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|08-24-2009, 03:55 AM||#1|
The Virginia Hillbilly
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Steelers' Postgame Analysis: Focus is on going full speed
Other than some players trying to win roster spots and improve pecking orders at their positions, what are the Steelers' goals in these exhibition games?
Certainly, winning is not high on their list. Winning preseason games has never been a priority, often not even a consideration. Avoiding overtime, however, has, which is why coach Bill Cowher would try a two-point conversion late in a preseason game when a kick would tie it.
These games might mean everything to those players trying to make the roster, but what can they mean to, say, a veteran defense ranked No. 1 in the NFL last season?
"It don't matter, man," nose tackle Casey Hampton said after the Steelers first-team defense played three series against Washington on Saturday and then called it a night. "You just try to go out there and get some work in. You're trying to go full speed and get yourself in shape for the season.
"I don't know about other teams, but we don't scheme defensively, we don't look at tape or anything. We just play."
The Steelers first teams led the Redskins first teams, 7-3, when they all bowed out, and Washington players were quoted as saying they lost that part of the game. By the time the benches were cleared, though, Washington prevailed officially, 17-13.
"I remember when I was a kid and Indy was bad," said defensive end Aaron Smith. "They used to go 4-0 in every preseason and then they would be a horrible team. I remember as a kid thinking they're going to be a great team. You can't draw a lot from it. I think it's more coaches evaluating people."
The first teams will play a little more Saturday night against the Buffalo Bills at Heinz Field and then, if tradition holds, hardly at all in the preseason finale at Charlotte.
"I think it's necessary," Smith said of the gradual increase in workload in the preseason games. "To get to a full-speed type atmosphere, you have to do that. There's only one way to do it, you can't simulate it in practice."
A Fox on the inside
The loss of Larry Foote seemed to create a depth problem at inside linebacker but after one training camp and two preseason games, the problem has been solved.
Keyaron Fox has stepped up on the inside to allay any fears the Steelers are thin at the position. He became one of their better special teams players last season after signing with them as an unrestricted free agent, and he has shown a good ability on the inside this summer.
He was a big reason the Redskins did not score a touchdown when their first drive reached the Steelers' 3. On third-and-1 at the 2 and playing in the first goal-line defense, Fox stuffed Ladell Betts by himself for a loss of one yard, forcing a field goal by Washington.
Fox made another big tackle in the third quarter at the Steelers' 3 when he stopped running back Marcus Mason for no gain, although the Redskins scored a touchdown on a 3-yard pass on the next play.
Best of the bunch
The Ziggy Jig went into effect again Saturday night when rookie defensive end Ziggy Hood rang up two more sacks to give him three on the season. They were the only two sacks by the Steelers.
Hood added one tackle for a loss and was given credit for three quarterback hurries of the five on the statistics sheet against the Redskins.
Hood became the first defensive end drafted by the Steelers in the first round since Aaron Jones in 1988. Counting Jones, the Steelers have not had much production from the defensive ends they've drafted on the first round back to when Chuck Noll first became their coach -- Daryl Sims ('85), Gabe Rivera ('83) and Keith Gary ('81). Hood looks to be the best of that bunch by far.
Landry vs. Polamalu
In case you missed it, the Redskins were crowing before the game that their free safety, LaRon Landry, is better than the Steelers' Troy Polamalu.
"I'd take LaRon over [Polamalu] any day," Washington safeties coach Steve Jackson said last week. "They would probably rather have Polamalu because he does do the things like a linebacker with the blitzing ... But when you watch him play true free safety, it's not even close in my humble opinion as far as who the better safety is."
As if trying to emphasize that, on the first play from scrimmage Saturday night, Washington quarterback Jason Campbell dropped back from his 35 and heaved a deep pass toward wide receiver Malcolm Kelly. Kelly was about to catch the ball when Polamalu deftly batted it away near the Steelers' 20.
As safeties coach, Jackson should know the difference between Landry as a free safety playing center field and Polamalu's job, listed as strong safety but playing the entire field.
Big dramatic Ben
By now, most know that Ben Roethlisberger seems to make bigger deals out of injuries that turn out to be minor. Even his teammates joke about it and some of his former coaches have rolled their eyes over another dramatic Roethlisberger "injury."
It began when the quarterback complained of having broken toes following the AFC championship game loss to New England his rookie season. Cowher denied that Roethlisberger had any such injuries. Other instances have followed him through his career.
The most recent example occurred Thursday when his right foot was hurt in practice and he was held out of the game in Washington.
"He's fine," coach Mike Tomlin said Saturday night. "Well, not fine, of course; if fine he would have played."
Teammates and coaches know that if it were a real game, Roethlisberger would have played, because no matter how dramatic he sometimes makes a minor injury seem, he has rarely failed to show up when it counts. Appendectomies and in-season knee surgeries do not count, but he has played after concussions and separated shoulders.
Roethlisberger's absence allowed the Steelers to get Charlie Batch work with the first team and Dennis Dixon extended work in a game. It ended poorly when Dixon's right shoulder was separated.
With Dixon out possibly for several weeks, depending on the degree of separation, Tomlin was asked if he needed to do anything because he had two quarterbacks injured.
"I'm not ready to say we got two quarterbacks injured," Tomlin said. "We'll see on Monday."
The Position Battles
Defensive End Ziggy Hood
The Steelers' first-round pick in April (pictured) rang up two more sacks Saturday against the Washington Redskins to give him three on the preseason. Hood added one tackle for a loss and was given credit for three quarterback hurries of the five on the statistics sheet against the Redskins.
Inside Linebacker Keyaron Fox
The second-year Steeler has stepped up on the inside to squash any fears the team is thin at the position vacated by Larry Foote this offseason. Fox came up big on the goal line Saturday when he dropped Redkins RB Ladell Betts for a 1-yard loss that resulted in a field goal.
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