PITTSBURGH - If a Steelers fan wanted to get the most accurate look at what the 2011 team may resemble, Saturday night's preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons was the best chance.
Most of the starters, practically all of the same starters who played in Super Bowl XLV in February, had the opportunity to play the entire first half together in the Steelers' 34-16 victory over the Falcons at Heinz Field.
Except for several injuries, the Steelers starters didn't disappoint with second-year receiver Antonio Brown stealing the spotlight.
Brown returned the opening kickoff 51 yards, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hit tight end David Johnson on two straight passes to set up Rashard Mendenhall's touchdown run. Later in the first quarter, linebacker Lawrence Timmons picked off a deflected pass, which led to a Shaun Suisham field goal.
In the second quarter, Roethlisberger and Brown hooked up on 77-yard and 44-yard scoring strikes. When the offensive starters exited after the first half, the Steelers held a 24-16 advantage.
"We're putting points on the board, and we're getting good drives together and getting good field position from Antonio Brown,'' Mendenhall said. "He made a lot of plays out there today. As an offense, we're clicking and we're preparing for week one.''
All was mostly good for the starters in their probable final tune-up before Sept. 11's regular-season opener in Baltimore against the AFC North Division rival Ravens. The major problems were left tackle Jonathan Scott's knee, cornerback Bryant McFadden's hamstring and cornerback Ike Taylor's fractured thumb that kept them from playing, and center Maurkice Pouncey's left ankle injury he sustained in the first quarter.
And the starting defense, which played one series in the third quarter, wasn't at its best without Taylor and McFadden in the lineup, cornerback Keenan Lewis suffering an early-game injury and Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan throwing 42 first-half passes.
"I don't think we did a good job [defensively],'' linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. "I know a few times I lost contain and allowed [Ryan] to roll outside the pocket. That hurts the team.''
Thursday's preseason finale in Carolina will just be a chance for a few of the younger players to audition for possible practice squad duty or spots on other NFL teams' rosters.
The Steelers' opening-day roster, barring injury, appears to be set. That may sound silly considering they still have to cut 37 players, but not much room exists for a late preseason surprise.
Here is what the final 53 might look like on Sept. 11:
n Quarterbacks (3): Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich, Charlie Batch.
n Running backs (4): Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, Mewelde Moore, Jonathan Dwyer.
n Receivers (6): Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Brown, Jerricho Cotchery, Emmanuel Sanders, Arnaz Battle.
n Tight ends (3): Heath Miller, Johnson, John Gilmore.
n Offensive line (9): Willie Colon, Tony Hills, Pouncey, Chris Kemoeatu, Scott, Marcus Gilbert, Doug Legursky, Ramon Foster, Trai Essex.
n Defensive line (6): Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heyward, Chris Hoke.
n Linebackers (8): Woodley, James Harrison, James Farrior, Timmons, Jason Worilds, Chris Carter, Larry Foote, Stevenson Sylvester.
n Cornerbacks (7): Taylor, McFadden, William Gay, Keenan Lewis, Curtis Brown, Cortez Allen, Crezdon Butler.
n Safeties (4): Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Will Allen, Ryan Mundy.
n Special teams (3): Suisham, Daniel Sepulveda, Greg Warren.
The only questions may be if Dennis Dixon can earn a quarterback spot ahead of Batch, if Gilmore will win the third tight end job or if the Steelers will keep six or seven cornerbacks.
Those decisions are far less significant compared to what many other NFL teams will be deciding in the coming weeks.
"I feel like we're doing some good things, but we've still got some work to do,'' Roethlisberger said. "That's a good thing.''
As long as the Steelers don't suffer any more setbacks health-wise, they should again be able to field a team that has Super Bowl potential.
Buck Frank can be reached at 946-7461 or firstname.lastname@example.org.