Tomorrow at 7:30 PM, the Steelers will take on the Panthers at Heinz Field for their final preseason game. After coming off a disappointing 34-17 loss to the Denver Broncos, the Steelers have a lot of questions to answer going into this game.
What will be the quarterback rotation?
There is no word out as to who will start tomorrow night, but we can all assume that Big Ben will get the start. This will be his last game before his suspension begins and it's likely he will get to play one drive.
He has asked to run the no-huddle offense during his limited snaps, which I think is a great idea. The sooner Ben can get used to the positioning of the umpire, the better.
After flunking his chance to become the starter against the Broncos, Dixon will be looking to redeem himself at home against the Panthers. It's very likely Dixon will oversee the last of the snaps with the starters and will take a few with the second stringers as well.
Leftwich will probably be confined to take snaps with the second stringers again this week. After missing all of his throws and looking half asleep at the line or scrimmage last week, lets hope he can show a little more poise and precision this week.
Charlie Batch will be asked to perform mop up duty in the fourth quarter. If Leftwich struggles, look for Charlie to come in earlier than expected.
How will the offensive line hold up?
After two straight games of below average blocking, the first team line pulled things together and put together their best performance on Sunday. Sure, there were a couple of bone headed false start penalties, but besides that, it was the best they've done all preseason.
Maurkice Pouncey looks to get the start again tomorrow as he took full advantage of his opportunity to start in Denver. He has so far been our best lineman and has all but locked up the starting center job.
Flozell Adams looked better on Sunday, but he still has a long way to go before he's off the roster bubble. I believe this game will be a make or break for him.
The offensive line will have to be on their A-game all game long. Not only is it make or break for several players, but they're going up against a Panthers front seven that has a total of 18 sacks this preseason.
That's an average of six sacks per game and we definitely cannot afford for any quarterback to go down.
Can the defense stop shooting themselves in the foot?
For the second week in a row, several players have continued to hurt the team by committing personal fouls.
Against the Giants, we saw Ike Taylor get ejected from the game after exchanging punches with Hakeem Nicks. Against the Giants, the defense committed six personal fouls, four of them coming in the first half.
That means that it is the starters who are the cause of the majority of the penalties. If they plan to lead the Steelers during Big Ben's absence, the personal fouls must come to an end. Defeating ourselves is not Steelers football.
Coach Tomlin has said that those who are responsible for the penalties will suffer for it. I hope that they have learned their lesson and will make smarter decisions in the future.
Will the Special Teams perform better?
At least one time in each preseason game, our special teams has given up a big return. No touchdowns yet, but this is still a cause for concern. If the Steelers want to go back to the Super Bowl, the coverage units are going to have to pick up the slack.
Stefan Logan and Antonio Brown have been taking turns at kickoff and punt returns. As of now, Brown has the slight edge over Logan. Look for Logan to try to give his best returns as this game is a definite make or break for him.
Tomlin has said that Sanders will have a chance to return kicks and punts as well. I wish nothing but the best for him and that he can break a big return.
So far the Sepulveda kicking off experiment hasn't failed. Sepulveda's kicks are going a tad bit further than Reed's have, however, this doesn't mean he has won the job. If he plans to take the job from Jeff Reed, I suggest he puts a few in the endzone this game.
Which players will have a breakout game?
As we all know, the fourth preseason game is make or break for a lot of players. There are several players who I think will step up to prove their worth.
Keenan Lewis is currently in Mike Tomlin's dog house after being benched for two personal fouls and breaking glass. I expect Lewis to come out strong against the Panthers to prove that his performance and behavior against the Broncos was just a fluke.
Jonathan Dwyer broke out Sunday rushing for 89 yards on 13 carries. Look for him to show that he has the potential to be our future bruiser in the backfield because the practice squad is all that's available for him at the moment.
It's no secret that I'm a huge fan for Dixon to be our starting quarterback for the first four weeks. If he has the breakout game that I'm expecting from him, I believe Tomlin will have no choice but to give Dixon the job.
Jason Worilds and Thaddeus Gibson have impressed all preseason, especially Gibson. Look for the both of them to show us that they can be our future pass rushers on defense.
If any linebacker has caught my attention, it has been Stevenson Sylvester. Sylvester leads the rookies in tackles and with a strong performance against the Panthers, he can practically make himself uncuttable.
This is the last game for players to show they have what it takes to be a Pittsburgh Steeler. Personally, I wish them all the best of luck. By Saturday, we should know who will be on the 53-man roster.
Unfortunately this will be the last time anybody sees Big Ben play until week six against the Cleveland Browns. I, for one, will soak up every moment he's on the field and hope he scores a touchdown.
After this game, hopefully there will be some clarity as to who will be our starting quarterback while Ben's gone. As always, I'll be rooting for Dennis Dixon.
Final score: 24-3 Steelers
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