The 5: Things to watch for in preseason finale, Steelers vs Falcons

When the Steelers step into Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Thursday night, there will be just fourteen days until the NFL regular season, and seventeen until the Steelers’ season opener. Their preseason finale against the Falcons will be as close as they get to a full “dress rehearsal” game, and head coach Mike Tomlin said that everyone who is healthy will play.

If you’re a Steelers fan, it’s hard not to be bursting with excitement after watching the starters on both offense and defense for the last two games. Kenny Pickett looks ready to take a huge leap, the key defensive players look healthy and ready to go, and Mike Tomlin is noticeably excited.

With all of that being said, that leaves very little to look for in this game for the average fan, on the surface. However, I still think there are some important stories to follow as the 90-man roster moves to 53.

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5. Elijah Riley

This is almost chalk with how much attention the defensive back has been getting, and rightfully so. Riley has been a revelation in the slot, and has created a ton of splash in practice and preseason games.

Once viewed as a longshot to make the 53, Riley will almost for sure make it and push Chandon Sullivan in a competition to play in the slot alongside Patrick Peterson.

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4. Jones to LT, Moore to RT

A few weeks back, before camp started, I wrote about the offensive tackle battle in the O-Line preview. We knew the inside was going to be Isaac Seumalo, Mason Cole, and James Daniels, but with the Steelers using the 14th overall pick on a left tackle, the bookends were always going to be a competition.

In my conclusion, I threw in the possibility of Broderick Jones winning the LT battle, with the incumbent Dan Moore Jr. moving to RT, taking Chukwuma Okorafor’s spot. As of now, it seems most likely that Moore and Okorafor will stay as the starting tackles, but I would look out for Jones to get some first-team work with Moore on the other side, as they seem to be fleshing this out as a possibility for this year, and especially the years to follow.

Okorafor’s deal expires at the end of the season.

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3.”Starters” getting three drives

I would expect Kenny Pickett and the first-team offense to get at least three drives, with the defense getting three as well, except for guys like T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Cameron Heyward, and “Pat Pete.” Tomlin holds that he will, “play it by ear,” but I think he will give his young impact guys at least three drives.

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2. Najee’s touches

There has been some spirited debate over the past 5 days on whether Jaylen Warren has surpassed Najee Harris as the best running back on the team. This agenda has not been helped by Harris’ lack of touches due to a prearranged agreement to give him less physical reps in the preseason and training camp.

I would expect Harris to get more work this week than in the past two games, and I would also expect the hot takes to get even hotter after the game, when Steelers’ fans will have nothing but time to hit the water-cooler in the two weeks leading up to Week 1.

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1. The blue tent

Back-to-back weeks of the blue tent being number one on this list? Yes.

If the offense goes three-and-out a few times, or the defense gives up some explosive plays, that wouldn’t be great. But, even worse would be an injury to a key player in their last live action before the season begins.

If the Steelers stay healthy, I think they are as good as anyone in the AFC. So, they just need to stay out of the blue tent.

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