The Pittsburgh Steelers second preseason game of 2018 will take place Thursday night at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers and much like the team’s first exhibition outing against the Philadelphia Eagles, there’s certainly several things worth getting excited about and watching for during that contest. Below are the top eight things on my list that I look forward to watching Thursday night.
Young guns – Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin let us all know Tuesday afternoon that quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Landry Jones will both sit out the Thursday night game against the Packers as he wants to play the two younger quarterbacks on the roster, Joshua Dobbs and Mason Rudolph, exclusively. It’s still unknown as to which of the two young quarterbacks will start against the Packers, but my money is on Rudolph being the choice. Rudolph and Dobbs both had good showings in the preseason opener against the Eagles with the former having the better of the two, in my opinion. Against the Packers, it will be interesting to see if Rudolph can pick up where he left off last Thursday night and that means him continuing to push the football down the field and not making any poor decisions. As for Dobbs, it will be interesting to see if he can push the football down the field more often than he did against the Eagles and this time without any turnovers. Additionally, we’ll look for his ball placement and decision-making improving some in this game as both lacked against the Eagles. It should be fun to watch both these young quarterbacks play a lot Thursday night against the Packers.
Some Rodgers, Roger – The Packers are set to let starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers make his preseason debut Thursday night against the Steelers. While the former two-time NFL Most Valuable Player of the Year award winner isn’t likely to play a lot Thursday night, it will be interesting to see how the Steelers first-team defense, that will be without the services of at least two starters in the form of defensive lineman Cameron Heyward and outside linebacker T.J. Watt, fares against a high-caliber quarterback such as Rodgers. Good or bad, we might learn a little bit more about the Steelers secondary during the early portion of the Thursday night game.
This Bud’s for you – Tomlin also said Tuesday that Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree will play Thursday night against the Packers now that he’s out of concussion protocol. The new father missed the Steelers preseason opener against the Eagles and he didn’t play a ton of preseason snaps the last two years due to other injuries. Dupree is switching from the left side to the right side this season in an effort to better suit his skillsets. With Rodgers starting at quarterback Thursday night for the Packers, David Bakhtiari will likely do the same at left tackle, even though he has recently dealt with an injured ankle. For however long it last, the Dupree versus Bakhtiari battle should be a fun one to watch live and break down afterwards.
Two dogs, same early group? – Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown will also sit out Thursday night and that’s not overly surprising. While fellow wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster, Justin Hunter and Darrius Heyward-Bey might all take the field as part of the first-team offense against the Packers, we could see young wide receivers James Washington and Damoun Patterson hit the field early in the first half. Both Washington and Patterson showed well in the preseason opener against the Eagles and seemingly followed their NFL debuts up with a solid week of practice. Both should play quite extensively Thursday night and we’ll be looking for both players to pick up where they left off against the Eagles. Patterson might also receive another game of above average usage on special teams Thursday night so that will be another phase of his overall game that needs to be examined closely.
No doubting Thomas – Against the Eagles, rookie undrafted inside linebacker Matthew Thomas put some nice play on tape on his way to registering one tackle on defense and another on special teams. He also rushed off the edge more than just a few times against the Eagles. The Florida State product still has a good chance of making the 53-man roster this year so we’ll be looking for him to have an even better performance Thursday night against the Packers not only on defense, but special teams as well.
Tackling the past – Against the Eagles, the Steelers defense missed way too many tackles and unfortunately that’s something we’ve become accustomed to seeing over the years. Due to short lines at a few positions this past week and combined with some sketchy weather at Latrobe, the Steelers seemingly didn’t have as physical of a week of practice to close out training camp. Perhaps that will result in the defense being ready to hit and tackle more effectively Thursday night against the Packers. Another poor showing in the tackling department Thursday night will lead to even more eye rolls and hand-wringing from the fan base and perhaps the coaching staff as well.
Giant debut – While he might not be related to the Incredible Hulk’s alter ego Bruce Banner, new Steelers tackle Zach Banner is a giant human just the same. The 6-8, 360-poundish former fourth-draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts out of USC will likely make his debut with the Steelers Thursday night after being signed off the street last week. Banner probably won’t see the field until sometime during the second half and he’ll likely play at right tackle. Banner, according to Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert, now has his weight back under control. Regardless of how he ultimately plays Thursday night, Banner will still be a long-shot to make the Steelers 53-man roster this year. With that said, a couple of above-the-line showings in the Steelers final three preseason games could result in him landing on the team’s practice squad as a developmental player for either later on in the season, or 2019.
Some happy returns? – There really wasn’t much to get excited about when it came to the Steelers return game against the Eagles. Only four total returns were registered during that preseason opener and if you missed any of them in lieu of a trip to the bathroom, you made a great decision. Against the Packers, we’ll likely see rookie undrafted free agent wide receiver Quadree Henderson get a few more opportunities to return both punts and kickoffs. It would be nice, however, to see cornerback Cameron Sutton get a few opportunities to return punts at some point during the contest. Regardless, it would be nice to see someone return a punt or kickoff against the Packers for a considerable amount of yardage.