When it comes to preseason NFL football, there is a lot to be desired. After all, in tonight's matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars the starters might see a series or two before finding their spot on the bench. After they depart, what is there to watch? Well, the reality of the situation is there is still a lot to watch.
Keep an eye out for several of these key matchups tonight as the Steelers will be searching to remove the bitter taste of defeat out of their mouths after falling to the Minnesota Vikings 14-3 in the annual Hall of Fame Game.
Steelers OLine vs. Jaguars pass rush
The Steelers offensive line wasn't very good last week, but it also wasn't intact. Maurkice Pouncey and Ramon Foster both sat out, and the drop off from starter to backup is steep along the line. All 5 starting linemen, along with tight ends Matt Spaeth and Heath Miller, should be active for tonight's game and protecting Ben Roethlisberger will be the ultimate goal. In 2014, the Jaguars defense harassed Roethlisberger as the Steelers barely escaped Florida with a victory. In the limited amount of snaps Roethlisberger will be taking in Friday's matchup, keeping him clean will be paramount for the offensive line.
Landry Jones vs. the Jaguars defense
Jones is running out of dress rehearsals. There is a good chance if he doesn't rectify his play the team could part ways with the quarterback out of Oklahoma. Jones took a step forward, albeit a small step, last week and will have to improve. He will be playing with a better offensive line, as well as better receivers and running backs. As the talent around him improves, so should the results.
Shark and Mitch vs. Jaguars offense
Shamarko Thomas and Mike Mitchell should be active for tonight's game for the first time, and it will be fun to watch the tandem get to work in the back end of the defense. It won't be perfect, but watching the two not only get acclimated to playing alongside each other, but also how they play in the new Cover 2 zone scheme will be a matchup in itself. Against Blake Bortles and the Jaguars' mediocre offense, it would be nice to see Mitchell and/or Thomas make several plays in pass defense making their presence felt...and making the sting of not seeing No. 43 Troy Polamalu in the back half a little easier.
Steelers Pass Rush vs. Jaguars OLine
In 2014, the Steelers pass rush harassed Bortles into several mistakes. The same needs to happen in this matchup, even with backups in the lineup. Pressuring the quarterback should be paramount for Butler and his unit in 2015, and Butler has already shown signs of mixing things up as he often blitzed cornerbacks William Gay and Brandon Boykin effectively in the game against the Vikings. Look for more unique changes to the approach of the defense, but pressure from the front seven without applying pressure via blitz is ultimately what can separate this defense from the mediocre unit of 2014.
Steelers CBs vs. Bortles/Jaguars QBs
Last week Brandon Boykin played both the inside and outside cornerback positions. William Gay is capable of playing both inside and outside, but Cortez Allen is primarily an outside cornerback. Add in the versatile Antwon Blake to the mix and you see Keith Butler has a multitude of personnel options. It will be a matchup to watch not only where these players line up, but also how they play against a quarterback still looking to get his footing in the NFL. In the new Steelers zone coverage scheme, if performed correctly, it should put these defensive backs in great position to take the ball away. Turnovers and sacks will be critical to the 2015 Steelers' success and starting in the preseason is never a bad thing.