Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Game 136 Recap - Astros 2, Pirates 0

When your pitching staff goes out and gives you a performance where they only give up two runs, only one of which was earned, you need to win those ball games 95% of the time. The Pirates have had no such luck as the offensive continued to struggle in getting swept in Houston.

James McDonald was OK, but not great. He went six innings and gave up both runs, both in the fourth inning, only one of them being earned. Again McDonald struggled with pitch count and threw 94 pitches through the six innings while also walking two. It wasn’t a bad outing but he did get himself into trouble but was good enough to work out of it, which included a bases loaded, no out jam in the third inning where he didn’t let in a run.

The offense was again atrocious. Just terrible. J.A. Happ came into the game with over a six ERA and all Happ did was throw seven shutout innings striking out six and only giving up three hits. The Pirates only had four hits and no player had more than one. Just tough to watch.

I must say that I have put a lot of this on the Pirates but I am pretty impressed with the young guys the Astros have in the system. They hit the ball pretty well and with the speed some of these guys had it made it very hard on the Pirates defense at times. Some of these guys came straight up to the majors from AA and you wouldn’t be able to tell. The Pirates might have lost a game or two in this series but the Astros were no slouches. Their pitching staff was very good and their hitters got the hits when they needed them.

The Bucs get to come home tomorrow for one game and then they go to Wrigley Field for a three game set against the Cubs. Right now I have no idea how the Pirates are going to win a game.

Pirates Game Day 136 Live Blog - @ Houston Astros

Astros 2, Pirates 0

Win - J.A. Happ (5-15)

Loss - James McDonald (8-7)

Save - Mark Melancon (16)

[Box Score]

Hit the jump for the Live Blog replay

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Game 135 Recap - Astros 8, Pirates 2

Another night, another really frustrating game for the Pirates. Not getting beat by a better team frustrated but getting beat by the Astros for the second night in a row frustrated. The Pirates offense was bad again and the bullpen has welcomed winter in a big way giving up a ton of runs in the sixth inning to put the team in a deficit that they just couldn’t come back from. Just tough to watch.

Charlie Morton failed to pick up his 10th win for the fourth straight start although his outing really wasn’t terrible. Morton only went 5.1 innings and gave up six hits and struck out eight, but he also walked four and gave up his first home run to a right handed hitter since 2010. Morton’s final line was that he gave up four earned runs but a subpar performance from Chris Leroux was somewhat responsible for two of those runs. Morton’s stuff wasn’t overwhelming, but he did have some better movement on his pitches than his last start. To be honest I don’t think it really mattered how well Morton pitched, the offense wasn’t giving him anything to work with.

The game really unraveled in the sixth inning when the Astros scored six runs and only managed to have one extra base hit. Really tough to watch that inning. I talked about how Leroux didn’t have a good outing, and saying that it just “wasn’t good” is just giving him the benefit of the doubt. Leroux came in and relieved Morton and failed to record an out and give up three runs on four hits in only 12 pitches. Now, don’t get me wrong, Leroux has been pretty good of recent and one outing doesn’t make or break a player, it just wasn’t pretty for him tonight.

I am sure most people will bring up the pitching, most notably the bullpen, when we talk about the stretch of games that have been played recently, but the offense is just as much of a problem as the pitching has been. Last night the Pirates went down 16 times and tonight they struck out 11 times. They managed only a couple of hits (literally, a couple) and never even stressed the Astros defense with anything that could even be confused with scoring opportunities. Ronny Cedeno was the only capable hitter at the plate tonight with a 2-for-2 night and scored one of the Pirates two runs, but outside of that only Alex Presley and Andrew McCutchen had a hit. Just a really bad performance by the offense.

McCutchen had one of the four this tonight and his came in the ninth inning and might get looked over but it was a home run and with that home run it put him in the 20-20 club (20 home runs, 20 stolen bases). Only Nate McLouth, Jason Bay, Kevin Young, Al Martin, Barry Bonds, Andy Van Slyke and Dave Parker have accomplished that feat as a Pittsburgh Pirate. He becomes the first since McLouth did it in the 2008 season. Congrats Cutch.

