Any season that follows a year in which the Pittsburgh Steelers failed to make the playoffs is bound to feel like it was a long time coming. There are so many reasons that this season, of course, felt particularly long, and not just because we didn’t even get the read about players practicing until August in training camp. The state of the whole world was in a critical condition, and we’re far from out of the woods now.
But the return of Steelers football is another step toward a return toward normality, and so my first opportunity to jot down some thoughts about an actually real-live Steelers football game that is happening tonight is a pretty big deal.
My first thought is a simple one: expect the unexpected. The Steelers aren’t just playing an out-of-conference opponent, but one that has a new coaching staff, including an offensive coordinator who hasn’t been an offensive coordinator in a while, and without having had a chance to look at them in the preseason.
My second thought? This is probably going to be as removed from a final product at the start of the season as we have seen in some time. Yes, they’ve had their virtual install process, but with very limited in-person workouts and no preseason games, people are going to be rusty.
But there are so many things to look forward to. For example…Ben Roethlisberger. But that’s too obvious. How about Diontae Johnson and James Washington with Ben Roethlisberger? So many people seem to think Johnson is a star in the making. Perhaps we’ll soon find out.
And how about the two-tight end sets? Vance McDonald and Eric Ebron as the co-starters. How much will they be on the field together, and how will they be used? How quickly can Ebron and Roethlisberger get on the same page?
The offensive line will be without David DeCastro. How does Stefen Wisniewski handle a very good Giants interior defensive line that includes Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson? Zach Banner makes his NFL debut as a starter. Is he ready for this? Is he the answer?
The defense. How do the Steelers use Minkah Fitzpatrick? How much does he get moved around? How much time will he spend closer to the line of scrimmage? And what kind of progress will we see from Terrell Edmunds in his third season?
With Cameron Sutton and Sean Davis, the Steelers have legitimate depth in the secondary that they can make serious use of. With Vince Williams as the second inside linebacker, that increases the chances of us seeing a good amount of dime snaps. Do they both get on the field, and if so, in what situations?
Let’s not leave out special teams. Who returns punts, Anthony McFarland or Ray-Ray McCloud—and are they any good? How is Dustin Colquitt in his first game as the Steelers’ punter—and should we worry about his role in the field goal kicking process between Kameron Canaday and Chris Boswell?