The Pittsburgh Steelers play their fourth preseason game this evening against the Buffalo Bills in the ‘dress rehearsal’ game, in which the starting players are expected to see their most extensive playing time leading up to the regular season. which obviously means that most of the things you’ll want to watch out for during this game pertains to the starting lineup.
Much of it is obvious. With Maurkice Pouncey’s injury, we will be getting an extended look at his replacement, Cody Wallace, working with the first-team offensive line. Getting this chemistry in now before the regular season will be valuable.
But the returning Doug Legursky will also need snaps after having just been signed. He figures to be the game day active interior reserve, so he’ll need work not only to get a feel for his teammates, but just to get in football shape.
With the four-game suspension coming down for Martavis Bryant, it will be interesting to see how much Darrius Heyward-Bey and Sammie Coates get worked into the game with the starters, given that they will be featured as the number three and four receivers for the first quarter of the season.
Bryant’s suspension has also opened up a secondary competition between a trio of young wide receivers, who now have an opportunity to get at least four games on the 53-man roster. C.J. Goodwin, Tyler Murphy, and Shakim Phillips have all had their up and down moments, showing different strengths and weaknesses. If one can start to separate himself, then the decision will be that much easier.
Assuming that Cam Thomas starts in place of Stephon Tuitt as he sits out with an injury, it will be a chance to get a long, extended look at the much-maligned defensive lineman playing at defensive end, as he has spent the majority of his time thus far at nose tackle.
Whether or not Lawrence Timmons plays should be indicative of just how “not serious” his turf toe injury is. He has missed the past two games, with Mike Tomlin continuing to say that he is just taking care of his player. But this is the dress rehearsal for the season. He should play at least a little if he’s healthy enough to go.
Another candidate for return is Vince Williams, who has been sidelined with a hamstring injury. Without those two, the Steelers have been using basically a pair of macks at inside linebacker. That, coupled with a liberal usage of the nickel, has led to some issues against the run. It will be worth noting just how much, and in which scenarios, they use the nickel.
Also of value will be how the defense attacks to scheme with pressure, since this should be the most indicative look we will get of how it will be in the regular season. We’ve already seen plenty of defensive backs blitzing and linemen dropping into coverage.
Hopefully Cortez Allen will be ready to go. He has had a quiet preseason when on the field, which is a good thing. Not so quiet has been Antwon Blake, who certainly seems to be frequently targeted when on the field. Will Brandon Boykin start to work his way up the depth chart and grab the nickel snaps?
Finally, the special teams battle between Jordan Berry and Brad Wing is drawing to a close, but there is no clear victor. Both punted well in the last game, but one needs to separate himself. the special teams units as a whole could also stand to present a better showing, especially as some regulars return from injury and get more playing time in the preseason.