I have seen more than a few people saying that the Pirates players don’t care and that they have given up on the season. I couldn’t disagree with that more. These players care, a lot. This is their job and if they don’t care they wouldn’t have a job. The team just isn’t that good. When you are sending out an everyday lineup with Josh Harrison, Xavier Paul and Brandon Wood in it you aren’t a good team. The team has got better and is capable of playing good baseball, as we saw earlier in the year, but they just aren’t there yet. Unless you have first hand knowledge of a player giving up you really have no idea. What we see on TV, during the game, of almost all of these players is maybe 5% of what they do, baseball related, on a day to day basis. For a three hour game we might see Andrew McCutchen for 20 minutes. Most people don’t think that he is at the ballpark for 10-12 hours a day but can judge him on the 20 minutes they see of him on one day for one game. Pretty absurd isn’t it?

Back at it tomorrow.

Pirates Game Day 135 Live Blog - @ Houston Astros

Astros 8, Pirates 2

Win - Henry Sosa (2-2)

Loss - Charlie Morton (9-8)

[Box Score]

Hit the jump for the Live Blog replay

Monday, August 29, 2011

Game 134 Recap - Astros 7, Pirates 4





Tough times man, tough times.

Against a pretty thin lineup the Pirates bent over and took it. They struck out a ton of times (not even going to look, the last time I saw it was 13) and Jose Veras gave up a three run bomb to Carlos Lee that pretty much sealed it up in the seventh inning.

The Pirates had five hits, four in the fourth inning, all right in a row in the fourth inning. All of them were extra base hits and they scored five runs out of it. The Pirates only got one hit in an inning that wasn’t the fourth. Just an abysmal game to watch if you are a Pirates fan.

I guess we get to come back and do it again. Hey, at least Wandy Rodriguez isn’t pitching again.

Pirates Game Day 134 Live Blog - @ Houston Astros

Astros 7, Pirates 4

Win - Wandy Rodriguez (10-9)

Loss - Jason Grilli (1-1)

Save - Mark Melancon (15)

[Box Score]

Hit the jump for the Live Blog recap

Pirates Week in Review: August 22-August 28

This is going to be a weekly post that I thought would be a nice addition to the site. This is going to be a Pirates weekly review where I go over the results for the past seven days and link up the box scores and the recap for each of the games. I also use the lovely FanGraphs and Baseball Reference to give you the box scores and the weekly stats for the team. I will try to have this up either late Sunday night or early Monday mornings, but you know how these things go.

Here is the Bucs weekly recap for this past week:

First off, sorry for the lack of Week in Review last week. I was on the road for work and wasn't able to get anything done, but never fear, I am back this week with what you need.

The Pirates had an OK week, but it could have been much better. Due to the double header on Monday the Pirates played eight games in the week and managed to go 3-5, although they could have easily went 4-4 or 5-3. The Pirates started the week with a nice split with the Brewers before only picking up one win in a four game set with the Cardinals.


Monday, August 22 - Milwaukee 8, Pittsburgh 1
[Box Score] [TRBB Recap]

Monday, August 22 - Pittsburgh 9, Milwaukee 2
[Box Score] [TRBB Recap]

Tuesday, August 23 - Milwaukee 11, Pittsburgh 4
[Box Score] [TRBB Recap]

Wednesday, August 24 - Pittsburgh 2, Milwaukee 0
[Box Score] [TRBB Recap]

Thursday, August 25 - St Louis 8, Pittsburgh 4
[Box Score] [TRBB Recap]

Friday, August 26 - St. Louis 5, Pittsburgh 4
[Box Score] [TRBB Recap]

Saturday, August 27 - Pittsburgh 7, St. Louis 0
[Box Score] [TRBB Recap]

