The Pittsburgh Steelers are getting ready for their third preseason game of the 2021 exhibition season, and to say expectations have changed dramatically is an understatement.
Prior to the team’s first preseason game, the Hall of Fame game vs. the Dallas Cowboys, the expectations were entrenched in fundamentals. With starters like Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Heyward and Joe Haden out of the lineup, you wanted to see the reserve players continue to play a solid, and clean, brand of football.
Last week in Week 1 of the NFL Preseason, the Steelers saw more regular players return to the lineup vs. the Philadelphia Eagles. Expectations were ramped up, but nothing to like what is happening vs. the Detroit Lions on Saturday night.
When it comes to who is, and isn’t playing, it is expected everyone healthy will play, outside of T.J. Watt and Stephon Tuitt. This means fans don’t just want to see things like solid tackling, protecting the football and creating turnovers. Fans want to see results.
So, what should fans expect from the starters vs. the Lions? Here are some things to keep an eye on tonight at Heinz Field, broken down by offense, defense and special teams:
With Ben Roethlisberger and the full projected starting offensive line slated to play, this will be critical to see the team’s progress in Matt Canada’s system. It goes further than just how the offensive line blocks, but how does Roethlisberger handle being under center more, how does he handle the shifts and motions?
Don’t expect perfection, because it won’t happen. But on top of how Roethlisberger handles the new system, let’s also not forget this is Najee Harris’ first time behind that offensive line, and with Roethlisberger at quarterback. Watching this group work together for the first time will be big.
The expectation here is the system looks smooth and fluid, and even though there might be some gaffes, you can see the eventual finished product.
The Steelers will get Cam Heyward, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Tyson Alualu and others back on the field for the first time, but this isn’t really noteworthy. Outside of staying healthy, the hope should be the Steelers impose their will on the Detroit offense.
So far this preseason the Steelers have come out of the gates slow, on both sides of the ball, and it should be improved in this game Saturday night. The Steelers used this week as a regular week, and did some minor game planning for the Lions. The result should look more like a finished product, and less like what we’ve all seen the last two weeks.
On top of that, it should be noted despite getting those aforementioned players back on the field, the Steelers will still be without arguably their best defensive player in T.J. Watt, and also Stephon Tuitt. So, while it will be a welcome sight to see many back, this isn’t the finished product.
Chris Boswell is the only kicker on the Steelers’ roster currently, and it will be great to see him gain his usual level of consistency with both point-after attempts and field goals. But let’s also not forget kickoffs and showing the ability to both kick it high and short intentionally, and put the ball out of the end zone.
The real talking point on special teams will be the battle at punter. The Steelers should hope to get both Jordan Berry and Pressley Harvin III every opportunity to prove themselves. Not just as a punter, but also a holder. This has been a very intriguing camp battle, and one which will likely take the full preseason to decide.
For a more detailed explanation of these expectations, check out my “Let’s Ride” podcast below: