in pain but was able to limp off the field mostly under his own power. However, head coach Mike Tomlin did not sound particularly optimistic when asked about the injury during his halftime interview.

When you add this to the injuries to Taylor and McFadden, younger corners like second-year man Crezdon Butler -- who had an electric, 95-yard pick-six (video) after he jumped an out route on the first play of the fourth quarter -- camp sensation Donovan Warren, and rookies Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen could be pressed into action sooner than expected. Stay tuned.

Maurkice Pouncey

All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey appeared to re-aggravate an old ankle injury after a first quarter play. Pittsburgh removed their young stalwart immediately, however, it didn't appear to be more than a minor tweak. I expect Pouncey to be among the many starters who will sit out during Pittsburgh's final preseason game in order to get healthy for the team's September 11th season opener, a crucial divisional showdown with the Baltimore Ravens.

Casey Hampton

Nose tackle Casey Hampton suffered a right elbow injury that caused him some obvious discomfort. Hampton kept flexing his hand as he approached the sideline, testing his manual mobility. While he was clearly in pain, I don't expect this injury to slow "Big Snack" down too much. He'll sit next Thursday in preseason action and be ready to go for the Ravens.

Byron Leftwich

The injury to second-string quarterback Byron Leftwich was the evening's nastiest, and it presents the most obvious roster implications. During a third-down scramble, Leftwich fell forward near the sticks and landed awkwardly on his left arm, which remained limp at his side while he ambled to the sideline in what appeared to be excruciating pain. Reportedly, the Steelers sent him straight to the hospital -- unconventional protocol for most sports injuries -- so this looks like a serious, potentially season-ending injury to Leftwich's shoulder, elbow, or bones -- perhaps even a fracture. 

If Leftwich's injury is as serious as it appeared, the competition for the third quarterback spot between old-timer Charlie Batch and the mobile Dennis Dixon will be a moot point, and both veterans will make the roster as backups to Ben Roethlisberger.

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Falcons Vs. Steelers Result: Led By Antonio Brown, Steelers Win 34-16

The Steelers defeated the Atlanta Falcons by a score of 34-16 in the two teams’ preseason matchup Saturday night.

After the explosion of scoring by Antonio Brown early on, the Steelers tacked on 10 points in the fourth quarter. That included a 95-yard interception return by Crezdon Butler, one of the many cornerbacks who’s vying for time.

So much for the idea of letting quarterback Dennis Dixon play for a trade. He played the entire quarter, but the Steelers called a lot of running plays during that time, and Dixon only managed one completion for 13 yards.

Overall, though, the Steelers piled up big numbers. Ben Roethlisberger went 11-for-16 with 214 yards and two touchdowns, both of them to Antonio Brown, who had 137 yards receiving and 109 yards in kickoff returns. Butler and Lawrence Timmons both had interceptions.

For more on the Steelers, be sure to check out Behind The Steel Curtain.

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Falcons Vs. Steelers: Antonio Brown Huge As Steelers Lead 24-16

Midway through the third quarter, the Steelers lead by a score of 24-16 in their preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons.

The Steelers opened a 10-0 lead in the first quarter on a Rashard Mendenhall touchdown run and a field goal, but the Falcons came back with a field goal of their own and a 10-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter from Matt Ryan to Roddy White.

Midway through the quarter, though, Antonio Brown – who set up the Mendenhall touchdown with a big kick return and whose impressive preseason keeps getting more impressive – hauled in a 77-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger. He then caught yet another touchdown pass before the half expired, this one for 44 yards. (The Falcons tacked on two field goals in the second quarter.)

So, for those keeping score at home, that’s four catches for Brown for 137 yards and two touchdowns, plus four kick returns for 109 yards. Wow.

For more on the Steelers, check out Behind The Steel Curtain.

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Falcons Vs. Steelers: Rare Kickoff Return Leads To Score For Steelers

The Steelers’ first score in their preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons began, strangely, with a kickoff return.

Kickoff returns have been nearly irrelevant this preseason due to rule changes, but Antonio Brown nonetheless managed to run back the game-opening kickoff by Matt Bosher and get all the way to midfield. A horse-collar tackle by Bosher tacked on another 15 yards, and the Steelers started their first drive at the Atlanta 35.

Ben Roethlisberger reeled off two straight 17-yard passes to second tight end David Johnson, moving the Steelers to the one-yard-line, and Rashard Mendenhall punched it in from there.

The Steelers stopped the Falcons in their opening drive, but the Steelers’ second drive was curtailed by a holding penalty against Mendenhall and a sack of Roethlisberger by Jonathan Babineaux. The Falcons currently have the ball midway through the first quarter.

To follow the game along with Steelers fans, check out Behind The Steel Curtain.

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Falcons Vs. Steelers: Dennis Dixon To Be Trade Bait

Gerry Dulac reports that the Steelers will give quarterback Dennis Dixon playing time in Saturday’s preseason matchup against the Atlanta Falcons, in the hopes of finding a team willing to deal for him.

It is unlikely veteran Charlie Batch will play much in the game, if at all, because the Steelers want to use Dennis Dixon to relieve Leftwich.

Does that mean Batch, who is 36, is on his way out?

No, on the contrary. It actually could mean that the Steelers are trying to showcase Dixon with the hope of making a trade for him before the final cutdown on Sept. 3.

It’s no secret that Dixon would like to be traded to a team that would give him a cleaner shot at playing time. I doubt anyone would make him a starter, but it’s at least possible he could get a job as a backup somewhere. The Steelers probably wouldn’t get anything of value for him – probably just a draft pick, and not a particularly great one. Dixon will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.

For more on the Steelers, check out Behind The Steel Curtain.

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Falcons Vs. Steelers: Players To Watch

Here are some players to watch in the Steelers' preseason game against the Falcons.

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