Steelers vs Panthers – What I’m Watching For On Defense

The Pittsburgh Steelers were embarrassed last week in their 31-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, what was supposed to be a dress rehearsal for the regular season. Despite that, however, it doesn’t seem as though the coaching staff is overly concerned with forcing a few extra reps onto the starting units, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Here is what I will be watching for with the defense in mind for the preseason finale.

The starting defense was humiliated by the Eagles, including their second-team offense, who put 14 points on them in two drive last week. The starters will be missing a few pieces, but expect to see the first-team unit on defense perhaps play a bit longer than the starting offense does, especially given the young and new players involved.

And then there’s that new old player—the one with the beard. Brett Keisel will be putting the pads on and hitting people in different colored jerseys for the first time since December tonight, and he will get a long look to test his endurance, according to the coach. Cameron Heyward isn’t likely to play with an ankle injury, so I expect that we will see him with the first unit.

What will be interesting is to see if Keisel gets any snaps at left defensive end throughout the night, because that could be a sign that he is headed for a rotational role. And who will start at left defensive end—Cam Thomas or rookie Stephon Tuitt?

Ryan Shazier received rave reviews for his debut performance, but he struggled more last week. What will his third appearance have in store? And how long will he play, especially in light of his post-game comments a week ago that endurance became an issue for him late in the game because of all the practice time he missed?

With Jason Worilds not playing, it could stand to reason that Chris Carter and Howard Jones should see close to equitable playing time. The rookie has recovered some fumbles, but otherwise hasn’t necessarily made many plays of his own. He must press, and press hard, tonight if he wants to take Carter’s job.

The secondary got awfully handsy last week and drew far too many illegal contact penalties. We must see much more disciplined play from the unit tonight as we move into the games that actually count at the end of the year.

What will we see from Mike Mitchell, the free agent safety that spends most of his time as the single high safety? He’s made some big hits, but he’s also taken poor angles, missed tackles, and hasn’t gotten to many balls.

How much will the Steelers play in their nickel defense, which, based on this preseason, is their new base package? Opponents certainly love to run against the small four-man front, and have done so successfully. Will they stick with it or respond with more reps for the nose tackle?

With Hebron Fangupo gone and Keisel back, will we see Thomas line up at nose tackle in this game in preparation for a backup role, or will he remain in the starting lineup? How will Daniel McCullers perform after two lackluster games?

Do any of the wounded rookie defenders see the field tonight? If they don’t, they could be missing out on a chance to even latch on to the practice squad. Shaquille Richardson and Jordan Zumwalt have missed so much valuable time that they seem untouchable for the 53-man roster, but it would be very disappointing to have missed on both of them for even the practice squad.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • cencalsteeler

    I want to see some butt slappin, helmet bumpin, fist pumpin defense out there tonight!!! I loved Troys demeanor last week. Unfortunately, something had to piss him off in order to elevate his level of play, but look at the results. Let’s see some passion from that D tonight fellas!! If that happens, the rest will fall into place!!

  • steeltown

    Two guys I want to see make some contributions are Mitchell and Moats, obviously want to see the DLine have an improved game (hopefully with more base D) but I want to see Mitchell and Moats get some extended time.

  • Roger (G.)

    I wanna see James Harrison play like the silverback of a few seasons ago..!!
    Oh wait he’s not on the team….yet. LOL

  • Steelers12328882

    Ahhh I didn’t think about that. 2nd team defense should have HoJo at ROLB and Carter at LOLB.

  • srdan

    No mention of Jarivs?

  • James Kling

    Can’t see the invisible, man.

  • Doug

    It’s a completely meaningless game. Have them save the passion until next week.

  • Putter

    Let’s hope Blake and Mccain play well. Need solid backups at CB

  • GoSteelerz

    Normally I’d rather see younger guys and rookies in the last preseason game, however these two you mentioned are new to us and need some reps, so I too would want to see them for series or two before the young guys take over the rest of the way. I think seeing Moats and H. Jones together for a time would be interesting. If Jones is to make the 53 he needs to show competence with the other back up OLB, in addition to being effective on special teams. If he can do these better than Carter, we can finally let Carter go.

  • GoSteelerz

    We already know about Cortez and Ike, I hope Blake and McCain start and then we go from there to the remaining depth guys.

  • steeltown


  • cencalsteeler

    Save passion? I’ve never heard of that. It’s football. Players are trying to make the squad, vying for roster spots and trying to impress their coaches with their skill set. The same thing is happening on the other side of the ball with the Panthers. You take a game off, that’s when you get hurt. The one that administers the hit is less likely to suffer injury from the one receiving the hit. Why don’t we just make it a flag football game since it’s meaningless? Maybe you and I take a different approach when it comes to football, and that’s o.k. But, I would think you would want nothing but passionate players surrounding your team regardless of if it’s practice, preseason, or a regular season game.

  • Weiss Chad

    That’s the funniest. but not really funny thing I ever heard