We have all been waiting a long time for the Pittsburgh Steelers to play a meaningful game again, even if it is against the Cleveland Browns. But while they usually manage to win, the Steelers still find ways to make it interesting against their Ohio rivals. Even when their starters are playing, which has not been the case in two of the last three meetings.
So now that real football is back, here are some things you make want to keep your eyes on as you watch.
This might seem a little too obvious, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is going to be important in this game. He was not comfortable with his performance level during his brief, three-drive stint of work during the preseason, pretty much suggesting there’s most rust to knock off. Will that de-rustification process continue into the opener?
Is Justin Hunter going to be the number three receiver today? That is what reports from late in the week have suggested. If so, then rookie James Washington may not even dress. Roethlisberger and Hunter have worked together much more over the course of the past year and a half than the quarterback has with the rookie.
How will Alejandro Villanueva hold up against Myles Garrett? While Villanueva may have been a Pro Bowler last season, he has been a slow starter over the course of his relatively short career, and Garrett is just the sort of player that would help you do just that.
Will the Steelers rotate rookie Terrell Edmunds and veteran Morgan Burnett at strong safety, or will Edmunds be used as a full-time starter for this game? If the latter, how much will we see Burnett used in sub-packages as an extra safety?
Are the ‘dollar’ and ‘Seminole’ packages going to make an appearance in the game? The dollar defense includes seven defensive backs on the field, while the Seminole package takes an outside linebacker off the field for an extra inside linebacker. At least, speaking of the latter, that’s how it worked in the preseason. The point is, it got Matthew Thomas on the field.
How will the edge pressure look in the game? Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt are expected to make their first career starts on the sides opposite of where they were used to playing, Dupree moving to the right and Watt moving to the left.
Speaking of Dupree, he’s going to be going up against a rookie undrafted free agent. Will the Steelers try to exploit that matchup by loading up as much pressure as they can?
How are the Steelers going to try to match up on tight end David Njoku? Is Sean Davis going to cover him? Edmunds? Mike Hilton? A linebacker?
It seems to me there is something I could say about the running back position, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Oh, I got it! Will Jaylen Samuels get any work from out of the slot? This is something that Mike Tomlin actually hinted at prior to the third preseason game, but it didn’t materialize.