Sunday, August 28 - St. Louis 7, Pittsburgh 4
[Box Score] [TRBB Recap]

Now for the hitters:

Josh Harrison came out of nowhere and had the best week of his major league career. The kid played in all eight games and collected a share of the team lead in hits with 11 while holding a .407/.414/.741 line and also having a .479 OBA. Just an outstanding week that, to be honest, I had no idea that Josh Harrison could do. Harrison also picked up a walk (!), only his second of the season, so that deserves at least a parade. Jose Tabata has been nothing less than outstanding since coming off the DL. In eight games last week Tabata went .324/.378/.441 with 11 hits. He walked on almost 18% of his plate appearances and of his 11 hits four of those went for extra bases and he scored a team-high five runs. Garrett Jones also had a nice week and stayed hot with a .292/.379/.458 line and only struck out in a little over 10% of his at bats. He drove in five runs and had three extra base hits in seven hits. Ryan Doumit and Alex Presley both had weeks that were below the line as neither hit over .200. Presley came off the DL and only played in four games but struggled hitting .167 with a .171 wOBA. Doumit was even worse with a .150 average and a .193 wOBA while having a wRC+ of 14.

For the pitchers:

The pitching staff took a beating over the eight days, granted they were facing two of the best offenses in the league over the last week. Jeff Karstens failed to pick up a win even though he had one good start and one start that he would soon ligke to forget. Brad Lincoln, far and away, was the best arm for the Pirates rotation as he went up against Zack Greinke and Chris Carpenter and worked 12 nearly scoreless innings only walking 1.5 batters per nine innings and confusing hitters. Jason Grilli was outstanding out of the pen in two games where he worked almost three innings. His 12.27 K/9 was among the best on the team and he stranded every runner that reached en route to not giving up a run. Tony Watson had a forgettable game against the Cardinals when he gave up a three run bomb to Matt Holliday and coupled with Chris Resop's tough trio of outings (7.03 xFIP, 50% LOB, .500 BABIP) really hurt the pen.

How the Pirates stacked up in the league hitting:


The team hitting wasn't as bad as the weeks prior as they hit for a .254/.305/.392 line which isn't good, but as you have seen in these before it could be a lot worse. Something that stood out to me about the week was that the Pirates significantly cut down on the strikeouts this week. They struck out just south of 16% of their plate appearances, which was sixth lowest in the entire league. Playing one more game than most teams the Pirates finished the week scoring 35 runs, seventh most in the league, despite a terrible ISO (.138) and a below average WRC+ of 87.


How the pitchers stacked up against the rest of the league:


The staff as a while continued to struggle with almost a five ERA through the eight games, going 3-5 on the week. The Pirates were stung big time by walking a lot of batters (3.78 BB/9) and they weren't leaving a lot of those batters on base (65.9%)

What the NL Central Standings look like after the week:

RkTmWLPctGBStrkRRApythvEastvCenvWestInterHomeRoadEI1RunvRHPvLHP≥.500<500last10
1MIL8154.600---W 34.54.074-6116-1141-2118-136-950-1631-386-628-1566-3815-1626-3255-228-2
2STL7064.52210.5W 14.74.471-6314-1132-2916-178-735-3135-336-1118-2053-4717-1721-2849-364-6
3CIN6766.50413.0W 44.74.371-6211-1533-2717-126-1237-3030-368-524-2852-5115-1530-3037-367-3
4PIT6271.46618.0L 13.94.261-7212-1931-3111-148-731-3731-346-716-1942-5620-1529-3833-334-6
5CHC5777.42523.5L 44.04.956-7813-1725-3614-145-1032-3725-407-321-2343-5614-2128-4729-303-7
6HOU4490.32836.5W 13.85.051-837-1821-3912-224-1123-4221-484-1017-2327-6717-2320-5124-394-6
Avg6370.4744.34.564-6912-1530-3014-156-934-3228-386-720-2147-5216-1725-3737-325-5
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/29/2011.



