The Pittsburgh Steelers are finally taking the field tonight for their first regular season game of the 2016 season, and when they do so, they will be fielding a team that is already a half-game behind the Ravens and Bengals, who won their season openers yesterday afternoon.
But the Steelers don’t have to worry about what anybody else is doing as long as they handle their own business, and their business begins in earnest tonight in Washington. As you might expect, there will be plenty of things to keep an eye on as we feast on the first meaningful football of the season.
The first thing to watch for, assuming that the Steelers get the ball first, which was almost always the case last year, is the no-huddle offense. The first-team offense barely played in the preseason, but when they did, it was basically exclusively using the no-huddle, and of course it produced two touchdowns on two drives.
Of secondary importance is who is involved in that no-huddle offense, especially with Markus Wheaton out. The no-huddle may be a hindrance to playing time for Sammie Coates, who seems still to have issues with fundamentals and soundness in his routes and assignments.
Eli Rogers is no doubt going to be featured as the slot receiver, at least for a big chunk of the game, after the former undrafted free agent spent his rookie season on injured reserve before the Steelers even got to a preseason game.
I’m looking to see how the team handles the tight end situation, especially with Roosevelt Nix also sidelined. I’m expecting to see some tackle-eligible today in some rare usage of 12 personnel with perhaps Ryan Harris or Chris Hubbard in that role, the latter serving in that capacity last year.
Last season, until late in the year, the Steelers turned from the running back by committee philosophy, and whoever was in the game was the bell-cow for that game. that bell-cow for most of the season was DeAngelo Williams last year, but I have a feeling that we see a bit more rotation tonight than we did last year.
Defensively, the debut of Javon Hargrave is going to be a big deal, including coming off an injury. I am interested in his snap count and how that is divided between nose tackle and defensive tackle in the nickel. He may even see end snaps.
The outside linebacker position will be a crucial one to watch for with Bud Dupree out. Anthony Chickillo is basically entering the first game in his career in which something is expected of him, and, as always, there are demands on Jarvis Jones to step up.
Oh, did I mention the secondary? Because that’s going to be a pretty important storyline, especially given who much they use the nickel. Whoever that nickel player is—whether it’s Sean Davis, Artie Burns, or Justin Gilbert—will be a face new to the team. And I imagine we might see a combination of at least two of them during the game.