As we have less than a week to go before the Steelers regular season opener against the Giants, most of the football talk here on BTSC is about the upcoming game, and rightfully so. But the truth is the Steelers would have played over a month of football before the regular season if the coronavirus had not caused the preseason to be cancelled.
As a big fan of the preseason, I’m not ready to let it go yet. So before we become completely focused on the regular season, let’s look at the five preseason games the Steelers should’ve played, and attempt to figure out what they would have been like.
Hall of Fame Game: Steelers vs. Cowboys
August 6th, Tom Benson Stadium, Canton, Ohio
Yes, the Steelers’ season should have started back in early August. Pittsburgh was picked to play one extra preseason game in the annual Hall of Fame Game as three former members of the franchise, Troy Polamalu, Bill Cowher, and Donnie Shell were all voted into Canton in the 2020 class.
The Steelers wouldn’t play any full-time starters in the game, but still would give some time to players who could get a lot of snaps in 2020, including Ulysees Gilbert III, Benny Snell Jr., and the entire rookie class.
Mason Rudolph starts at quarterback. With James Washington on the COVID-19 list, he finds a new favorite target in tight end Zach Gentry. They connect on a short touchdown pass late in the first quarter.
On the first drive, Chase Claypool gets open but drops his first target. He comes back in the second half with a few nice catches, including a goal-line fade touchdown pass from Devlin Hodges. Despite a hot start, Hodges goes on to throw two interceptions later in the game.
The offensive line holds up well, but Kevin Dotson struggles initially in pass protection. He clears the path for Benny Snell on a critical third and short, however, much to the excitement of Steelers Nation.
On defense, the defensive backfield has a solid day, with the cornerback play keeping CeeDee Lamb and the rest of the Cowboys’ receiving corps in line. However, safeties Jordan Dangerfield, Marcus Allen, and the newly-signed Curtis Riley have a tougher time, and a miscommunication leads to a big touchdown pass for Dallas.
The front seven has a better day, with Gilbert showing off his sideline-to-sideline range, and Isaiah Buggs and Henry Mondeaux help shut down Dallas’ rushing attack.
Steelers win 24-17.
Week 1: Steelers vs. Buccaneers
August 14, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The Steelers get their home opener, of sorts, against Tampa Bay. Despite the promising matchup, neither Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger suit up for the game.
Mason Rudolph once again gets the start at quarterback. He throws a touchdown pass to James Washington on the team’s opening drive. Washington has a nice day before being pulled for some younger receivers. Ryan Switzer makes an appearance and catches a few passes, his longest going for 15 yards.
Paxton Lynch gets some time at quarterback but struggles, sailing a pass over Deon Cain’s head on a ‘go’ route. The run game looks solid once again, with Anthony McFarland Jr. showing off some of his explosiveness on a 17-yard run. Fans start to notice the Matt Canada effect with some new formations and motions. Jaylen Samuels lines up at H-back on a few plays, getting a touchdown on a shovel pass.
The defense looks better, with Curtis Riley showing off his coverage skills. Marcus Allen plays some middle linebacker and lands a big hit on Ronald Jones, knocking the ball out. Alex Highsmith gets his first sack.
On special teams, Kerrith Whyte Jr. fails to show a spark in the return game. The punting battle between Corliss Waitman and Jordan Berry is neck-and-neck, while Chris Boswell remains automatic.
Steelers win 27-24.
Week 2: Steelers vs. Saints
August 23, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Black and gold faces off against black and gold. The Steelers play some of their younger starters.
Devlin Hodges gets the start this time. He and Chase Claypool get a nice connection going, and the rookie receiver gets two touchdowns, one in the red zone, and another on a deep corner route. The running game takes off, and Anthony McFarland breaks a few big runs. Trey Edmunds gets a goal-line touchdown and has a big tackle on special teams.
Zach Banner wins this round of the right tackle battle with a great run-blocking performance. However, Chukwuma Okorafor is not far behind.
The defense struggles, with the only bright spot being UDFA standout James Pierre, who gets an interception. The Steelers struggle against Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston, who combine for three touchdown passes.
Steelers lose 21- 31.
Week 3: Steelers at Jets
August 28, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey
It’s Week 3 of the preseason, meaning the Steelers will play their starters for a few drives.
Ben Roethlisberger gets his first start since his injury last season. Besides a deep pass down the seam to Eric Ebron, we don’t get to see a lot of his arm strength. Instead, he depends on short and intermediate throws to JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson. Both young receivers have a nice first half, and Roethlisberger throws a touchdown pass to Johnson.
James Conner looks good, and breaks a fifteen yard run behind the block of new fullback Derek Watt. The starting offensive line looks great as well, with Chukwuma Okorafor protecting Big Ben’s right side. Roethlisberger is taken out of the game after two drives, with fans feeling optimistic about the new offense.
The starting defense impresses, with both Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt getting sacks in the first quarter. The entire unit holds up well, not allowing any points during their time on the field. Their last appearance ends with a Steve Nelson pass deflection on a big third down.
Mason Rudolph gets put back in at quarterback and struggles, throwing two interceptions and no touchdown passes. The running game comes up big again, with Wendell Smallwood, Benny Snell, and Anthony McFarland combining for a total of around 120 rushing yards. Jaylen Samuels continues to be used in non-traditional ways, moving from H-back to the slot to running back throughout the course of the game, gaining 40 receiving yards.
On defense, the Steelers second-stringers look great. Ulysees Gilbert gets a big interception, and Carlos Davis and Alex Highsmith each get a sack. Marcus Allen continues to impress at inside linebacker, but Antoine Brooks can’t do quite as much in a similar role.
Ray-Ray McCloud gets a big kickoff return touchdown, but Corliss Waitman fumbles a hold for kicker Chris Boswell on the extra point.
Steelers win, 16-10.
Week 4: Steelers at Panthers
September 3, Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina
The final preseason game marks the end of the many exciting roster battles the Steelers have had in 2020.
Despite a bad game, Mason Rudolph has locked up the #2 quarterback spot, leaving Devlin Hodges and Paxton Lynch to compete for the third slot. They each get a half to make their case. Hodges gets the start and has a good day, connecting with James Washington on multiple occasions, helping him get a touchdown and nearly 75 receiving yards. Chase Claypool puts the finishing touches on an impressive preseason campaign with another touchdown and some nice blocking on a big run by Anthony McFarland.
Lynch struggles again, missing a wide open Ryan Switzer in the end zone on a slant. Lynch does connect with Ray-Ray McCloud, though, hitting the new receiver on a deep post route near the end of the game.
Much like the quarterbacks, Zach Banner and Chuks Okorafor split time all game. In their case, no clear winner is found.
The running game doesn’t take off as much as it did before, but J.C. Hausseneur and Kevin Dotson each have a nice game in the interior, blocking for the Steelers’ deep backfield.
The defense plays well again, with Isaiah Buggs having the best day on the D-line. Robert Spillane gets some time at inside linebacker and holds his own. Ola Adeniyi gets a sack and forced fumble. In the secondary, Trajan Bandy gets an interception, but also gets burned on a deep pass for a Panther touchdown.
On special teams, Jordan Berry hits a punt off the side of his foot, gaining only twenty yards before going out of bounds, but Chris Boswell hits two field goals.
Steelers win 20-14.
After going 4-1 in the preseason, the Steelers make their final cuts and approach Week 1 of the regular season with high hopes.
What do you think the Steelers’ preseason would have been like if it had happened? Let us know in the comments below, and stay tuned to BTSC for Steelers news in the upcoming, real-life season.