This Week's Slate:

Monday, August 29 - Pittsburgh (Ohlendorf) at Houston (Rodriguez) - 8:05 p.m.
Tuesday, August 30 - Pittsburgh (Morton) at Houston (Sosa) - 8:05 p.m.
Wednesday, August 31 - Pittsburgh (McDonald) at Houston (Happ) - 8:05 p.m.
Thursday, September 1 - Los Angeles (Billingsley) at Pittsburgh (Lincoln) - 4:05 p.m.
Friday, September 2 - Pittsburgh (Karstens) at Chicago (Dempster) - 2:20 p.m.
Saturday, September 3 - Pittsburgh (Ohlendorf) at Chicago (Coleman) - 1:05 p.m.
Sunday, September 4 - Pittsburgh (Morton) at Chicago (Wells) - 2:20 p.m.


Let me know what you think of the new feature and if you would like to see anything else in the weekly features the rest of the season.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Game 133 Recap - Cardinals 7, Pirates 4

Another game that the Pirates could have won, but they didn’t Instead they were defeated by the Cardinals and dropped the series three games to one. I think a split of the series would have been the minimum with how the Pirates played (for the most part) this series, but once again it wasn’t taking advantage that killed them.

The game started off pretty well for the Pirtes. In the first two innings the Pirates banged out six hits and scored four runs. It looked like it was going to be a good day for the offense but over the next seven innings the Pirates managed only two hits, and that is how the game went.

The Pirates lost the lead for good in the fourth inning when the Cardinals broke a 4-4 tie with a sacrifice fly to score Kyle Lohse. The Cardinals tacked on a pair of runs in the seventh inning and that was all she wrote for the game.

Jeff Karstens really had a tough go of it today. He wasn’t hitting his spots and the balls were finding the holes and it forced him to only make it through 3.2 innings where he gave up nine hits and five earned runs.

Chris Leroux had another nice outing and go the Pirates to the sixth inning with 2.1 scoreless where he didn’t give up a single hit and only allowed one base runner. Chris Resop continued to have a tough slide giving up two runs on two hits and only managed to get one out before giving way to Daniel McCutchen who let the inherited runners score.

Josh Harrison was the star again on offense with a two hit games while every other Pirates starters but Garrett Jones had a single hit each. Again nothing was too flashy as the only extra base hit came from Harrison with a double.

The Pirates are now in a tough spot on the season. The team is now 15-28 since the All-Star break and now must win 19 of their last 29 games in order to reach the .500 mark and break the terrible streak that they have. If you have read or followed me for any time you know how I feel about the .500 mark. It is largely meaningless and doesn’t really mean that the Pirates are good, just average. I say that but also understand that .500 is a huge step for this team. This year the Brewers GM was on record as saying that getting to .500 was not the goal for the Brewers when they were in the same position as the Pirates were and he said that just lifted a huge weight off the team and franchise. It is never a goal for the team to finish .500 and while I still think this is only a 75-win team it would be a tremendous improvement for this team to get to .500. It should be interesting because the Pirates start a stretch of games against teams that are pretty bad. Tomorrow they head to Houston for three games before stopping back at home for one day (literally) to play the Dodgers then play three each against the Cubs, Astros and Florida. Important stretch where the Pirates can give themselves a real shot at .500 if they can play well.

This all starts tomorrow against a pretty bad Astros team.

Pirates Game Day 133 Live Blog - @ St. Louis Cardinals

Cardinals 7, Pirates 4

Win - Kyle Lohse (12-8)

Loss - Jeff Karstens (9-8)

Save - Jason Motte (1)

[Box Score]

Hit the jump for the Live Blog replay

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Preseason Game 3 Recap - Steelers 34, Falcons 16

The Steelers got another preseason game against a good opponent as they downed the Atlanta Falcons 34-16 at Heinz Field.

