The main attraction of the third preseason game for most people is the fact that it means that all or most of the team’s starters are going to be playing in the game, and of those that do, the majority of them are probably going to see a significant amount of playing time.
From the perspective of the casual viewer, this is what comes closest to resembling what they are used to seeing every week during the fall and early winter. They know the names of the players, for one thing. Perhaps they even have a jersey or two.
And sure, it’s a great thing to actually see the players who are going to be primarily responsible for competing for a championship out on the field. But I think the real beauty of the preseason game is that it should best represent what the team as a whole is intended to look like schematically. And philosophically.
Either that or it deliberately focuses on one sliver of that scheme in order to break it in. And I can’t help but wonder if that is what we are going to see tonight on the defensive side of the ball, specifically in the secondary.
Earlier during training camp, defensive coordinator Keith Butler lamented the fact that he really hasn’t gotten much of an opportunity to see what the secondary can do in terms of playing man coverage because they were dealing with a lot of injuries. Artie Burns and Sean Davis both missed the first preseason game, while Mike Mitchell is actually still out, it seems.
But he also said that he wanted to get a long look at that defense this summer because, quite simply, he wanted to see if it was something that they could be comfortable running. The defense right now is as healthy as it is going to be before the start of the season, so it might as well be now.
And it might as well be in the game in which you actually scout your opponent. I certainly wouldn’t mind, for example, watching Burns shadow T.Y. Hilton some tonight in press coverage. He’s been covering Antonio Brown all summer. That’s a pretty good parallel.
With the Steelers also seemingly hedging their bets at the opposite cornerback spot between Ross Cockrell and Coty Sensabaugh, they may be interested in seeing what either can handle playing in that capacity. And I also think they want to see what Mike Hilton can do in man coverage from the slot.
The nature of preseason broadcasting—that is, frequently poor-quality and with minimal reviews—and the lack of All-22 tape makes it frequently difficult to discern just what coverages teams are running, but it is my impression that the Steelers have not run as much man as they might have hoped to have done at this point in the process. Perhaps that changes tonight.