Tonight marks the Pittsburgh Steelers’ third preseason game, and we should expect something that will somewhat resemble the regular season, minus the stakes. At least to start out the game. Head coach Mike Tomlin said on Thursday that everybody who is healthy and has been practicing will be invited to participate, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will start the game under center.
Obviously, watching Roethlisberger and the starting offense will be the primary concern in this contest. Particularly, how does he look running offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s offense—and what will that offense look like?
We have seen elements of what they intend to do on offense over the past two weeks, but with their starting quarterback in the lineup, we should get a clearer picture of what it is the Steelers offense in 2021 is actually going to be like.
And this is as significant in the running game as it is in the passing game. Presumably, this will be the preseason debut of Zach Banner, so we are going to be watching him, not just to see how he performs, but also how he looks on that repaired knee.
Running back Najee Harris will be a focal point, but so, too, will the rest of the running backs, as we figure out who files in line behind him. Of particular interest is Kalen Ballage, the free agent who played well in the first preseason game but has just returned from injury. Can he earn a roster spot tonight?
I also really want to see the configurations in the secondary, as Tomlin expressed openness to using a variety of packages to counter different game situations, which could include Cameron Sutton moving into the slot with James Pierre coming in as the nickel and playing outside. Otherwise, Antoine Brooks Jr. or Arthur Maulet are projected to play in the slot.
Naturally, we also have the Steelers debut of Joe Schobert on tap, acquired via trade since they were last on the field. Their new starting inside linebacker may well be the one asked to relay the defensive play calls during the regular season, so he’s probably going to get that in-game work in tonight, meaning we want to see how the defense is going to effectively communicate.
I suspect that Alex Highsmith is going to continue to play well as he enters the starting lineup for the first time, but the real interest is in the depth here, as two young outside linebackers, rookie sixth-round pick Quincy Roche and first-year college free agent Jamir Jones, have captured people’s imaginations. The hope is that at least one can manage to make the 53-man roster.
Last, and surprisingly not least, we have a punter battle on our hands. Rookie Pressley Harvin III handled all the punts in the first game and played well. Incumbent Jordan Berry handled all the punts in the second game and played well. Who blinks first? Tomlin said both will play tonight.