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Steelers vs. Lions: What to Watch for in Preseason Finale

There's plenty on the line in the Pittsburgh Steelers final preseason game.

The preseason is quickly winding down as the Pittsburgh Steelers look to finish undefeated heading into September. 

The Steelers will have some massive roster decisions that will come down to the wire as well as a few position battles yet to be determined. With Detroit looking to play their starters for around a half, per their head coach Dan Campbell, this will be a nice final test for a young Steelers team. 

Quarterback Battle Comes Down to the Wire

Whether you believe it or not, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has been firm that the Steelers starting quarterback battle is ongoing. Mitch Trubisky will get the nod to open the game while Kenny Pickett seems like the sure bet to follow while Mason Rudolph will likely get mop-up duty in the finale. While Trubisky has been solid, he hasn't exactly done much to necessarily win the job and Pickett's splendid performances have done nothing but close the gap between the two players. 

For Trubisky, he likely doesn't need a huge performance to come away with the starting gig. If he holds still and plays clean football, the job will likely be his, at least for now. Pickett has more pressure on him to do the spectacular as he's looking to unseat Trubisky who's taken the vast majority of number one reps since the spring. Both quarterbacks would benefit immensely from improved offensive line play and a competent run game, something Tomlin has alluded to multiple times in recent weeks.

Still have to think that the leash for Trubisky will be rather short even if he's able to come away on top as the pressure of a first round pick is never going to be something you can completely dismiss. As for Pickett, you have to be encouraged so far by what you've seen as he's been extremely decisive, poised and accurate in every appearance so far. That's exactly what the Steelers were looking for when they took him in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. 

Final Test for the Steelers Run Defense

While there are no pure revenge games in the preseason, you have to believe that some members of the Pittsburgh defense are considering it one. Back in November of last season, Detroit crushed the Steelers on the ground to the tune of 229 rushing yards. D'Andre Swift had a lot to do with that as he notched a whopping130 yards on the ground in heavy rain. Detroit dominated up front in that matchup which was the biggest reason that the bout ended up in a tie ball game.

The Lions boast one of the top offensive lines in all of football, with a pair of stalwart tackles as the anchors. Penei Sewell and Taylor Decker, a pair of former first round draft picks, will both see time in this game and provide some serious competition as a final tuneup. For a Steelers defense that struggled mightily to stop the ground game last season, this matchup could provide some clarity on how much they've improved over the past calendar year. 

The Push for WR6

It's been well documented just how talented the Steelers receiver room is from top to bottom. Even with injuries to Calvin Austin and Anthony Miller that cut their preseasons short, the room has been full of talent and played well throughout. It's getting close to closing time, however. The Steelers will need to make a decision whether to carry six into the regular season and if so, which playmaker should they keep?

Despite his lack of participation due to injury, Calvin Austin seems like a lock for the final 53 man roster. Gunner Olszewski has already shown more in Pittsburgh as a receiver than he did during his time in New England. That leaves Miles Boykin, Steven Sims and Tyler Vaughns. While the first two have made their case through other avenues via special teams, Vaughns has been the late game hero in both of the Steelers first two preseason contests. He's done enough to throw his hat in the ring and has a nice shot to make the Steelers practice squad again regardless of the outcome tonight.

Can the Offensive Line Get Settled?

We figure to see Kevin Dotson open up as the starting left guard against the Lions as he has the inside track on the job. While Dotson hasn't been terrific, it's been more about Kendrick Green really showing no signs of improvement in his switch to guard coming off a tumultuous rookie season at the pivot. Those two aren't the only ones who are struggling, however. James Daniels has had a rough training camp and preseason under new offensive line coach Pat Meyer. Daniels is a talented player who's looked lost at times in his new home but it's still too early to go into full panic mode.

Pittsburgh's brass didn't elect to bring in any competition for Dan Moore Jr. in the offseason and he's gotten off to a rough start in pass pro so far. Moore's still struggling with pass rushers aligning in wide nine techniques as his hand placement has been a mess. Regardless of who wins the starting quarterback job, there's no doubt that the Steelers need a lot more from this unit if they hope to contend in a competitive AFC North in the fall. 

Hamilcar Rashed's Inside Track to EDGE3

Pittsburgh's been searching for their third edge rusher all summer by bringing in castoffs from other organizations and Rashed's looks like the last man standing. He'll be given the biggest opportunity of his professional career, as he'll get the call at right outside linebacker with the first team defense against the Detroit Lions. With Genard Avery out of the picture and in Tampa Bay, Rashed has a clear path to the 53 man roster with a strong showing in his starting debut.

Rashed's play style is all about speed and explosiveness. He has an impressive get-off at the line of scrimmage with enough speed and bend to win the corner and beat offensive tackles. Back in 2019 at Oregon State, Rashed amassed a grand total of 14 sacks on the season, showing how disruptive of a pass rusher he could become. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity afforded to him so we'll see if he can make the most of it against a really good left tackle in Taylor Decker.

Conner Heyward's Usage

With Derek Watt still sidelined this week with an injury. Heyward began working some as a fullback. Whether this is out of precaution or some precursor of things to potentially come, it's interesting nonetheless. Heyward did a little bit of everything at Michigan State, including lining up in the backfield. He's been incredibly impressive as a receiver throughout training camp and in the preseason, showcasing soft hands and the ability to pluck the ball out of the air away from his frame.

What we haven't seen a ton of is stout in-line blocking as a tight end, as area that he still has room to grow Into. Watt's spot on the 53 doesn't appear to be in serious danger by any means despite a hefty cap hit of $4.7M. That doesn't mean that Heyward can't slide into that role and more come 2023 when Watt is slated to become a free agent due to an expiring contract. As a joker or move piece in Matt Canada's offense, Heyward could potentially carve out a niche for himself in 2022 and perhaps beyond. 

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