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NKySteeler
08-10-2008, 12:31 PM
Between the lines: Preseason Game 1 Friday vs. the Eagles
A Steelers postgame analysis
Sunday, August 10, 2008
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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Second-round pick Limas Sweed goes high to haul a pass in in front of Philadelphia defender Sean Considine -- one of his three catches.

Other than the injury to backup quarterback Charlie Batch, Friday night's game at Heinz Field was typical of preseason openers. There was good, bad, ugly and somewhere in between.

The kicking game

Normally in first preseason games, the area that suffers most is the kicking game because many backups are running down under punts and kickoffs and different candidates are returning them.

Yet other than the first-team offense, the Steelers' special teams turned in the most impressive performance of the night, and it has been awhile since anyone could say that.

"Special teams were solid, which of course was important to us," coach Mike Tomlin said. "Jeff Reed banged a kick home that he didn't bang home at practice up at Latrobe the other day. That was by design, to put him in that situation, and Jeff delivered."

Reed, though, was the coaches least concern. He hasn't made a Pro Bowl yet, but he had an All-Pro season in 2007 when he made 23 of 25 field-goal tries. His only misses came from 65 yards in Denver and 44 yards in the Heinz Field muck against Miami. His 50-yarder Friday night easily cleared.

What was unexpected, based on last season's performance and the season-ending injury last week to punter Daniel Sepulveda, was the play in other areas of special teams.

Paul Ernster averaged a decent 42 yards on seven punts with the Eagles returning four for only 15 yards. Two of Ernster's punts wound up inside the 20, something Sepulveda was so good at doing.

Ernster has an added quality in that he has kicked off in the NFL. Tomlin let him do it once Friday and he boomed his kickoff 9 yards deep into the end zone with no return.

Still, Tomlin sounded as if he might have other ideas on his punting situation.

"We have a long way to go in regards to that. He did a nice showing for himself tonight but we are still exploring options at that spot."

The punt return battle

Veteran return man Eddie Drummond, signed in the first week of training camp, returned his only punt for 21 yards and Mewelde Moore had the only other return for 9 yards. Rookie Rashard Mendenhall returned his only kickoff 28 yards. The kick coverage unit held the Eagles to a 22-yard average on four returns. All in all, the Steelers' special teams had a good night.

First action for No. 1

Mendenhall carried seven times for 34 yards; a few were impressive, some not so impressive. He made a nice cut to his left at the line of scrimmage to dart outside and pick up 15 yards in the second quarter. However, he turned his back into the line on another carry and did not look like short-yardage material, continuing a theme from training camp.

Stepping up at LB

Linebacker Lawrence Timmons continued to show why Tomlin was so excited about drafting him in the first round last year. He helped keep the Eagles out of the end zone with two excellent plays on their first drive. On first down at the 13, Donovan McNabb completed a pass on the right side to Correll Buckhalter that produced just 3 yards because Timmons closed quickly on the play and tackled him. Then, on third down from the 10, McNabb lofted a pass into the left back corner of the end zone to Jason Avant that Timmons knocked away.

"It was really what we expected," Tomlin said. "He showed us the things that he has been showing us in Latrobe and that he has been showing us even going back into the spring at the South Side facility. Lawrence is a run-and-hit guy. He did that tonight and made some plays for us."

The tall receiver

Rookie Limas Sweed had a nice debut. He caught three passes for just 23 yards but he showed his ability and his toughness on one particular 3-yard catch in the second quarter. Rookie quarterback Dennis Dixon threw high to him over the middle. The 6-4 Sweed jumped, caught the ball, was hit and landed on his head and shoulders. He hung onto the ball.

The red zone

Reed's field goals of 20 and 24 yards means the Steelers failed on two of three times they reached the red zone. They had a second down at the 5 on one, a first down at the 8 on the other. Both of those came with backup offenses and Dixon at quarterback.

The defense

The first-team Steelers defense allowed a score on the first drive of the night by Philadelphia, after the offense staked it to a 7-0 lead. The good news: The defense stiffened, thanks to Timmons, inside the 20 and held the Eagles to a field goal.

"I thought that we ran to the ball although we were sloppy tackling at times, which is kind of indicative of the first preseason game," Tomlin said. "There is a silver lining in those situations because you get put on the short field and you have to stand up in the red zone. We made them kick a few field goals; I thought that was good.

"All-in-all it was a productive outing the first time out."