One could easily argue that the two biggest things to happen for the Pittsburgh Steelers tonight happened off the field. First was the news that they are evidently acquiring former Pro Bowl inside linebacker Joe Schobert from the Jacksonville Jaguars via trade.
The second came just a short time ago during head coach Mike Tomlin’s post-game press conference after his team defeated the Philadelphia Eagles. While he would not comment on the Schobert news, he offered confirmation on another question many had: He said that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will indeed play in the team’s third preseason game versus the Detroit Lions.
With the final of the press conference came the question of whether or not he was planning to play his 39-year-old starter. “I am”, he said. “Surprised you with that answer, didn’t I?”, he quickly added with a knowing laugh, understanding both the significance of the answer and the fact that he even answered it in the first place.
This was a question the Steelers wouldn’t touch throughout the offseason up until now. It was one that they never had to address last year, because, of course, there was no preseason. But now we know the answer: The starting offense will get at least a drive or two during the exhibition period before we get into the regular season.
That is crucial given the fact that so much has changed since even last year. While all of the top five wide receivers from last year are returning, as is their top tight end, Eric Ebron, the offensive line is drastically new after they parted with four starters from a year ago. That group projected to start two players who are new to the team this year: Veteran guard Trai Turner and rookie center Kendrick Green.
The offense will also have a rookie lead back in the form of Najee Harris, their first-round draft pick, and Pat Freiermuth (their pick in the second round) will make a strong one-two pairing with Ebron at the tight end position as well.
Given that Roethlisberger’s actual work in practice is also limited (he follows a full-half-off cycle), it’s all the more important that they get some live reps in under their belts against an unfamiliar opponent before they have to do it when it matters up in Buffalo for the season opener.
How much he will actually play is another question. He played 20 snaps in 2019, 25 in 2018, and only 15 in 2017, with 19 the year before that. I would wager that three drives is the absolute limit, provided that they are short drives.