Steelers vs Panthers – What I’m Watching For On Defense

The Pittsburgh Steelers were embarrassed last week in their 31-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, what was supposed to be a dress rehearsal for the regular season. Despite that, however, it doesn’t seem as though the coaching staff is overly concerned with forcing a few extra reps onto the starting units, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Here is what I will be watching for with the defense in mind for the preseason finale.

The starting defense was humiliated by the Eagles, including their second-team offense, who put 14 points on them in two drive last week. The starters will be missing a few pieces, but expect to see the first-team unit on defense perhaps play a bit longer than the starting offense does, especially given the young and new players involved.

And then there’s that new old player—the one with the beard. Brett Keisel will be putting the pads on and hitting people in different colored jerseys for the first time since December tonight, and he will get a long look to test his endurance, according to the coach. Cameron Heyward isn’t likely to play with an ankle injury, so I expect that we will see him with the first unit.

What will be interesting is to see if Keisel gets any snaps at left defensive end throughout the night, because that could be a sign that he is headed for a rotational role. And who will start at left defensive end—Cam Thomas or rookie Stephon Tuitt?

Ryan Shazier received rave reviews for his debut performance, but he struggled more last week. What will his third appearance have in store? And how long will he play, especially in light of his post-game comments a week ago that endurance became an issue for him late in the game because of all the practice time he missed?

With Jason Worilds not playing, it could stand to reason that Chris Carter and Howard Jones should see close to equitable playing time. The rookie has recovered some fumbles, but otherwise hasn’t necessarily made many plays of his own. He must press, and press hard, tonight if he wants to take Carter’s job.

The secondary got awfully handsy last week and drew far too many illegal contact penalties. We must see much more disciplined play from the unit tonight as we move into the games that actually count at the end of the year.

What will we see from Mike Mitchell, the free agent safety that spends most of his time as the single high safety? He’s made some big hits, but he’s also taken poor angles, missed tackles, and hasn’t gotten to many balls.

How much will the Steelers play in their nickel defense, which, based on this preseason, is their new base package? Opponents certainly love to run against the small four-man front, and have done so successfully. Will they stick with it or respond with more reps for the nose tackle?

With Hebron Fangupo gone and Keisel back, will we see Thomas line up at nose tackle in this game in preparation for a backup role, or will he remain in the starting lineup? How will Daniel McCullers perform after two lackluster games?

Do any of the wounded rookie defenders see the field tonight? If they don’t, they could be missing out on a chance to even latch on to the practice squad. Shaquille Richardson and Jordan Zumwalt have missed so much valuable time that they seem untouchable for the 53-man roster, but it would be very disappointing to have missed on both of them for even the practice squad.

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