Today is where we are going to get as close of look at what the regular season is going to be like before the regular season even starts. The Steelers have been pretty lucky to play some pretty good football teams in the middle of their preseason schedule and that will continue when they play the Atlanta Falcons tonight. I think everyone knows what the preseason is all about. The first and fourth preseason games are more for the unproven guys and the second and third preseason games are when we get to see the starters for more than a series.
As I said the Steelers are fortunate to play good teams in the middle of their preseason schedule because they can give us a pretty good idea of what the first teams are like, on both sides, for more than a few minutes. Last season the Falcons gave the Steelers a great game and to be honest it was one of the best games of the season, albeit without Ben Roethlisberger. The Falcons are an outstanding young team and to be honest they are one of the teams in the NFC that I can truly root for. I am a Matt Ryan fan and I like what Mike Turner and Roddy White do out of the skill positions. The defense is solid and is going to give the black and gold all they can handle.
All-in-all this is pretty much going to stack up the same as the Philadelphia game as far as what I am going to be looking for. There are still a lot of unknowns despite the strong play against a very good Eagles team. Nobody really know how the offensive line is going to shake up because none of the lineman can stay healthy long enough to get a good look at them. The defensive backfield is hard to assess because they barely have enough body’s out there to go into the nickel package.
The Steelers resigned Trai Essex and will get back Chris Kemoeatu for the game and both should see some playing time, but I wouldn’t really expect to see them a whole ton. We should see a lot from second round pick Marcus Gilbert and Tony Hills as both have had pretty good camps and will be pushing for a starting spot in the regular season. Even if they don’t earn a spot you know one of these linemen is going to go down in the first month of the season and after last year you have to imagine that these guys go into the mindset that they are only one play away from being a starter so they have to perform like it to earn that first bench spot, if that is what it comes to.
The corner play is about the same as the offensive linemen. Bryant McFadden and Ike Taylor have missed a ton of time so the young guns have to play well. Last week Donovan Warren had a nice game and Keenan Lewis has started to show that he belongs in the league but I would like to see if that can be consistent from game-to-game and this will give us a good look if that is the truth.
We all know that Ben Roethlisberger is going to be the starter in the regular season but an understated battle is who is going to back up large Benjamin. Dennis Dixon, Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch are fighting for two spots. Who is it going to be that sticks on this roster and who is the guy that isn’t going to be there on opening day? Remember with the new rules it doesn’t matter who the third QB is because he can come in and play whenever and you can still put the first QB back into the game. That might give DD the edge and you have to think that the Steelers are going to keep Leftwich but all it will take is a good game from Batch to give him the nod. It will be interesting to see how the rotation works against the Falcons.
Jon Dwyer had a nice game against the Eagles and even got some work with the first team as the lead back. It will be interesting to see how the Steelers use him because he has all but made the team; it is just a question on how he will be used in the 2011 campaign. He is going to get a good amount of carries in the second half with Ike Redman, but I wonder if we will see him in some sets with the first team to see what he can do. In the same breath I want to see what Ike Redman can give us. He was good all last year so I am not really worried about him, but it will be nice to see him work some third downs and get a few carries. We know what Rashard Mendenhall can do and we know he is an every down back so I don’t necessarily think he needs to be out there with the first team for the entire time they are out there.
This will be a fun game to watch and see how things develop. It will be the closest thing we will have to the regular season for close to two weeks (I don’t count the fourth preseason game as close to regular season) so soak it up and enjoy it.