I don’t have much from there so here are some notes that I jotted down as the game was going on:

Ben Roethlisberger looks scary good so far this preseason. Tonight he was about as good as you can be and sparkled against a pretty good Atlanta defense. Large Benjamin was 11-of-16 for 214 yards and two touchdowns in a half of play. He was making good throws in some tight windows and we should see him in about one series in the final preseason game before we see him on September 11th for the season opener in Baltimore.

Has anyone had a better camp than Antonio Brown this season? If they have I would be wanting to know who that was. With Emmanuel Sanders down with a foot injury Brown has easily passed him for the third receiver spot on the team and was Ben’s favorite target. He caught four passes for 137 yards including two touchdowns and he made everything look easy. The best of which was a 77-yard touchdown grab where he caught a tightly thrown ball by Ben at the 50 and absolutely ran away from the defensive backs. Oh yea, AB also had 109 return yards on four kickoff returns. Not bad youngin.

Marcus Gilbert looked OK at left tackle for the Steelers. As a rookie starting on the blind side you can’t really expect him to be all pro but Gilbert played pretty well against a pretty good defensive line for the Falcons. He was beat a few times but other times he looked good and kept the rush away from Ben. It was a good step for Gilbert and if called on in the regular season I would feel pretty good with him out there.

I don’t really know what to think of the defense. They gave up 266 yards in the half but Falcons QB Matt Ryan threw the ball and eye popping 42 times, only completing 22 of them for 220 yards. This is against a defensive backfield that is playing on bare bones and even sustained an injury to starter fill in Keenan Lewis. The Steelers did get dominated in time of possession (18:49-11:11) and gave up some long drives where the Falcons dinked and dunked down the field, but as you know that is how the Steelers defense has been for years, and it’s worked. It wasn’t a good performance by the defense but they did get decent pressure and I am not very concerned about the defense.

There might not have been a better defensive player on the field for the Steelers than Lawrence Timmons. He was all over the field from his linebacker position and even picked off a pass and almost took it to the house for a touchdown. One thing that people notice about Timmons is a freakish athlete and is unbelievably athletic. He was having no problem matching up with receivers in pass coverage and was getting into his coverage zone and forcing Ryan to throw the ball elsewhere.

Brett Keisel also had a really nice game for the defense. He was getting a ton of pressure and making a ton of plays in the run game. With guys like Ziggy Hood, Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton getting a lot of attention on the defensive line it is easy to overlook Keisel, but he is a very important part to how good that front line is for the Steelers. Tonight he showed a great motor and that he is ready for the regular season and that he hasn’t lost a step.

Crezdon Butler made a splash play with a 95 yard pick for a touchdown, but as cool as that sounds it wasn’t really that impressive. Some people might get on me for this, but on the play the receiver slipped and all Butler had to do was catch the ball and run down the sideline. Overall Butler had a decent game and he is making some definite positive strides in his game, but that one play wasn’t a real indication of a great play.

Stevenson Sylvester is a great special team’s guy. The best the Steelers have. I know that doesn’t really need to be said but he was good in that aspect tonight and he is a pretty good athlete. Arnez Battle is another guy who is good in the special team’s game and it will be very interesting to see if he sticks on the roster. It would be tough to keep a guy like Battle because he is pretty far down on the depth chart for the receivers so it will probably come down to the last preseason game to see if he is going to stay on the roster.

Overall the linebackers were good from top to bottom for the Steelers. I singled out Sylvester becaue of the outstanding specials team's play he always gives but he was good in the second half with some good pressure on the ball.

I talked about this in the pregame about the quarterback situation but I think an injury might have taken care of that. In the middle of the third quarter Leftwich took off and tried to run for a first down and came down really awkwardly on his left elbow and he was screaming in pain as he came off the field. As of now I would imagine this is a serious injury that might hamper his chances of being on the team and possibly being put on the IR. That would leave Batch and Dixon as the two backups for the Steelers and to be honest I would have no idea who would be the number two. Probably Dixon. I think Chuck Batch will be around forever.

