Sunday, August 23, 2009

Preseason, Halfway Home:
The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Some will write about every game ~ including preseason. If the years have taught me anything it is that an individual player (or team) can look like a world-beater one game and a bum the very next.

Those of you who watched the Steelers in Landover, Maryland know what I mean.

But two games can give us some notion as to where some players are at in their preparation for the season, and here are some thoughts along those lines.

The Good
  1. Stefan Logan: After doing nothing in the game against Arizona, "The Joystick" came to play versus the Redskins ~ a twelve yard return average on punts and a 39.3 yard return average on kicks ~ and his presence energized the kick/punt return units more than any player since Louis Lipps. Given the emphasis that special teams receive in the preseason Mr. Logan's performance may well be the best of any Steeler thus far.

  2. Doug Legursky: After a year on the Pittsburgh practice squad last season Mr. Legursky is making a strong push for a spot on the 53-man roster in 2009. His ability to step in for Justin Hartwig in week one, along with his strong performance against the Arizona starters, and then the versatility to start at left guard in week two, move to center shortly thereafter, and more than hold his own against Albert Haynesworth (zero tackles in Saturday evening's game) must have Larry Zierlein and Mike Tomlin feeling very good.

  3. A.Q. Shipley: He has stepped in, playing significant minutes in both games, and performed quite capably. Whether or not he will remain on the 53-man roster remains to be seen but Mr. Shipley has only helped his chances with solid plan.

  4. Honorable Mention: Bruce Davis for solid special teams play.
The Bad
  1. Dennis Dixon: Nobody was more pleased about the Steelers' decision to choose Mr. Dixon in the 2008 NFL Draft ~ he was a dynamic college quarterback who, despite a devastating knee injury, exhibited Micheal Vick athleticism without all the baggage. But after two weeks (a combined 18/35/180/0 TD/0 INT/66.369 QB Rating) it seems that the challenge of being the third string quarterback (i.e. not playing) is simply more than he can overcome. The lack of touch on his passes is very disappointing to see, and he still seems less than comfortable passing from the pocket. Making the decision to keep or cut Mr. Dixon is made even more difficult because, thanks to his presence on the Steelers' roster for the 2008 season), he is ineligible for the Steelers' practice squad this season.

  2. Limas Sweed: He has made some very nice catches and played pretty well versus Arizona, but he continues to perform inconsistently ~ dropping a third down pass versus the Redskins (on Pittsburgh's opening offensive series) that would have been good enough for a first down. He seems to make the tough catches in traffic but struggle with the easier catches. He has great potential but his concentration needs to improve (think AFC Championship game versus Baltimore ~ I know I do).

  3. Joe Burnett: In week one he was given an opportunity to show what he could do as a kick/punt returner, and what he did was call fair catches. Then against the Redskins, after Stefan Logan had impressed all evening, he was given another opportunity and promptly fumbled. He has one more game to provide the coaching staff with some reason or another to keep him around.
The Ugly
  1. Max Starks & Tony Hills: Is it possible that the situation at left offensive tackle for the Steelers is deteriorating? Max Starks comes out of his stance as slowly as any starting left tackle in football ~ high school and college included ~ and Tony Hills has a nasty tendency to stand straight up out of his stance. Bruce Arians had better plan on keeping an extra blocker on the left side all season long, barring some kind of miracle.

  2. Penalties: In the first two preseason games of 2008 the Steelers were called for a total of ten penalties; meanwhile in two games this season they have been penalized 20 times for 159 yards. Sixteen of those have come against the offense ~ the majority involving the offensive line (e.g. illegal formation, holding, false start). To put that into some kind of perspective nearly 30% of the Steelers' offensive output (i.e. 518 net yards) has been negated by penalties. Nothing like making an already tough job tougher.

  3. Opening series defense: In the game versus Arizona, the first time the Steelers' defense was on the field the Arizona offense ran off 10 plays, for 42 yards, and possessed the ball for 4:47 (zero points). In the second game the Redskins offense had a drive of 15 plays (including a fake punt), 62 yards, and possessed the abll for 6:47 (scoring three points). In both games adjustments were made (though in the Arizona game the Cardinals' first three possessions consisted of drives of 10 plays, 10 plays, and 14 plays ~ none of which resulted in points) and defensive play improved. However, it would be great to see the defense begin with a three-and-out in a few games ~ just to make me feel better.
For all the positive and negative developments this is still the preseason so there is no need for panic. But after two games it is pretty clear that there is a great deal of work still do; and with less than ten days before first cuts are made and three weeks before the regular season begins time is definitely short.

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