AFC North: Charle Batch
|Rick Stewart/Getty Images|
|Limas Sweed hauls in one of his two receptions in Thursday night's game.|
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
The Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals, 20-10, in a Super Bowl rematch at Heinz Field. The game doesn't count in the standings but it did provide some insight into what to look forward to in the coming months.
Here are five observations:
1. Sweed up to speed
Perhaps the biggest winner in Pittsburgh's preseason opener was second-year receiver Limas Sweed. After struggling with drops and concentration during his rookie year, Sweed has a lot to prove this summer as he tries to fill a role in the Steelers' offense.
Sweed made an early and convincing claim for the vacant No. 3 receiver spot by recording two catches for 56 yards. Both were difficult receptions, as the first was leaping over the middle in traffic and the second was a 45-yard reception where Sweed made a late adjustment.
"Just like in practice," said Sweed, who has made plays throughout training camp. "I saw the ball, got it at the highest point and made a play."
2. Rookies are productive
When you think of high-profile draft classes, the Steelers are not the first team to come to mind. Coming off a Super Bowl victory, they had the final pick in most rounds and made just one selection on the first day.
But Pittsburgh's 2009 rookie class looked strong against the Cardinals. First-round pick Evander "Ziggy" Hood recorded a sack in the second half. Third-round receiver Mike Wallace caught two passes for 35 yards and returned a kickoff for an additional 35 yards, and rookie cornerback Joe Burnett intercepted a pass that set up a fourth-quarter touchdown.
"I feel like I did pretty good," Wallace said of his NFL debut. "But I still missed a couple things. I need to go back to training camp in Latrobe, watch this film, learn from it and not make the same mistakes next week."
3. Sepulveda boosts special teams
Punter Daniel Sepulveda was all smiles after being back on the field for the first time in about 20 months with a knee injury. The home crowd of 58,330 was excited, too. Sepulveda received one of the biggest ovations of the night when he stepped on the field.
"It's nice to be well-received liked that," Sepulveda said afterwards. "But I'm surprised they didn't wait until after the kick."
Sepulveda stayed busy during his first game back with six punts averaging 49.5 yards per attempt. Two of his kicks were placed inside the 20. It was the type of punting not seen in Heinz Field during last year's Super Bowl run.
4. Offensive line still looks shaky
Although the offense played just two series, that was long enough to see a few missed assignments on the offensive line. Arizona's starting defense was able to get decent pressure on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who finished 4-for-6 for 33 yards. He wasn't sacked but had to scramble on occasion.
"We still have some things to work on," Pittsburgh left tackle Max Starks said. "We need to shore up some protection things."
The running game also didn't look stout early as Rashard Mendenhall had nine carries for 24 yards (2.7 average) with the starting offense. On several of Mendenhall's carries, he was hit at or behind the line of scrimmage.
5. Dixon gets extended look
It was obvious that Pittsburgh's coaching staff wanted to get an extended look at second-year quarterback Dennis Dixon. He played nearly three quarters and finished 10 of 19 for 112 yards.
Dixon showed some good things. He had good chemistry with backup receiver Shaun McDonald (six catches, 69 yards) in the second half. But it's clear Dixon still has some work to do if he wants to be the No. 2 quarterback this season.
Veteran Charlie Batch was 1 of 2 for 45 yards and has the edge right now to backup Roethlisberger. Batch played sparingly Thursday after throwing in his first game since breaking his collarbone last season.