While I know that it really doesn’t matter to anyone else what I’m watching for in Thursday night’s game, I think it is worth noting that this preseason has been very different for me than others in my recent memory. Last season left a bad taste in my mouth as a fan and it wasn’t for their 8-8 record. It was about the way several games slipped through their fingers after the Steelers had control. It was about the confused, disorganized play. I know there are bad years. I know the Steelers have been incredibly good for more years than many other teams. I don’t take it for granted and I try not to raise my expectations beyond what they should be. I certainly don’t expect a Super Bowl year right now. I wouldn’t turn away from it, but I think my expectations are realistic. The first three preseason games have some flashes of good things right alongside the not so good – all to be expected during preseason, right? Yes. So, what do I hope to see from the fourth preseason game? Well…..
Wide Receiver Battle
The running back competition has been sorted out by injury, for the most part. The first string wide receivers are set (Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders) and the second string seems set as well (Jerrico Cotchery and Marcus Wheaton). The Steelers had 5 WRs on the active roster last year. So, it seems to me that the four remaining WRs will be vying for the last spot: Justin Brown, Reggie Dunn, Derek Moye, and Kashif Moore. I wonder if the four will get equal time – a quarter each or if the cream has already risen and two of the four will get the majority of the time. Reggie Dunn has shown some sparks on special teams but I think the competition will come down to Justin Brown and Derek Moye. Moye certainly has made an impression and may be the favorite going in.
Offensive Line Improvement
The quarterback needs to be protected whether it is Landry Jones or Ben Roethlisberger. Defenders have sashayed through the line too many times and I know it’s a new blocking scheme, but it’s time to show they can do something with it. Yes, blocking was better among the first team during the third preseason game, but these potential back up linemen must perform better. Landry Jones needs to do his part as well and not hold onto the ball longer than necessary, but the line has to give him time to look down field.
Special Teams Improvement
Special teams cannot be the Achilles heel during this game. I realize this game will have few starters, but I wonder if they will use more special teams “first string” guys (if there is such a thing for special teams) because this area needs the most improvement. Danny Smith may need to be looking over his shoulder for a pink slip. Tomlin’s patience in this area is not endless. The two previous special teams coaches can attest to that.
What Am I Looking For?
I realize these are all obvious things, but usually in the fourth preseason game I’m just hoping they get through it with no season ending injuries so they can focus on the season opener. However, this year there is still a lot of work to do. This isn’t doom and gloom and I don’t think the season hinges on this game. I just think the Steelers have an opportunity to keep working on things within the game plan and not just evaluate personnel. Maybe that’s the way it always is and I haven’t watched the last game that closely until now. This year, I’m interested.