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Steelers Offensive mishaps, miscues hamper Steelers' preseason opener

Sunday, August 10, 2003

By Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

DETROIT -- Tommy Maddox had no time to pass, Jerome Bettis had nowhere to run, and the machine that is supposed to be the Steelers' offense worked as smoothly in Ford Field as an old Model T yesterday.

Steelers receiver Lee Mays can't quite pull in a pass from Charlie Batch as Detroit's Andre Goodman defends in the preseason opener for both teams at Ford Field yesterday. (Peter Diana, Post-Gazette photos)
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As hard as they cranked, the thing never turned over, as the Detroit Lions raced to a 26-13 victory in the preseason opener for both clubs.

And "preseason" is a word Plaxico Burress wanted to emphasize afterward.

"It's preseason, man," said Burress, a wide receiver and one of the Steelers' few productive offensive players with three catches for 45 yards. "There's not a sense of urgency. Nobody's getting worried or scared. It's the first game. We didn't really scheme for these guys. We just went out and called plays and played football. They were blitzing three and four guys -- strong safety, free safety, bringing the [weakside linebacker] off the end. They were trying their best to disrupt our passing game."

It was all of that, plus the Lions kept their first teams on the field long after the Steelers had brought in their second units. But the chief concern of Coach Bill Cowher this summer has been his injured, ill and partially rebuilt offensive line, and that was justified yesterday.

"Tommy was under a lot of duress. He was throttled," Cowher said. "We didn't really get much from running the football, so I thought they beat us at the line of scrimmage."

Maddox wasn't the only one. The Steelers' three quarterbacks combined to complete 13 of 31 passes for 120 yards, were sacked five times and had a woeful 53.2 passer rating.

Maddox was sacked on the first and second series. The second time, weakside linebacker Barrett Green came through a hole on the Steelers' left side and tackled Maddox in the end zone for a safety and a 2-0 Detroit lead.

While the Steelers' defense was stopping Detroit, their first-team offense continued to have problems. On its third series, a false start by the line cost them one penalty and on third down, Maddox was forced to scramble after defensive end Jared DeVries got around tackle Oliver Ross.

"We were very sluggish," Cowher said.

Their fourth series was more successful. It consumed 7:48, covered 87 yards on 14 plays and ended with Jeff Reed's 25-yard field goal early in the second quarter to put the Steelers in front, 3-2. Maddox missed an opportunity for a quick touchdown from Detroit's 42. Burress flashed open deep, but Maddox underthrew him and the ball bounced off cornerback Andre Goodman inside the 5.

Maddox completed 5 of 10 for 54 yards and was sacked twice.

"My legs haven't been [lively] in training camp, and he was trying to judge me off of that," Burress said. "When you get in game, it's a little faster. It'll probably take us the rest of the preseason to get the speed-and-timing thing down."

Bettis found nowhere to run, finishing with just 19 yards on eight carries.

"It was difficult. It was tough," Bettis said. "But when you don't have the same five guys there daily in practice, it makes it kind of tough. The guys are feeling their way out, still finding their matchups, and coaches are working with that. In the preseason, the last thing that comes together is the offensive line. It just takes time."

With 10:50 left in the second quarter, the Steelers sent their second units onto the field while the Lions kept their first teams on offense and defense through halftime.

Former Lions quarterback Charlie Batch took over for Maddox and scrambled twice for 17 yards to help put the Steelers in position for Reed's 43-yard field goal an a 6-2 lead.

It took nearly the entire first half for someone to score a touchdown, but it took the Lions only 1:41 to cover 80 yards and reach the end zone with five seconds left for a 9-6 lead. Harrington threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to 6-foot-2 wide receiver Scotty Anderson, who took the ball away from 5-8 cornerback Chidi Iwuoma along the sideline.

"Chidi was there and just couldn't make a play," Cowher said.

Rookie safety Troy Polamalu was involved in a defining moment of Detroit's next scoring drive but not in a good way.

Defensive end Brett Keisel drops Lions quarterback Mike McMahon. McMahon, a North Allegheny graduate, also ran for a touchdown.
Click photo for larger image.

Facing a fourth-and-2 at the Steelers' 25, the Lions decided to go for it. Quarterback Mike McMahon, a North Allegheny High School graduate, threw to tight end Casey Fitzsimmons, who beat Polamalu to the outside for a 20-yard gain to the 5. Two plays later, McMahon rolled right past linebacker Larry Foote for a 1-yard touchdown and a 16-6 Detroit lead.

"I just got beat," Polamalu said. "I was man to man with the tight end and got beat."

Cowher said Polamalu was peeking into the backfield on the play.

Rookie quarterback Brian St. Pierre's debut was a rough one. He scrambled out of the pocket on his third play at the Steelers' 21 with linebacker James Davis giving chase. St. Pierre tried to throw on the run, but the ball slipped out of his hands. Then, Davis tackled him, and defensive end Cory Redding scooped the loose ball up and ran 6 yards for a Detroit touchdown and a 23-6 lead.

Rookie running back Dante Brown made things more respectable for the Steelers when he scored with 10:52 left in the game. Brown lined up in the I formation behind rookie fullback J.T. Wall, took St. Pierre's handoff, bounced immediately outside and had clear sailing down the sideline for a 38-yard touchdown to make it 23-13.

"It's an outside play," Brown said, "and the defense kind of crashed in and let the outside open."

Detroit backup kicker Mark Jensen's 33-yard field goal with four minutes left ended the scoring, and the Steelers were happy to put their first exhibition game far behind them.

"It's preseason, man," Burress said again. "That's why you have four games."

Ed Bouchette can be reached at or 412-263-3878.

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