Pittsburgh Steelers players are known for hitting the ground running and sending an early-season message. There is often a tendency to downplay certain games in the preseason but this isn't the case with the Steelers and other elite teams. After their last performance, clearly adjustments will be made against the Eagles.
The Steelers, like many elite teams, do a good job of motivating role players and as a result, they often play well in the preseason. This was not the case in the game against the Washington Redskins. The pass protection was not there. The defense could not get pressure on the quarterback to throw off the timing in the pass game.
This all against the lowly Redskins.
There will be players who will put in breakout performances in the preseason. The following nine players represent my list in the upcoming Philadelphia Eagles game this Thursday.
After getting off to a good start in the first preseason game with four catches for 64 yards, with an average of 16 yards per catch, Antonio Brown is positioning himself for more playing time to start the season.
Look for him to repeat this performance and try to stretch the field more for bigger gains. Yards after the catch will be his focus going into the game against the Philadelphia Eagles. If he could stretch a few of the bubble-screen catches, a favorite in the Pittsburgh offense on 1st downs, look for a big game.
The next game against Philadelphia gives Ziggy Hood the opportunity to prove that he is the starter in 2011 at defensive end. Matching up against Mike Vick and Vince Young gives Ziggy Hood the opportunity to display the role of a defensive end in a 3-4 defense.
If he can keep Vick and Young contained in the pocket and open up lanes by pushing the pocket and the sack count for linebackers goes up early, this could force the coaching staff to consider pacing Aaron Smith this year. Smith is injury-prone and saving him for later in the season may be the best course of action.
But for this to work, Hood needs a great game against these particularly mobile quarterbacks. I look for Hood to be a run-stuffer and record a sack in this game. He may play the nose tackle on some downs as well.
Look for Cameron Heyward to display an ability to play both right and left defensive end. On downs when Ziggy Hood plays the nose tackle, it affords Heyward the opportunity to show his versatility.
In Heyward’s case, the stats are immaterial. He will show against the Philadelphia Eagles that he can line up at both end positions and stop the run and understand the defense. This will lead to more playing time late in the season if he takes this approach early in the season.
Fresh off signing with the Steelers, Cotchery will come out and show his route-running ability. By working the middle of the field it will give the deep threats more options.
Nnamdi Asomugha and Asante Samuel will provide the test at the cornerback position to the Steelers receiving unit. Look for Cotchery to have a great game due to his experience and route-running and solidify himself in the unit. I look for a flash in the return game to cement his role.
His role to start the season will be based on injuries. He could go from No. 5 to second based on events.
The rookie tight end should see action with Bryon Leftwich under center. Leftwich is a pocket passer who lacks mobility, meaning the ball will come out quickly to short-yard targets. This bodes well for Saunders in making the team.
Two to three catches with yards after the catch will help his case for making the team. A couple of good blocks in the running and passing game will seal a roster spot for the rookie. This game with tight corners and underneath plays favors this rookie. Look for a big game.
Issac "Red Zone" Redman is coming off a great opening game against the Redskins. Continued success helps him lobby for more carries in the regular season. The Philadelphia Eagles will emphasize pass protection more given their personnel. As a result, short-yardage situations and testing the defensive front of the Eagles will be important.
There has been player movement along the defensive front and those parts will not gel as quickly as the secondary. Therefore, Issac Redman is due for another big game. I look for 65 to 80 yards with four to nine carries in total.
The Steelers' backup quarterback will have a big game because he’ll manage the game with a host of weapons. Once Big Ben leaves the game after limited action, left behind will be Antonio Brown, Issac Redman, Jerricho Cotchery and Weslye Saunders. These weapons are conservative in their approach and it meshes with the Byron Leftwich style.
Look for a well-managed game from this pocket passer.
With Ike Taylor out, Kennan Lewis will step up. Bryant McFadden will be revealed as the weak link in the Steelers' corner combo. Often the second spot is deferred to McFadden due to experience. The upcoming Eagles game without Ike Taylor will show the fans and coaching staff that this experience means very little.
Kennan Lewis will be targeted. But after a series of broken-up passes, this will lead to a No. 2 promotion when Taylor returns.
With two mobile quarterbacks in Mike Vick and Vince Young, I look for two sacks in pursuit. Jason Worldis will be looking to make up for the bad game against the Redskins. He could not get pressure to the QB off the edge.
Two mobile QBs who keep the play alive give this pass-rusher multiple bites at the apple.