Steelers dos and don’ts as they enter the regular season

Pittsburgh Steelers v Atlanta Falcons
Pittsburgh Steelers v Atlanta Falcons / Todd Kirkland/GettyImages

The Steelers were a tough bunch to outshine during the preseason, going 3-0 without ever really having to sweat over their big-name foes. While the games and their results hold next to no value on their own, they are usually excellent in revealing Pittsburgh’s strengths and weaknesses.

That is the kind of information that every NFL team needs when preparing for their regular-season slate, and with their opener on Sep. 10 being against the San Francisco 49ers, the Steelers are no exception to the rule.

The Niners are consistent playoff contenders in the NFC and coming off of yet another appearance in the conference’s title game. It doesn’t matter when or where a team crosses their path, attempting to survive it with a win will never be an easy task. With that said Pittsburgh needs to be all the more aware of its dos and don’ts.

Luckily, in spite of their overall domination, we were easily able to see a fair balance of both—but what were they?

Do: Get Turnovers

This one may come off as a more pointless observation, as getting however many turnovers possible is something that any team would aim to do. There’s a difference between wanting turnovers and actually getting them though, and that is where the Steelers stand out.

In total, Pittsburgh amassed eight turnovers over the course of its preseason stretch, getting at least two in each game. Even if it takes two teams to make a turnover happen, a stat like that will always be praiseworthy for obvious reasons.

Now I understand that when comparing the caliber of the players that Pittsburgh got the turnovers from to that of the players they’ll soon be meeting, it raises a question surrounding just how well the ball-tracking abilities will carry over into the regular season. But, said abilities are nonetheless there, and that’s all that matters when simply covering what the Steelers have to build on.

Don’t: Give Away Turnovers

Once again, this seems hardly worthy of a mention, but that didn’t stop multiple Steelers from turning over the ball in preseason games one and two.

In the opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, both Mitchell Trubisky and Tanner Morgan threw interceptions, while the next week saw Mason Rudolph lose a fumble to the Buffalo Bills. And these go without even touching on the fumbles that were fortunately kept in Pittsburgh's possession.

Did these mistakes impact the results of either matchup? No. Did the Steelers seemingly grow beyond these errors in game three against the Atlanta Falcons? Yes. And heck, none of the turnovers were even committed by Kenny Pickett, the quarterback who will actually be starting.

But through it all, none of that means the turnovers themselves are ultimately negligible. Also, just because those guilty of them are not starters under normal circumstances doesn’t mean they won’t ever be granted some regular-season access (except for Morgan, who was waived back in late August).

Therefore, it’s best for those responsible to get things under control before they are placed in more hectic scenarios with less-forgiving opposition.

Do: Establish Early Leads

A big reason as to why the Steelers won their preseason games by such convincing margins is because they wasted no time establishing such huge leads. In each one, they entered halftime with a double-digit advantage (10 against Tampa Bay, 21 against Buffalo, and 24 against Atlanta).

What really makes this one relevant in a discussion like today’s is the fact that it doesn’t appear to have come down to luck or a fluke. Rather, it was something they were able to accomplish against a relatively diverse group of foes and only got better at as the preseason progressed.

If the Steelers were to continue taking control of their games early, they’d see multiple aspects of them influenced in their favor, including momentum from the opposing team and confidence from whatever presence it has in the audience.

Football—along with most other sports—is often regarded as something that not only relies on much physical exertion but also mental/emotional superiority. Especially in what are expected to be more competitive affairs (and perhaps even hateful rivalries), sabotaging that half of the game can go a long way.

Don’t: Blow Early Leads

As I hope we can all agree, the perks of early leads can only be enjoyed if the leads are held, and while the Steelers never fully “blew” any of the ones they established in their preseason games, they still got closer to doing so than most of us would’ve liked.

The final scores of 27-17 and 27-15 imply that while one party was visibly superior to the other, the entirety of their duel was at least somewhat competitive. However, a different story is told by looking at both scores at the end of the third quarter.

Despite finishing with only a 10-point win over the Bucs, Pittsburgh was up by 20 entering the fourth. As for the Buffalo game, the third quarter saw a pair of Steelers field goals make things as ugly as 27-0, but it looked considerably less impressive after the Bills scored 15 unanswered points late.

Now to give Pittsburgh credit where it’s due, this—similarly to the aforementioned turnover concerns—is something they appeared to have gotten past by the time they shut out the Falcons in their final game. But, it is important to note that the Steelers scored all of their 24 points from that meeting in the first half. In other words, with a better offense, Atlanta could have made the end result look closer just like Tampa Bay and Buffalo did. That’s unsettling.

And before anyone starts spitting at their computer monitors, yes, I am aware of Pittsburgh’s second-half offense from each game not at all being made up of who we will consistently see throughout the regular season. How is that supposed to make me feel better, though?

It still shows an unattractive trend that, at the absolute least, portrays what could be perceived as an alarming lack of depth. When talking about future clashes that will have more on the line and allow less room for error, that’s something I want to know won’t be an issue (especially if injuries were to ever become a pressing matter).

The preseason didn’t do much to check that box, plain and simple. All the Steelers can plan for at this point is busting their humps to keep such a question mark from being exposed during their regular-season campaign.

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The preseason may not be a reliable representation of how the regular season will unfold, but it still shows us how the teams themselves are coached/operated. With that in mind, I am unable to stress just how much can—and should—be taken from it as the Steelers take on a formidable 2023-24 journey.