Jon Dwyer wasn’t too bad even though he didn’t get in till later in the game. He got the bulk of his carries in the fourth quarter and ended up with 36 yards on six carries and made the most out of some broken plays and found some creases nicely. He is probably in a battle with Jon Clay for the final running back spot, even though I don’t think Clay has much of a chance to make this team. Clay fumbled once in his three carries so that certainly doesn’t bode well for him.

Outside of the Leftwich injury, which as I type this is a broke left arm, Maurkice Pouncey left early with an ankle injury but it sounds like he should be alright. Lewis was banged up and there isn't anything out there yet how serious it is. Once again it is of the utmost importance to keep everyone healthy, but that really isn't realistic. Pouncey shouldn't play at all next week and the starters should play a series and then sit down. With the season so close it isn't worth it.

Overall it was a pretty good game for the Steelers. The offense looked good, the defense didn’t but in the end I think the defense wasn’t as bad as the statistics might show. One more meaningless preseason game before we get into the meat of the season, week one at Baltimore.

Game 132 Recap - Pirates 7, Cardinals 0




Evidently when the Pirates are going against one of the top pitchers in the game then all that needs to happen is have Brad Lincoln pitch against them in the black and gold. For the second straight start Lincoln matched up against a NL Central staff ace and beat them. Last start it was against Zack Greinke and he gave up only three hits and two earned runs to the potent Brewers lineup and today he went six innings, gave up six hits and allowed zero runs in only 78 pitches.

The offense did their job and smacked double-digit hits and scored seven runs to out slug the best hitting team in the league. Josh Harrison led the parade with a three hit game and also collected three RBI, which included RBI singles in the second and fourth innings.

The Bucs offense scored single runs in the second, fifth and sixth innings but did the most damage in the fourth inning off Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter. Coming into the game Carpenter was 12-2 against the Priates and has pretty much dominated them his entire career. The Pirates bombed him today for nine hits and six earned runs in five innings of work, which is a career high for the Pirates offense against Carpenter. Before today the most earned runs the Pirates have ever scored off him was four (happened three times) but things just clicked today and it was all good.

What turned out to be the biggest inning of the game, the top of the fourth inning, scoring four runs on four hits and sent nine players to the plate and really put the game almost out of reach. Garrett Jones continues to have an outstanding August as he doubled home Andrew McCutchen before Harrison singled home Neil Walker and Jones. Lincoln then doubled home a run into deep right center field to help his own cause and round out the scoring in the fourth. It was just a great inning for the Pirates offense, mostly from guys you don’t expect to get those kinds hits.

Along with Harrison having a three hit day Jones also posted three hits. The 5-6-7 hitters for the Pirates today (Walker, Jones, Harrison) combined to go 7-fo-11 with five runs scored and five RBI. Jose Tabata picked up another hit and McCutchen had two hits so it was a nice, well rounded, offensive performance that wasn’t there for the Pirates in the last couple games in St. Louis. Yesterday it was all about the top of the lineup but today it was about the whole lineup and they needed it.

In a blowout game like this it can often be overlooked how the pen figures into it. Everyone is going to talk about how good Brad Lincoln was (he was) and how he will earn the win (deservingly so) but there were four innings that the Pirates bullpen had to cover and not blow the seven run lead (which they have done before). Daniel McCutchen came out and did a really nice job to shut down the Cardinals in the seventh and eighth innings. He gave up only one hit and struck out two to give the Cardinals no hope to come back. All it would take is a couple runs in the seventh and a couple more in the eighth to really make this game interesting, but McCutchen didn’t let that happen.

The Pirates were again good with runners in scoring position going 4-for-8 and collected four two-out RBI from four different players. The pitching staff also shut down the heart of the Cardinals order (Albert Pujols-Holliday-Lance Berkman) to go 2-for-10 with both of those hits being singles. That is what you have to do and although it isn’t easy, and it won’t always happen, it feels good when you can shut down the lineup.

