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They are not a finished product, and it would be foolish to hint that they’re even close to being anything more than a team in development. But the Steelers are developing, and in some significant ways they’re developing into what they’ll need to become.
The penultimate game of a team’s preseason often is considered to be the dress rehearsal for the upcoming regular season, mostly because of where it falls on the NFL calendar. Coaches are loathe to take risks on the eve of a regular season after putting so much time and effort into nurturing a roster through an entire offseason, and so preseason finales have become the embodiment of going through the motions. It’s 60 minutes of “don’t get anyone hurt,” and then it’s onto the games that count in the standings.
The Steelers’ dress rehearsal came on Aug. 21 at Heinz Field against the Detroit Lions, and history will show they held on for a 26-20 victory that left them at 3-0 for this preseason, and while there always is value in winning whenever participating in something with an operational scoreboard, this also is one of those very rare occasions in this business where aesthetics has some value.
What the aesthetics tell you from this dress rehearsal is that during the time when the Steelers deployed personnel that looked an awful lot like the personnel they’ll utilize starting on Sept. 12 in Buffalo against the Bills, they built a 20-0 lead and looked quite efficient during its construction. There was no game-planning or attempts to fool the opponent with schemes and disguises – that won’t come into play until the start of the regular season – but in just about every other way what the Steelers presented against the Lions was representative of regular season football.
Starting with the first preseason appearance of Ben Roethlisberger. There is no secret that what these Steelers end up accomplishing during the 2021 NFL season will hinge on Roethlisberger, on his ability to absorb and implement the new offense, on his ability to lead that unit, and by extension, to lead the whole team, on his ability to start fast and finish strong, on his ability to be what this team will need him to be at any and every point of the upcoming season.
Within the reality of the situation dictated by dress rehearsal, Roethlisberger delivered, and it’s no coincidence that during his time on the field the offense looked as efficient as it has to this point in the process. A false start penalty on the Steelers first offensive play prevented that possession from developing any rhythm, and it ended up being the only time the Steelers had the ball in the first half and did not score any points.
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