Pittsburgh Steelers: What to Watch for in Preseason Game Action
Is it finally time for football? Indeed it is. The Pittsburgh Steelers are gearing up for their first preseason game of the year against the New York Giants. The Giants already have the Hall of Fame Game under their belts, so the Steelers will be playing catch up, so to speak.
The Steelers have had an excellent camp thus far, with lots of positive things. This team is going to rely heavily on the youth on the roster. Rookies are being thrust into positions where they can have a real impact.
However, it all starts this week with the Giants. Don’t expect a lot of air time for the team’s starters, but that won’t diminish the excitement and importance of this game. What kinds of things can fans expect from the Steelers? Read on and find out.
The No-Huddle Offense
If you point to a single factor in the turnaround the Steelers made in the second half of the 2013 season, it could be the inclusion of more no-huddle on offense. This isn’t a hurry-up offense in the truest sense but a more methodical no-huddle philosophy.
The offense was able to get into a better rhythm when it didn’t huddle and forced opposing defenses to stay on the field without substitutions. Looking over the results from the first half compared to the second half of the year, Pittsburgh averaged 10 points per game more during its 6-2 run.
Obviously, there won’t be a ton of reps for the starters, but that shouldn’t change the notion that this offense works better in the no-huddle. It will be worth noting the types of plays Pittsburgh runs out of the no-huddle, in particular the outside-zone running plays. No team likes to show too much in preseason, but I still expect less huddle and more tempo to the offense.
Lots of Big Hits
The theme of the first days of Steelers training camp has been physical play—big hits in drills and excessive amounts of energy.
Now, we just have to hope that all that carries over to the field against the Giants. Even though it is just preseason, many of these players need to treat it like a playoff game, because they are playing for their jobs.
Players like safety Jordan Dangerfield and linebacker Vince Williams have been laying the wood in practice; now they have a chance to do it against the Giants. Both of them are bubble players who need great performances every time they step on the field.
Other than Williams and Dangerfield, the physical play of the offensive line will also be something to keep an eye on. Offensive line coach Mike Munchak, one of the best offensive linemen to ever play the game, is coaching this group. Practice is one thing, but it will be interesting to see how he is putting his stamp on this group in live action.
All These Young Wide Receivers
Everyone knows that wide receiver Antonio Brown is elite. He has nothing to prove in these preseason games. The rest of this group is fighting for position on the depth chart. Some receivers are fighting just to avoid being cut.
This group of wide receivers is loaded with athleticism. Who’s not ready to see Markus Wheaton out there at full speed? Or get a live look at just how physically dominating rookie Martavis Bryant can be? This is an exciting time to be a fan of the Steelers. This offense is going to be so much fun to watch.
Pittsburgh currently has 11 wide receivers on the roster, and they will be vying for no more than five or six spots. That means these young men had better make the best of their limited opportunities in live action.
Who Will Step Up at Cornerback?
Pittsburgh is looking for some answers at cornerback. As of now, the starters are an aging Ike Taylor and an inconsistent Cortez Allen. The most consistent cornerback on the roster is slot corner William Gay.
It will be very interesting to see how the rest of this group plays. Guys like Antwon Blake, Brice McCain, Shaquille Richardson and Isaiah Green all have a legitimate shot to secure a spot as the fourth cornerback.
The rub is that in 2013, Pittsburgh only dressed four cornerbacks on many weeks, instead counting on safety Shamarko Thomas as an additional cornerback. I expect the Giants to throw the ball much more than they did in the Hall of Fame Game, so if these young men want to get noticed, making a play on the football is a great start.
Multiple Defensive Fronts
It isn’t hard to look at the personnel on this roster, in particularly among the defensive line and linebackers, and see versatility. With so many exceptional athletes, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau should be able to trot out multiple formations and sub-packages that best utilize those players.
In particular, this group of linebackers excites. The Steelers should be much improved with all this talent. The Steelers are counting on a big jump in production out of Jarvis Jones opposite Jason Worilds.
Nevertheless, the Steelers are hedging their bets by having some serious talent in the middle of that linebacking corps. Look for pressure to come from all over the field. Look for players like Ryan Shazier and Sean Spence to come from the inside and outside on blitzes and rushes, hoping to confuse opposing offenses.
Even digging deeper into the depth chart, linebackers like Arthur Moats, Terence Garvin and Howard Jones have a real shot to open some eyes if they can do in the games what they have been doing at practice. Jones in particular is one to keep an eye on, as he should get significant reps late in this game.