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How should the Steelers handle playing their starters over the last two preseason games?

With an extra preseason game, along with added rest before the regular season, there are some factors to take into consideration.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers have completed half of their preseason games for the 2021 season. Being one of the two NFL teams who have four preseason games this year, the Steelers appear to be on a pace to play out there games in the same manner they have in recent seasons.

Since there were no preseason games in 2020, the most recent data would come from 2019. During that season, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger only played in the third preseason game. In fact, Roethlisberger has not played in more than one preseason game since the 2015 season.

Following the Steelers 24–16 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night, Coach Tomlin answered the final question of his press conference by saying that he plans on having Ben Roethlisberger play on Saturday night against the Detroit Lions.

For this reason, many are assuming the Steelers are keeping the same schedule as they would in a typical preseason in which they played four games. If this is the case, Ben Roethlisberger and possibly some other players would likely also have the week off for the Steelers final preseason game against the Carolina Panthers on Friday, August 27.

Of course, this is all speculation. Perhaps the Steelers viewed the Hall of Fame Game as simply bonus playing time as they would have in previous years where this matchup caused teams to have a fifth game. If this is the case, then having Roethlisberger play against the Lions on Saturday night would be the equivalent of the second preseason game in previous years.

There are some who believe the Steelers should be treating this game against the Lions as their second preseason game merely from a time standpoint for when the regular season begins. Mark Kaboly of The Athletic points out if Roethlisberger is only playing in next Saturday’s preseason game, he’s got quite the layoff before the Steelers take the field for the regular season.

Exactly how the Steelers plan to do their regular season finale is only known in the minds of some of the Steelers coaching staff and front office personnel. Until they choose to share it with the rest of Steelers’ Nation, it will only be speculation. But if the Steelers are operating on the typical for preseason game schedule, how much does it affect their matchup’s based on their opponents not having a similar timeline?

For example, if the Pittsburgh Steelers are treating next Saturday’s game against the Lions as a typical third preseason game, it is only the second game for Detroit. With the Lions being in a “Week 2 mentality,” it could change how the matchups fall against each other. It could be the case where more Steelers starters are playing and for a longer time than their opponent.

On the other hand, Detroit is a team with a new head coach and a new quarterback. Because of this, their progression of projected playing time for their starters may be much more than Steelers. In Detroit’s preseason Week 1 matchup Friday night, new Lions’ quarterback Jared Goff did see action in the game. For this reason, it is likely the Steelers will get some first team matchups against the Detroit Lions on Saturday night, although exactly how long each teams projected starters will play remains to be seen.

The bigger question when it comes to the Steelers preseason matchups will come in the final preseason game against the Carolina Panthers. If the Steelers are treating the game like the typical “final preseason game” of years past, the amount of starters playing the game will be limited. But with such a long layoff before the first game, how many starters will the Steelers choose to sit?

For the Panthers, another team with a new quarterback for 2021, it is likely for them to see the most playing time for their starters this preseason. If the Steelers are resting some of their high-profile players, it may become an instance where the Steelers reserves, typically going up against other teams reserves, have a much more difficult matchup and could actually help the Steelers in evaluating talent if that is something they are trying to see.

Typically during the preseason, the Steelers are less concerned about their opponent and more concerned about evaluating their own players. But if the Steelers are interested in seeing certain members of their squad going up against the best their opponents have to offer, they may have to look at these questions as they make decisions on who will be available for their final two preseason games.

So what do you think? Should the Steelers handle the 2021 preseason like they would previous years with four games? Should the additional time before the regular season kicks off be a factor? Make sure you leave your thought in comments below.