By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger didn’t play. Byron Leftwich and Rashard Mendenhall didn’t do much, but the Pittsburgh Steelers played solid defense and got some spectacular performances from backups in a 23-7 win against the hapless Detroit Lions in the preseason opener Saturday night at Heinz Field.
The game featured driving, pummeling rain showers and a 73-minute lightning delay that began with 1:31 remaining in the first half. That time was added to the second half, which is when the real fireworks began for the Steelers.
While it’s entirely possible that no prospective starter will lose that job for the Steelers, there certainly are some backups to push them pretty hard. Among those players is running back Isaac Redman, who ran 15 times for 60 yards with a 31-yard burst and one short touchdown blast.
“That goes to show that they really wanted to take a good look at me,” Redman said. “So, I just tried to make the best out of every opportunity that I had. … I’m a running back, but if they want a short-yardage back I definitely want to be that guy. But I’m also a back who can gain more than one or two yards.
“And I’m in better shape and much better prepared to be that guy this year. (The Steelers) have a starting running back, so I can’t just be a running back right now. I have to concentrate on special teams, too, and I worked hard in the offseason to get ready to contribute in that area as well.”
Redman’s short score capped a seven-play, 75-yard drive that was highlighted by Dennis Dixon’s 51-yard pass to Arnaz Battle for a first-and-goal at the 10. After an offsides call, Dixon nearly ran the ball in from the 5. He was ruled out at the half-yard line, and Redman had to plow in from there. Offensive lineman Doug Legursky was the up-back for Redman.
“Dennis Dixon’s command was great,” Redman said. “He did a great job in the huddle and was very effective when things broke down. He got out and made some plays. The young guys (on the O-line), they did a great job, but they’re still learning. Just like me, and … we’re all just trying to get better.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin praised Redman for his consistency and patience, and he believed that Dixon was….
composed for a young player. Dixon was 6-for-7 for 128 yards and a 68-yard scoring pass to rookie wideout Antonio Brown. He also ran six times for 31 yards and had a perfect 158.3 passer rating.
“I wanted to make some plays myself and get the ball into other guys hands in good position to make some plays as well,” Dixon said. “On the (touchdown) pass to Antonio, it was a hot route that he broke off quickly and got open. I was able to put it out there, and he did the rest.
“Isaac, he’s a human bowling ball to me. He’s a real talent and someone I looked to get the ball to whenever I got the chance. We got him a good number of carries, and as you saw he’s a very strong runner. As a quarterback, you have to take what the defense gives you, and I thought we did that.”
Leftwich completed just 6 of 10 passes for 43 yards and badly under-threw Mike Wallace when the speedy wideout had a five-yard cushion. Wallace nearly came back to make the catch, even though he was interfered with and got no call.
“I haven’t really seen it to see how close it was, but we’ll connect on those,” Leftwich said. “When he came back, he said: ‘We almost had it.’ And I know we’ll get one. … I could have (thrown it farther), but I couldn’t really step into it (due to the pass-rush). But he’s faster on game day than he is in practice.”
Rookie Maurkice Pouncey played both center and right guard, where Justin Hartwig and Trai Essex are the respective starters. Pouncey’s time will come. If not now, then in the near future, for sure.
“I have to look at the tape to get a legitimate evaluation of his play, but he did play both positions,” Tomlin said. “We were pleased that he was able to handle that (assignment) from the neck up. That’s an indication that things are going well for him. (But) we’ll look at the tape to see how he performed the minute details of how he performed the assignments at both positions.”
Tomlin praised Legursky for having the position flexibility necessary to help the Steelers be successfully. He also mentioned that rookie Dorian Brooks has “a similar body type and (is) a player who also can do what Legursky provides.”
Rookie running back Jonathan Dwyer appeared poised to get double-figure carries, but after just six for eight measly yards he suffered a shoulder injury, according to Tomlin. He will be evaluated today, but Tomlin did not believe it was serious. We’ll see if he plays when the club returns to camp Monday.
Rookie outside linebacker Jason Worilds (hamstring) was held out for precautionary reasons, but he has continued to improve and certainly should play Saturday against the New York Giants.
Stefan Logan’s returns were average to below that line on the night, so Brown and fellow rookie wideout Emmanuel Sanders could get their shots in Game 2 against the New York Giants Saturday night at their new stadium.
Jeff Reed’s kickoffs were inconsistent, but he was 3-for-3 on field goals from 35, 37 and 32 yards. Daniel Sepulveda had a long punt for 59 yards, but also was inconsistent as usual. He did not get a chance to kick off.