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Old 08-23-2009, 12:12 AM   #1
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Default Harris: Injuries don't slow first-team offense

Harris: Injuries don't slow first-team offense
By John Harris
Sunday, August 23, 2009

LANDOVER, Md. The Steelers' first-team offense wasn't expected to play beyond the first quarter Saturday night against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field.

As it turned out, one quarter was more than enough.

Although the first-team defense yielded its first points of the preseason a 20-yard field goal on the Redskins' opening drive the real story of the opening half was the solid performance of the first-team offense.

About that first-team offense, which didn't score against Arizona in the preseason opener, but jump-started the Steelers to a 10-3 halftime lead last night.

It was an offense missing two starters with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (foot) and left guard Chris Kemoeatu (ribs) sidelined.

The second time the Steelers had the ball, Willie Parker ran to the right on first down for seven yards. More on the right side of the line later.

Faced with a little adversity, the offense overcame backup quarterback Charlie Batch's intentional grounding penalty to convert a big 3rd-and-13 pass to Santonio Holmes for 16 yards.

Another gold star for the entire offense, which has been trying to free up Holmes, who has been the target of double teams and didn't have a catch against Arizona.

A few plays later, Parker swept the right side again behind tackle Willie Colon and a nice block from fullback Carey Davis and kept his feet on a 3-yard touchdown jaunt.

The Steelers seem to have found something running to their right. Coach Mike Tomlin praised Colon's blocking during last week's goal-line drill, and the Steelers continued to work the right side with success against Washington.

Batch gave way in the second quarter to third-team quarterback Dennis Dixon, who has improved so much the past couple of weeks that he looks like a completely different player.

Early in training camp, Batch was the clear favorite as Roethlisberger's backup. Batch has far more experience than Dixon, and he has the offense down cold.

Nothing changed in that regard. Batch is still the backup, and Dixon remains No. 3. But Dixon's play of late has at least given the coaching staff something to think about.

Batch completed 5-of-14 passes for 63 yards against the Redskins. He completed a 24-yard pass to Hines Ward and the 16-yarder to Holmes. He made the plays he needed to make and didn't turn the ball over.

Dixon was 6-of-9 for 41 yards in the first half. However, he made two plays that distinguished him from Batch one with his arm, the other with his feet.

On 3rd-and-9 from the Washington 48, Dixon rolled to his right before throwing back across his body to complete a 17-yard pass to Limas Sweed. The pass was delivered low and out of harm's way so low that the Redskins challenged the completion (the play was upheld).

On the next snap, Dixon made a play that he was noted for in college when he scrambled for 17 yards and another first down.

A week ago against Arizona, Dixon was reluctant to run and stayed in the pocket. Last night, Dixon played to his strength a big play with his feet.

That drive resulted in a field goal and a 10-3 Steelers' lead. Late in the third quarter, Dixon guided the Steelers to another field goal and a 13-10 lead right after Washington had tied the score.

John Harris can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.
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