The Pittsburgh Steelers meet the Kansas City Chiefs tonight in the all-important third
exhibition preseason game. As I did last season, I beseech you, if you’re going to the game, don’t walk under any ladders. Steer clear of black cats. And if you own a rabbit’s foot, by all means bring it with you. That is, if the NFL Security Overlords permit you to smuggle it in within your regulation size purse.
The third preseason game is always a mixed blessing. It’s the most watchable game because starters usually see a good half of action in preparation for the season opener. But it’s also the scariest because within that half, you’re constantly hoping and praying none of the starters get injured. In a just world, when that half is over, everybody is healthy and ready for the regular season.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a just world.
The Steelers have already been decimated by their fair share of injuries this preseason. Le’Veon Bell is going to be out for the foreseeable future. Matt Spaeth as well. Nobody is exactly sure what the timetable is for Heath Miller‘s return, although you can bet it won’t be tonight. Cortez Allen missed the first two games rehabbing from “minor” knee surgery and it’s anybody’s guess if he’ll dress tonight. His return would certainly be a boost to a secondary that has looked pretty shaky in his absence.
And therein lies the rub. Everybody acknowledges the preseason is meaningless. The 0-16 Detroit Lions went undefeated that preseason, yadda yadda. At the same time, the Steelers have looked really bad in their first couple games. If for nothing else but team confidence, it would greatly benefit the Steelers to put forth a good performance tonight.
The other thing of note is this is the last game before the Turk comes a’callin’. On Tuesday, teams must cut their rosters down to 75 players. It’s only a short turnaround until the final preseason game on Thursday (against the Panthers, ‘natch) and then the final 53 man must be set a week from today. So for guys on the bubble, this is virtually their last chance to fulfill their dreams of being an NFL player.
Unlike recent years when starters were penciled in and the depth chart mostly set before the first guy arrived at Latrobe, there are a lot of positions still up in the air. OLB, for example, where Jarvis Jones has been a beast in his bid to overthrow Jason Worilds. I have the feeling the Steelers are still leery about starting a rookie but if Jones continues to dominate, he may very well force the team’s hand.
There’s also running back. With Bell, the presumptive starter, out for awhile, it’ll be up to Jonathan Dwyer to carry the load. Dwyer has been the forgotten man in this year’s running back battle but the door is now open. He looked good against the Giants although much of his good work was undone when he lost a fumble. Dwyer could make a strong case for being the featured back tonight or his butterfingers could land him right back in the RB-Merry-Go-Round that he was part of last year.
Then we have the offensive line. Their performance last week was putrid. Despite that, I think Mike Adams is a lock at left tackle and Marcus Gilbert will start at right. I don’t see Kelvin Beachum in the mix to start at RT as the Steelers seem to like him as the super-sub off the bench. If Gilbert continues to be a human traffic cone, however, their thinking may change.
Meanwhile, the backup situation comes to down to who is the least biggest liability. One can make a case for Guy Whimper, D’Anthony Batiste and John Malecki all being cut. The Steelers aren’t going to cut all of them (or perhaps even any of them) because the only remaining options are practice squad fodder. If any of them show even the slightest bit of improvement, it could ensure their job security. At least until Kevin Colbert scans the wire on cut down day hoping to snag a veteran to two.
Finally, there’s one battle I haven’t mentioned at all up until this point. And I didn’t mention it because it involves punters aka “Not Football Players.” Incumbent Drew Butler has been challenged by veteran Brian Moorman all preseason. It’s a classic match-up, not unlike Ali-Frasier or Rock-Austin. Moorman tends to have better hang-time while Butler has the bigger leg. And by better hang-time, I’m talking millionths of a second. And by bigger leg, I’m talking a few yards difference in average over an entire season. At this point, one shanked kick or poorly attempted directional kick may decide who gets to take the field to a chorus of boos after one of the Steelers numerous three and outs.
Can you feel the excitement?