Steelers Round Out Preseason With Trip Down South
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|Thursday, August 30, 2007
By Eddie Griffin
Steelers Fever Columnist
We're finally reaching the end of the preseason, and that means two things: 1) We won't see the starters much when Pittsburgh goes to Carolina tomorrow night, and 2) We've finally reached single digits in the countdown to the regular season!
It's been a pretty good first preseason for Mike Tomlin, as the Steelers have won three of four preseason contests, including Sunday night's 27-13 win over the Eagles to close out the home portion of the preseason slate.
The Panthers, on the other hand, enter their preseason finale 1-2, after losing their last two preseason games (to Philadelphia and New England) by a combined score of 51-17.
The Steelers offense has shined on both sides of the ball in the preseason, and the aerial attack was on display against the Eagles, as Big Ben's 247 first-half yards paced a 322-yard night for Pittsburgh through the air.
Can the offense get the job done again, and will the defense step up for the third week in a row to deliver a victory to head into the season on the right track? Or will Carolina rebound from two bad performances to slow the Steelers' momentum?
Keys to Success
Ben Roethlisberger's probably going to play on a series or two, so it's going to be up to Charlie Batch and Brian St. Pierre to get it done through the air. The Panthers have allowed the Eagles and Patriots to complete 67.6% of their passes in the last two games, so that's an area that needs to be keyed on. Both of those teams did a great job of spreading the ball around, and that's something that the Steelers did on Sunday.
The Steelers have had a number of long pass plays in the preseason, and Sunday was the best performance so far. Against the Eagles, there were seven pass plays of 20+ yards, which took the total for the four preseason games to 17. The Panthers have been prone to getting burned, so they have to be on guard tomorrow night, because as they showed on Sunday, the Steelers can burn you in a variety of ways.
But, the Steelers' secondary has to be on as well. Carolina's Taye Biddle has caught six passes for 169 yards in the preseason, including an 85-yarder vs. the Giants in their preseason opener.
If the Steelers can continue to do well with their pass rush, there'll be less chance to get burned. Pittsburgh has picked up seven sacks in the last two games, including four on Sunday night. Carolina has given up 10 in three games, and considering that their new backup, David Carr (who falls down if you blow on him), will be getting most of the snaps, then there's a good chance they can record another solid sack day.
The Steelers cut ten players on Monday, in the first wave of cuts for the week.
Running back and Pittsburgh native Kevan Barlow was cut, and so were fellow back Larry Croom, receivers Dan Sheldon and Eric Fowler, center Donovan Raiola, DE Derrick Jones, LB Richard Koonce, kicker Connor Hughes, punter Mike Barr, and long snapper Jared Retkofsky. Barlow couldn't crack the depth chart in Pittsburgh, but he'll likely be snatched up before too long. And while the Steelers don't have room for two kickers, there's a good chance the former Virginia kicker could end up as a kickoff specialist elsewhere, or as a backup kicker on a team that does have room for multiple kickers.
Receiver Hines Ward suffered a broken nose during Sunday's win, and had surgery on Tuesday. But, Mike Tomlin said yesterday that Ward still may play against the Panthers.
As far as the starters go, we'll see the same starting lineup from Sunday night, which means Willie Colon (right tackle) and Sean Mahan (center) will start yet again, and Ryan Clark (free safety) and Deshea Townsend (right cornerback) keep their places in the starting secondary. Coach Tomlin is still not giving away anything as of yet, but it looks like those four position battles are all but resolved.
Tight ends Heath Miller and Jerame Tuman sat out yesterday's practice with minor injuries, but that shouldn't prevent them from suiting up tomorrow night.
What We'll See
Even though the starting lineup may now be settled, there are still some important decisions to be made. Since the roster must be trimmed down to 53 following Thursday's game, then we'll be seeing a number of fringe players trying to take advantage of their last chance to prove their worth.
You may well not want to watch the game after the first quarter or so, and you may not miss much, but tomorrow night is an important night for many guys on the field. It'll not only separate whether or not some players will be starters, but will also determine whether or not several players will be guaranteed of receiving an NFL paycheck this season. Not only that, but it's an audition as well, because there will be some players that will get cut that end up on other teams' rosters, so they have to make an impression, one way or another.
It's safe to assume that almost everyone in the stadium will be looking ahead to the regular-season opener, and rightfully so, since it's time for the games that really matter (to most of us, at least).
That being said, tomorrow night will matter to a lot of people, and that means you'll see some inspired football, even if we may not know the names on the backs of the jerseys.
As for the matchup, it favors the Steelers on the road, so look forward to another victorious post-game editorial on Friday. But, if the Panthers come out on top, have your rebukes and slaps ready.