The third week of the preseason schedule has been traditionally reserved by coaches as a sort of dress rehearsal for the regular season, where teams do their most extensive gam planning and utilize their starting players for the majority of the team.
The Buffalo Bills certainly did not get that from the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday evening, as they used their starting units quite sparingly, and it’s safe to say that their game plan, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, was about as vanilla as it has been at any point during this preseason.
In contrast, the Bills—outside of the quarterback position, and the injured wide receivers missing the game—played a host of their starters into the second half, which at some points wound up pitting them against second- and third-team Steelers personnel, including a host of players that will not be on the roster by the end of the week.
The differences in the way these two teams approached the game assuredly contributed to the lopsided scoreboard, as the Steelers posted their worst loss in the preseason in recent memory, such that such a statistic even means anything.
Not that anything could ever fully excuse a 43-19 loss, even under the most dire of circumstances, of course. Clearly several things went wrong in significant ways in order to allow that to happen. Clearly when a collective of four different quarterbacks completes 30 of 33 passes, including three touchdowns, something went wrong beyond talent level and scheme.
It may have seemed a surprising approach, at first, at least, but when considering that the Steelers have had an extended preseason—even with many starters sitting out the Hall of Fame game—the fact of the matter is that they have gotten a better look at many of their key players already than 30 other teams.
It’s also hard to discount the possibility that head coach Mike Tomlin had grown gun shy after the number of injuries that he has seen his own team and virtually every other team around the league suffer during this preseason.
Perhaps there will be a movement in the future for starters to see less playing time during the preseason than they currently see on average, particularly those who are already established veterans with little to gain, and nothing that outweighs the risk of injury in a game that doesn’t count at the end of the year.
When your starting quarterback throws just four passes in your regular season tuneup; when your starting running back has just two carries; when your top wide receiver never even touches the ball; clearly you are not overly invested in battle-testing your unit for this particular contest.
Perhaps they have been tested well enough. After all, some of the less established players—skewed heavily toward the defensive side of the ball—did see some extended playing time, relative to the others. One thing was made certain, however, and that is that this was not the ‘dress rehearsal’ performance that we were all expecting.