Saturday, August 10, 2013

Preseason Gameday: New York Giants

Home, Sweet Home
TV: KDKA or pay to watch online
Radio: WDVE and other affiliates

Tonight, the Pittsburgh Steelers take the field for the first time in 2013. The 8-8 season of 2012 is behind us, and with it departed seven starters from the team that collapsed down the stretch. The defense lost starters at all three levels (Hampton, Harrison, Lewis) and the offense lost linemen (Starks, Colon) and skill players (Wallace, Mendenhall). Many of these players were solid contributors. As such, the Steelers enter the 2013 season with more uncertainty than in any year of the last decade. As detailed in our Training Camp Primer, there could be up to 15 roster spots that are won or lost in Camp. Due to this, the 2013 preseason means more than any of the prior slates.

What To Watch For

1. 10-12 Snaps

This week Coach Tomlin said that the starters should see 10-12 snaps with the possibility for more for certain players. This means that we'll likely see them for 1 or 2 drives, depending on how well the first drive goes. The biggest players to keep an eye on will be the offensive tackles. Marcus Gilbert seemed to be the heir apparent at left tackle in the spring, but he has been moved back to the right side with last year's second round pick Mike Adams settling in on the left side. These two probably won't see much action, but their ability to handle the Giants speedy defensive ends will be something to watch early.

2. The Rookies

The Steelers draft class received rave reviews, and for good reason. The "big four" have impressed thus far in camp, with RB Le'Veon Bell expected to see time with the first string offense.

First Round pick Jarvis Jones has been tearing it up in camp, but we don't have a nickname for him just yet. We'll roll with the Ironman theme for now.

Third round pick Markus Wheaton missed OTAs in the spring but hasn't missed a beat in training camp. He has the speed of Mike Wallace but the real question will be if he has the ability to make guys miss in the open field in 1-on-1 matchups that Mike Wallace lacked.

And of course, we can't forget about the Shamarknado

(h/t Cotter at OFTOT)

3. Offensive Line

One common theme around the league this preseason is that every team is short on offensive linemen. There isn't a lot of quality depth out there and having backups that can step in and play significant time up front is a key to success. The Steelers line has battled through injuries the last few seasons, and with five young guys up front, the possibility exists that we will see someone go down with an injury. The offense is moving to a zone blocking scheme for outside runs so it will be interesting to see how the young line has adapted to the change and if the reserves have grasped the system. Kelvin Beachum is solidified as the top reserve, but Guy Whimper (T), John Malecki (G/C), Justin Cheadle (G/C), D'Anthony Batiste (T), Joe Long (T) and Mike Golic, Jr (G) have a lot to prove.

4. Who Will Catch The Ball?

The Steelers have not been immune to training camp injuries and the receiving corps has been hit the most. The Steelers entered camp short on tight ends with Heath Miller and David Johnson on the PUP list working their way back from knee surgeries. The team brought back Matt Spaeth to help with blocking, but he was lost for 8-10 weeks with a Linsfranc sprain in his foot. David Paulson is the only healthy tight end from last year's team and the Steelers have been signing everyone and their nephew to play tight end. At receiver, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are locked in at the top and probably won't see much playing time. Jerricho Cotchery and Markus Wheaton will likely be the 3rd and 4th receivers in some combination. Plaxico Burress entered camp in competition for the 5th spot but was lost for the season (and maybe for his career) with a torn rotator cuff in his shoulder that will require surgery. This leaves the door open for 6th round pick Justin Brown, Rochester High School and Penn State alum Derek Moye and second year player David Gilreath (who spent time on the practice squad last year) to compete for the 5th receiver spot.

5. No Injuries

As always in the preseason, the biggest success that can come out of a game that doesn't count is not losing anyone for the long term. Plenty of teams lost significant players (Harvin, Maclin, Pitta, Bulaga) before they even took the field for a game this season. The Steelers have been lucky in that Plaxico and Spaeth have been their worst injuries to date. If they can get through the preseason without any significant losses, it will be a success. One of the drawbacks of having a team in transition is that there is not much in terms of experienced depth behind the starters. In order for the transition to succeed, both the starters and their reserves have to stay healthy and stay on the field.

Now, let's crank this up and go.

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