While it might not be 100 percent settled in, the 53-man roster is made. The practice squad is set up, even though there is still one addition pending. The Pittsburgh Steelers even got the one contract extension they were likely to be able to complete, completed. You know what that means.
It’s Patriots week.
Football, real football, starters against starters in games where the results matter, is just around the corner, finally, for the first time since the end of 2018, in the Steelers’ case. It’s been a long wait, but we’re just about there. So instead of worrying about Devlin Hodges and Diontae Spencer, let’s talk about Ben Roethlisberger and JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cameron Heyward and Devin Bush.
It’s not ideal to start off on the road against the defending Super Bowl champions, especially when the defending champions are the New England Patriots, but that’s the hand the Steelers were dealt, and they would have to play at some point in the season.
It’s about time, though, to get things underway. Following, covering, and writing about all of the preparations that lead up to this point is fun—it’s certainly something to do—whether it’s crazy mustaches, free agency, trades, the draft, practices, training camp, or the preseason, but all of that is nothing but prep work for what’s about to take place.
The question is, have they put themselves in a position where they should be better than last year? I certainly think that’s the case. While the forced trade of Mr. Old Helmet dealt a sizable blow to the overall talent of the wide receiving corps, they remain a strong unit led by JuJu Smith-Schuster, and now closer than ever.
There is every reason to believe that the running back position should be a further strength this year with the natural development of James Conner and Jaylen Samuels as young players. Benny Snell might not see much action this year, but as long as he doesn’t fumble when he does, he’ll have outperformed Stevan Ridley. The loss of Jesse James and its ramifications bear watching, but perhaps that will be addressed today.
Defensively, the back eight should be an improvement over last season, both relative to internal growth and new additions. Bush’s impact should be immediate and significant, and Mark Barron showed in the preseason that he has the speed to change the way they cover at linebacker as well.
Steven Nelson and Kameron Kelly are two new additions to the secondary, and Terrell Edmunds looks to be on-track for that predictable second-year improvement. Things in general are looking pretty good on paper.
But the question that follows is if they can put that quality on display right out of the gates against a team that historically has been well-prepared out of the gates. The Steelers have had a tendency in some recent years to look sluggish, especially in their openers, including in the past two seasons. That has to change against an opponent like the Patriots on the road.