When the Pittsburgh Steelers played the Dallas Cowboys in the preseason opener a week ago, the Cowboys left behind starting edge rushers Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory. The Steelers, meanwhile, didn’t start tackles Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor.
That made for a fair fight, but it didn’t tell us much about the way the Steelers’ top tackles are going to play this season. Tonight in Philadelphia, Banner and Okorafor could among the new players that head coach Mike Tomlin said he wants to “infuse” into he lineup.
If they are, they’ll get another fair fight from the Eagles in the form of defensive end Brandon Graham. Graham, rated by Pro Football Focus as the No. 14 edge rusher in football, is extremely disruptive. Despite his status as a former first-round pick, Graham has an under-the-radar profile rare for his position. He’s never made an All-Pro or Pro Bowl team. But he’s fourth in the NFL in quarterback pressures since 2014. His pressure numbers have always been more impressive than his sacks totals, which makes him harder to appreciate for stats-watchers. He’s also stout against the run, with 10 or more tackles for loss in six of the last seven seasons.
If the Steelers are going to do much of anything on offense this season, they’re going to need strong performances from Banner and Okorafor, in both run block and pass protection. Though they probably won’t play long against the Eagles, silencing Graham would go along way to providing some hope that they’ll be able to perform when needed.
Some other matchups to watch:
Devin Bush and Robert Spillane vs. Miles Sanders: Sanders had 13 total touches for 99 yards in the regular season game between the teams last year — almost 8 yards a pop — and scored twice. I have a feeling the Steelers run defense thinks they can do better than that.
Pressley Harvin III vs. Jordan Berry: Round one against Dallas went to the rookie, but we’ll see how Harvin does with less-consistent footing on the Bermuda grass surface at the Linc.
Anthony Johnson vs. Isaiah McKoy vs. Mathew Sexton vs. Tyler Simmons vs. Rico Bussey: The Steelers have depth wide receiver options, and nearly all of them have had a few standout plays through camp. With James Washington and Ray-Ray McCloud likely on the shelf, this group will get an extended chance to show their stuff.
Pete Guerriero vs. the odds. There are not very many former Monmouth running backs that have made it into the NFL. In fact, according to Pro Football Reference, there have been none, and just seven former Hawks to play NFL football. But that list does include stud receivers Miles Auston and Chris Hogan, so it’s a jump that can be made. With Benny Snell Jr. and Kalen Ballage banged up, someone is going to play a lot of running back, and it may as well be Guerriero, who has the speed to be an open-field weapon in the Steelers’ offense.
Steelers Now is joining the team on the road, as myself and Nick Farabaugh will be live from Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia tonight. Follow along for full coverage of the Black and Gold as preseason marches on.
News and notes from around the Pittsburgh Steelers and the National Football League.
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AROUND THE NFL
🏈 1977 The Steelers first-round pick in 2000, Plaxico Burress, was born in Norfolk, Virginia. Burress spent five seasons in Pittsburgh before moving on to the New York Giants, where he won a Super Bowl. Burress missed two seasons after an incident with a handgun in New York, but won NFL Comeback Player of the Year with the New York Jets in 2011. He also returned to Pittsburgh in 2012 to finish his career.
In total, Burress played 148 games and caught 553 passes for 8.499 yards and 64 touchdowns.
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