By Alex Kozora
We’ve combed through this preseason game on an individual scale. Now, we’ll look at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ opener on a larger scale.
The Games Tell The Story
We’ve gotten to see and read a lot about this group of players through the first eleven practices. But as difficult as it might be – and I am no exception – it’s important to enter this game with an open mind and evaluation about each player. Practice well but play poor and you’ll still be on the outside looking in. Conversely, it’s a chance for players who’ve suffered rocky starts to make fans forgive and forget.
Leave your biases at the door. It is the start to a new season, after all.
At the risk of sounding like a hypocrite, at the same time, we have to avoid the easy knee-jerk reaction, good or bad. One good game doesn’t play you on a roster nor does one bad one keep you off.
In either case, the focal point is the response. Does the player who has a good game show it again the next? Or is it a fluke? Does the player who struggles hang his head and spiral downhill or rise to the challenge?
Training camp is certainly a time to start molding the pieces of your team, but part of that molding involves learning about how players deal with the highs and lows. This evening will set that foundation.
Diamonds In The Rough
There’s no sugar coating it. On the whole, the first preseason game will be sloppy. There will be miscommunication, runs that get stuffed in the backfield, missed tackles, passes that sail seemingly nowhere. All part of the first game.
Who will stand out among that? For the only time during the year, we’re looking for individual play as opposed to judging the unit as a whole.
Matchups To Watch
It’s fruitless to scout the Giants. But there are a couple matchups that will be worth watching. Jason Pierre-Paul versus Kelvin Beachum, Justin Pugh against Stephon Tuitt, and Victor Cruz versus Ike Taylor. They’ll likely be brief looks but worth checking out anyway.
To the larger picture, I can’t wait to watch the first-team offensive line. The zone blocking scheme will be in full force although I wouldn’t be surprised to see David DeCastro pull once or twice. Power schemes will be subdued but certainly not extinct under Mike Munchak.
As I’ve pointed out before, the Steelers have had extreme issues running against 4-3 fronts, averaging 1.2 fewer YPC versus even fronts than odd in 2013. The Giants will be their first look to see if improvement has been made.
Penalties and Instincts
Yellow flags are going to fly, especially with the league’s crackdown on pass interference and defensive holding. We’ll see how defensive backs start to adjust.
Mike Tomlin mentioned it last year – the game environment offers a time to get a feel for things you can’t accurately evaluate in practice. Sound decision making in the return game, rookies adjusting to the NFL rules (down by contact, two feet in bounds), all the little things that make and break you on a team. They won’t show up in the box score but coaches will see it in the film room Sunday.
Clearing the Mud
Meaning, getting the first chance to see separation at positions that have yet to do so to any degree. Specifically, the third tight end and backup defensive lineman. Could Eric Waters force his way onto the roster? Or will a veteran like David Paulson or Michael Palmer hang on? Someone is bound to stand out, one way or the other.
Ditto with the defensive line. Brian Arnfelt, Josh Mauro, Nick Williams, and Ethan Hemer all have prime opportunities to show why they deserve to be kept. Let’s see who busts down the door.