By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the first-team offense played about 1 1/2 quarters and were nearly perfect with two long touchdown drives despite losing their first- and second-team left tackles in the process on their way to a 24-14 preseason win against the Philadelphia Eagles Thursday night at Heinz Field.
The Steelers rolled to 262 first-half yards and a 21-0 lead, as Roethlisberger was 8-for-12 for 125 yards with touchdown passes to Antonio Brown and Hines Ward. Roethlisberger led a game-opening scoring drive that went for 14 plays and 80 yards in 7:36. His second drive went 14 plays for 96 yards in 8:15.
“Our improvising, as it seems always, it’s hard to be pleased with it,” Roethlisberger said. “But it’s hard to be disappointed, if that makes any sense. We made a lot of mistakes. I don’t think we protected well.
“It was probably my fault more than anything, (but) we found ways to make plays. Guys found ways to get open, (and) I found a way to get them the ball.”
With all the offensive-line juggling, it’s no wonder their were some protection issues. Tony Hills started at right guard, while Ramon Foster opened at left guard for Chris Kemoeatu, who will be back full-time this week.
But Hills ended up playing mostly at left tackle, because starter Jonathan Scott went down with a right knee injury after the first play, and backup Marcus Gilbert — who immediately had a holding penalty — was lost early in the second drive with a left knee injury. Still, Roethlisberger hit a huge first-down pass for 11 yards to Heath Miller on third-and-one early and benefited from a facemask penalty on Cullen Jenkins on a sack that also moved the sticks.
Roethlisberger hooked up with Arnaz Battle for 18 yards on third-and-eight and lobbed a 29-yard touchdown toss to a wide-open Antonio Brown, as Asante Samuel was lost in coverage on a third-and-seven. The Steelers had five first downs in the drive, including four on third down.
“(My expectations) are super high (for Brown),” Roethlisberger said. “He’s got some big ones to live up to, and I think he’s up to the challenge.”
The Steelers second possession started rather inauspiciously, as Brown let a short punt roll to the 4 and total 53 yards. But that didn’t matter for Roethlisberger, who made six first-down plays in the lengthy march. Second-year running back Jonathan Dwyer ran for six to move the sticks early, and Rashard Mendenhall caught a 12-yard pass after Roethlisberger was flushed from the pocket.
Isaac Redman moved the ball past midfield with several runs, including a 16-yarder. On a third-and-four late in the drive, Roethlisberger connected with Mewelde Moore for 23 yards. And after a sack on third-and-18, Roethlisberger found Ward in the end zone for the touchdown.
“It feels good,” Ward said. “It’s always good to get the crowd going here at Heinz Field. To come out and get 14 points on a great team like the Eagles shows that we are moving in the right direction toward Baltimore (the regular-season opener). That’s all I’m concentrating on is the Baltimore Ravens.”
The first-team defense played nearly the entire first half and was even better with three interceptions against helpless Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and no touchdowns allowed. The Steelers, who led 21-0 at halftime, had a resounding advantage in every major statistical category, including 16-5 in first downs. The defense also held the Eagles to 71 total yards and 28 rushing.
“I think we played pretty well, (after) we came out slow last week against the Redskins,” Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. “This was our chance to go out and see what the defense is about against a high-powered offense like (the Eagles).”
Ryan Clark stopped Vick early with an interception, but place-kicker Swayze Water’s subsequent 47-yard field goal was blocked. Cornerback Keenan Lewis, starting for Bryant McFadden, had another pick three plays later to set up Byron Leftwich, but a holding penalty on Chris Scott stalled that drive.
But Troy Polamalu’s interception later in the half sent Vick to the sideline and put Leftwich just 44 yards from the end zone. He needed just five plays with a 20-yarder to new wideout Jerricho Cotchery for the touchdown.
“There was a lot of criticism of our team for not being physical and not coming to play (at Washington),” Clark said. “I think, to some extent, the Redskins exploited that. (So), everybody came here focused, and I loved he way the defense played. I’m really impressed by our offense, too. Guys are making plays right now. We said we wanted a lot of points, and we got them.”
Waters added a 30-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to make it 24-0, but he missed a 27-yarder wide right with 6:44 remaining. Dennis Dixon directed the scoring drive that went into the red zone, but hampered by two penalty calls on the third-team offensive line.
The Steelers defense got a fourth interception against the Eagles, as veteran linebacker Larry Foote picked off Vince Young. Dixon’s near scoring drive was set up when safety Will Allen forced former Pitt running back Dion Lewis to fumble. Baraka Atkins was there to recover it.
Philly’s third-team offense scored two touchdowns on the Steelers’ third-team defense to cap the scoring with 3:47 and 19 seconds remaining.