The Pittsburgh Steelers have now played three preseason games as they prepare for the 2021 NFL regular season. Being one of two teams who actually get four contests, the Steelers did not hold back any of their starters who had enough practice time and were not dealing with injury. While T.J. Watt, Stephon Tuitt, and Chase Claypool were all on the sidelines, players such as Ben Roethlisberger, Cameron Heyward, Joe Haden, and Minkah Fitzpatrick saw their first action of the season.
Going into the Hall of Fame Game, which is now two and a half weeks ago, I tried to remind Steelers fans that there was a lot to be excited about to see on the field for the Steelers. Yes, many starters were going to be on the sidelines, but they were a lot of other key position battles that were worth watching and noting in order to tune in to the game. I loved having the information, breaking it down, and seeing how certain position groups were going to shape up.
But that was the Hall of Fame game storyline. That was not the storyline for preseason Week 2. This time, it was all about the starters, particularly Ben Roethlisberger.
In checking some of the comments from various articles at Behind The Steel Curtain on Sunday morning, I was expecting to see people’s thoughts on Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Haden, and even some of the rookies projected to start such as Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth. Instead, what did I find? The first dozen comments were all about Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins.
Really? In this game?
There has been plenty to take away from the Steelers quarterback play the first two preseason games. There still probably wasn’t enough separation for whoever’s camp one was behind between Rudolph and Haskins to change anybody’s mind. And against the Lions on Saturday, this was probably still the case. But was this really what we wanted to take away from this game?
I know, Ben Roethlisberger & Co. only played together in the first quarter of a game. Yes, there were still three quarters of a game with some other players taking the field in order to break things down. But were those the primary talking points?
The Steelers have yet to fully tip their hand as to how they are going to play the final preseason game. Will they treat it like the typical fourth preseason game, or because there is extended time before the regular season will they treat it based on the number of days until they take the field again? Hopefully we’ll get more from Coach Tomlin this week, but we really don’t know if they’re going to play their starters the most they have all season, or not even have them dressed for the game. Either way, we’re likely going to see more of Rudolph and Haskins.
My point is this: Is the most important thing to take away from this game not who played better at the reserve quarterback position, but what did we see from the player who is expected to be the starter throughout the entire season? We received 16 offensive plays to look over and analyze from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and what he can bring in Matt Canada‘s offense for the 2021 season. Yes, they were 48 other offensive snaps which we can dissect the quarterback play as well. But honestly, they were not nearly as significant as the first 16.
I am fully aware that 2019 is the constant reminder to not take anything for granted and to make sure the backup quarterback situation is lined up. The first two preseason games gave us plenty of information about that. And it’s not that there was an even more information to be taken from the third preseason game. But the first 16 offensive snaps of the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday night are so much more important than anything else that we have seen so far this preseason. Why? because it’s the closest thing we’re going to get to having an indication of what to expect on September 12.
I’m just trying to come back and give a little bit of perspective. Yes, I love having all the data to analyze. I like breaking down who is doing well and looking at snap counts, player grades, and game film. But I also weight certain things more than others. I want to see the players who are projected to be the starting offensive line in September and how they are working together. I want to see quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and running back Najee Harris in the backfield. I want to see JuJu Smith Schuster and Diontae Johnson catching passes. It’s not that I don’t want to see the other players at all as they fight to get on the roster or the practice squad. I just feel that we have been looking at the first two games in that manner while this week we had the opportunity to see more of the Pittsburgh Steelers that are going to be on the field in the first quarter of Week 1 in Buffalo. Therefore, it’s a whole different ball game in breaking things down than what it was the last two weeks.
It’s almost as if Steelers’ fans have got into breaking down these other battles that we forget that critiquing the players projected to start is something we need to do when given the opportunity.
We can continue with the discussions of Team Rudolph or Team Haskins. We can continue to discuss which running backs are going to make the roster, or how the Steelers are going to shake down their depth in the secondary. These are all great discussions. But they are the only discussions we’ve been able to have the first two games while this one we had a whole new perspective to view.
Show me the starters. Show me the 14–0 lead after the first quarter. That part of the football game means so much more going forward than what the other three quarters ended up telling us. Let’s break that down.
As for next week, if we don’t get to see a number of the starters, then bring all the tape to figure out who is filling out the rest of the roster.