Three AFC North teams played their second preseason game Saturday night.
Here are some thoughts and observations:
The quarterback play was solid across the board for Pittsburgh. Ben Roethlisberger made his 2010 debut and completed 6 of 8 passes for 76 yards and one interception with the first-team offense. His interception was thrown short on a deep pass intended for receiver Mike Wallace, which was Roethlisberger’s only poor pass of the night. Byron Leftwich had his best preseason game, throwing for 95 yards and a touchdown. His 68-yard bomb to Wallace in the second quarter was the highlight of the game for Pittsburgh. Dennis Dixon continued his sharp preseason by completing 7-of-8 passes for 82 yards. Dixon also added 27 yards rushing, as he pushes for more opportunities with the first team.
Reserve tailback Isaac Redman continues to make a strong impression. "Red-zone" lived up to his nickname with a tough, 12-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. He recorded 34 yards on six carries and averaged 5.7 yards per attempt. The AFC North blog predicted this week that Redman will make the 53-man roster, and he continues to help his case.
Steelers No. 1 cornerback Ike Taylor was ejected in the first quarter following his fight with New York receiver Hakeem Nicks, who also was ejected. Sure, it's the preseason, but Taylor is a veteran who should know better. Pittsburgh cannot afford to lose its top cornerback under these circumstances in the regular season.
The defense was pretty good overall, but there was one drive by New York that will get some attention in Pittsburgh's film room. Third-string quarterback Rhett Bomar marched the Giants 75 yards for a touchdown against Pittsburgh's first-team defense. The Giants were short-handed with starter Eli Manning (head) and backup Jim Sorgi (shoulder) sitting out. The defensive standards are always high in Pittsburgh, which is why the Steelers have to be disappointed that New York's third-string quarterback had a successful drive in the first half.
Baltimore linebacker/defensive end hybrid Terrell Suggs is rounding back into form. Suggs was consistently in Washington's backfield Saturday, recording a sack, a tackle for loss and an additional hit on the quarterback. Baltimore's pass rush looks improved, and Suggs' resurgence from a poor 2009 season is a big reason. Baltimore had four sacks and seven hits on the quarterback.
Backup quarterback Marc Bulger had his best preseason game. He completed 13 of 16 passes for 130 yards. Bulger was solid during my time in Baltimore's training camp last week, and it's clear he's solidified the No. 2 quarterback job behind starter Joe Flacco.
Despite the low point total, the Ravens allowed 206 passing yards to Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb. Backup Rex Grossman threw for 195 yards. Nineteen of Washington's 20 first downs were passing, and the Ravens allowed five pass plays of 23-yards or more. Baltimore doesn't have many weaknesses, but opponents will continue attacking the secondary until the Ravens prove they can cover receivers consistently.
Baltimore's offense stalled on third down. The Ravens were 1-for-10 in third-down efficiency. That number should be better with all the weapons Baltimore has on offense. But putting everything together remains a work in progress.
Starting quarterback Jake Delhomme continues to play well. Despite a slow start, Delhomme put up good numbers for the second straight preseason game, completing 12 of 16 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown. Delhomme handled the rainy weather conditions in Cleveland well, and was decisive. He zipped a 6-yard pass to tight end Ben Watson through good coverage for a second-quarter touchdown.
One Browns player who stood out was fullback Lawrence Vickers. He punished Rams linebackers and defensive backs. The Browns like their big package with Vickers blocking for running back Peyton Hillis, who had a team-high 12 carries for 51 yards.
Cleveland did not take care of the football. The Browns are a bad-weather team, but sure didn't play like it. Cleveland had five turnovers (three fumbles, two interceptions) and didn't force any on defense. Browns head coach Eric Mangini despises sloppy play, and the Browns must play much smarter.
Surprisingly, the Browns' pass rush didn't show up. Cleveland had zero sacks against the shaky offensive line of the Rams, who are projected to be one of the worst teams in the NFL this season. St. Louis passed 34 times without allowing a sack.