The Pirates will finish up the four game set tomorrow.

Pirates Game Day 132 Live Blog - @ St. Louis Cardinals

Pirates 7, Cardinals 0

Win - Brad Lincoln (1-0)

Loss - Chris Carpenter (8-9)

[Box Score]

Hit the jump for the Live Blog replay

Steelers Preseason Game Day 3 - vs. Atlanta Falcons

Today is where we are going to get as close of look at what the regular season is going to be like before the regular season even starts. The Steelers have been pretty lucky to play some pretty good football teams in the middle of their preseason schedule and that will continue when they play the Atlanta Falcons tonight. I think everyone knows what the preseason is all about. The first and fourth preseason games are more for the unproven guys and the second and third preseason games are when we get to see the starters for more than a series.

As I said the Steelers are fortunate to play good teams in the middle of their preseason schedule because they can give us a pretty good idea of what the first teams are like, on both sides, for more than a few minutes. Last season the Falcons gave the Steelers a great game and to be honest it was one of the best games of the season, albeit without Ben Roethlisberger. The Falcons are an outstanding young team and to be honest they are one of the teams in the NFC that I can truly root for. I am a Matt Ryan fan and I like what Mike Turner and Roddy White do out of the skill positions. The defense is solid and is going to give the black and gold all they can handle.

All-in-all this is pretty much going to stack up the same as the Philadelphia game as far as what I am going to be looking for. There are still a lot of unknowns despite the strong play against a very good Eagles team. Nobody really know how the offensive line is going to shake up because none of the lineman can stay healthy long enough to get a good look at them. The defensive backfield is hard to assess because they barely have enough body’s out there to go into the nickel package.

The Steelers resigned Trai Essex and will get back Chris Kemoeatu for the game and both should see some playing time, but I wouldn’t really expect to see them a whole ton. We should see a lot from second round pick Marcus Gilbert and Tony Hills as both have had pretty good camps and will be pushing for a starting spot in the regular season. Even if they don’t earn a spot you know one of these linemen is going to go down in the first month of the season and after last year you have to imagine that these guys go into the mindset that they are only one play away from being a starter so they have to perform like it to earn that first bench spot, if that is what it comes to.

The corner play is about the same as the offensive linemen. Bryant McFadden and Ike Taylor have missed a ton of time so the young guns have to play well. Last week Donovan Warren had a nice game and Keenan Lewis has started to show that he belongs in the league but I would like to see if that can be consistent from game-to-game and this will give us a good look if that is the truth.

We all know that Ben Roethlisberger is going to be the starter in the regular season but an understated battle is who is going to back up large Benjamin. Dennis Dixon, Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch are fighting for two spots. Who is it going to be that sticks on this roster and who is the guy that isn’t going to be there on opening day? Remember with the new rules it doesn’t matter who the third QB is because he can come in and play whenever and you can still put the first QB back into the game. That might give DD the edge and you have to think that the Steelers are going to keep Leftwich but all it will take is a good game from Batch to give him the nod. It will be interesting to see how the rotation works against the Falcons.

Jon Dwyer had a nice game against the Eagles and even got some work with the first team as the lead back. It will be interesting to see how the Steelers use him because he has all but made the team; it is just a question on how he will be used in the 2011 campaign. He is going to get a good amount of carries in the second half with Ike Redman, but I wonder if we will see him in some sets with the first team to see what he can do. In the same breath I want to see what Ike Redman can give us. He was good all last year so I am not really worried about him, but it will be nice to see him work some third downs and get a few carries. We know what Rashard Mendenhall can do and we know he is an every down back so I don’t necessarily think he needs to be out there with the first team for the entire time they are out there.

This will be a fun game to watch and see how things develop. It will be the closest thing we will have to the regular season for close to two weeks (I don’t count the fourth preseason game as close to regular season) so soak it up and enjoy it.