It’s Friday, August 12. That means there is going to be a Pittsburgh Steelers game on, the first of the year. Time to get excited.
Okay, maybe not too excited, depending on what sort of viewer you are. It’s a preseason exhibition game, and many of the team’s starters are going to be held out of the game, but the majority of the readers of this site find those sorts of games about as interesting as any other. Admittedly, in some ways, the preseason and roster-building process is the most interesting time of year.
The Steelers just spent two days practicing against the Detroit Lions, whom they will be facing later today at Heinz Field, and that factor alone provides some intriguing factors in the game to watch for. On that front, I’m sure we are all looking toward seeing how the Steelers’ receivers not named Antonio Brown look against the Lions’ Darius Slay. Slay basically conceded defeat against Brown, but he and Markus Wheaton are, or most likely in the case of the latter, not playing.
Another major matchup that I need to see more of is Alejandro Villanueva versus the Lions’ right starting defensive end, Ziggy Ansah. Villanueva held his own or better against just about everybody else for most of training camp, but he had his hands full with Ansah, who is the most talented edge rusher that he has faced since last season.
Beyond that, I will also be monitoring how the playing time is divided between Villanueva and Ryan Harris, whom the Steelers ostensibly brought in to compete for the left tackle job. While the team has alternated their reps with the first-team line, it seems that Villanueva has pulled away some, and I want to see how much work, if any, Harris gets with the first-team line in-game. Of course, this depends on if the Lions have Slay and Ansah play.
On the Antonio Brown front, we know he won’t be catching passes, but we also know that he won’t be returning any kicks or punts, either. I want to see who is, and how they’re doing. Eli Rogers and Demarcus Ayers are the obvious contenders, but I want to see if Sammie Coates gets an opportunity too.
I also want to see Coates flash, quite a bit, against the Lions’ group. With Brown and Wheaton (most likely) not playing, he will probably be starting, and may see more than half of the team’s total snaps. It would be a great sign to see him pick up where he left off in training camp.
As far as the rookies go, I am most interested in watching Javon Hargrave, specifically how his snaps are divided. The Steelers don’t play all that much in the 3-4 anymore, but I want to see what percentage of those snaps he gets versus Daniel McCullers. Obviously, I also want to see how many he sees in the nickel.
There are plenty of other factors and storylines to watch for in this game, most of which I’m sure will be covered by the rest of the crew, such as the slot cornerback situation. These are just some of the highlights of the game that I’m most interested in following.