In order to preview this (mostly meaningless) matchup, I reached out to our friends over at Behind The Steel Curtain The generous Jeff Hartman was kind enough to answer my questions. (Don’t forget to also check out my side of the Q&A exchange over at BTSC.)
1 - How long should we expect to see the Steelers’ starters play on Thursday, if at all? Who are the key players in/out?
I don’t expect a lot of starters to play, and if they do, they won’t play much. The majority of the Steelers’ projected offensive line should get the start, but I only see them playing a drive or two. You won’t see Ben Roethlisberger in this game, and likely won’t see other veterans like Joe Haden or Cam Heyward; however, you should see several players get into the lineup for the first time this preseason. Players like Trai Turner, Melvin Ingram, Devin Bush, and even rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth.
With this being the Steelers’ second preseason game, they’ll accelerate the process a bit, but Tomlin made it sound as if they are going to also be cautious with players’ workloads as they get them ready for the regular season.
2 - Can you name an under-the-radar player on offense and on defense we should watch out for?
On offense, I would suggest keeping an eye out for Freiermuth. The rookie second round pick out of Penn State has been getting rave reviews during training camp, but fans have yet to see him in live game action. He missed last Thursday’s Hall of Fame game after having a minor shoulder injury, but the tight end has been drawing comparisons to Travis Kelce. Obviously, fans are excited to see what he can provide to the offense.
On defense, watch out for Alex Highsmith. The second year pass rusher is stepping up his workload in Year 2 as he hopes to bridge the gap left by Bud Dupree. Highsmith looked great last week vs. the Cowboys’ backup tackles, but the hope is to see more consistency out of Highsmith both as a pass rusher and run defender.
3 - What’s the outlook for the Steelers this year? How many wins are you expecting? What’s the confidence level when it comes to Ben Roethlisberger and his health?
This is a difficult year to predict for the Steelers. It truly feels as if the team could be 11-6, or 6-11. A lot hinges on the almost brand new offensive line and the offensive schemes deployed by new offensive coordinator Matt Canada. If it works, and the Steelers’ offense can be more balanced with Najee Harris running the ball, they will be tough to beat. Their defense will keep them in almost every game they play. However, if the Steelers have to turn to Ben Roethlisberger to throw it 45+ times a game, it is a recipe for disaster.
I think the Steelers will be a double-digit win team, and earn a playoff berth. As for my confidence with Roethlisberger, I think the offensive line will be able to run the ball better than they did last season, and that will absolutely help Roethlisberger stay healthy. With less of a workload, Roethlisberger can still get the job done. He is their best option, by far, in 2021.
4 - Wanna give a meaningless score prediction for Thursday’s game?
These games are a complete crap shoot, but I’ll play along. I’ll go with the following score, based on the fact it is the Steelers’ second game, and the Eagles’ first:
5 - What’s one positive thing you can say about the Eagles? One negative thing?
One positive thing I can say about the Eagles is their fan base. Sure, they get some negative publicity, but you will be hard pressed to find a more loyal, and rabid, fan base.
The negative would have to be they are, in my opinion, one of the teams in the worst division in the NFL. I’m not talking about wins or losses, but the fans. When dealing with any of the NFC East fans, it can be exhausting. I don’t have much negative to say about the Eagles considering how rare it is they play the Steelers. Being in the NFC makes me not care as much.