With the Pittsburgh Steelers set to participate in their third preseason game (though only in the second ‘official’ week of the preseason), there are some questions as to how they, and frankly other teams, are going to handle preseason week three.
The 2021 season marks the first year in which the NFL will play a 17-game regular season schedule. The league correspondingly reduced the preseason down from four games to three, and it will be a game of trial and error for teams to figure out how they want to manage that.
Though the Steelers have four preseason games this year due to their participation in the Hall of Fame game, it is still possible that they will approach their fourth game differently than they have in past years, because that game occurs a week earlier, relative to the start of the regular season, than it has in the past. And head coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged on Thursday that even he lacks some clarity on how to approach it heading into this game.
“I’m just focusing on this week, we’ll deal with next week next week”, he told reporters, “because in reality, we can have a plan regarding next week, but what transpires in this stadium could alter those plans. I’m not going to make any bold generalizations about our plans regarding next week. We’re focused on this opportunity”.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday as well, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger claimed that he lobbied Tomlin to get some snaps in during the team’s second preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles. One of the reasons that he cited as the opportunity to get in front of a hostile crowd in an away game, before they have to go on the road in week one against the Buffalo Bills.
Pittsburgh’s final preseason game is also on the road against the Carolina Panthers, so it would provide the same opportunity of getting in front of a hostile crowd. It remains to be seen, however, how Tomlin will approach the game.
I do believe we may see more notable players on the field next week than we ordinarily would during a ‘final’ preseason game, since it comes a week earlier, and they also held out a lot of players in the Hall of Fame game that might ordinarily have played, too.
Given the changes in the lineup on both sides of the ball, and the fact that the offense is being tweaked substantially, with a new play-caller to boot, I think it’s plausible that we might even see Roethlisberger on the field against the Panthers, at least for a drive.