The Detroit Lions and Pittsburgh Steelers will face off in a matter of hours in their 2016 exhibition opener. To find out what we can expect from the other sideline, we asked five questions to Jeff Hartman, editor at Behind The Steel Curtain. Here’s what Jeff had to say about the game:
1. With many of the Steelers' starters likely sitting out of the preseason opener, who is someone that will play that the Lions should keep an eye on?
On offense I would say it would be WR Sammie Coates. Coates is expected to really blossom in his second season and has big play capability written all over him. He has struggled with consistency through training camp, but looks to show those critics wrong starting Friday night. On defense, rookie Javon Hargrave (DT) has had an impressive camp so far, and will look to see significant snaps in the exhibition game. He has a tremendous first step and can be a force in the interior of the defense.
2. What were your impressions of the Lions during the two intersquad practices?
This isn't the first time the Steelers have had a joint practice at training camp, and they almost always are well worth the time and trouble. Coaches get to put their teams in specific situations, and the teams get to hit someone who isn't a teammate. The practices were fast, physical and intense, but both teams kept things professional and clean. From a football perspective, Antonio Brown put on a show against the Detroit secondary, but the same could be said on the other side of the field with the Steelers secondary. The familiarity with the two teams will make things interesting Friday night.
3. Which rookies are you expecting to make an impact with the team this year?
The Steelers will be looking to have some significant contributions from a couple rookies in 2016. Rookie Javon Hargrave, mentioned above, and Sean Davis, second round safety/cornerback from the University of Maryland, could see significant playing time as rookies at their respective positions. Although most fans look at this as weaknesses at those positions when you have to rely on a rookie, their play has proven to be capable at the NFL level throughout training camp.
4. The Steelers had a pretty quiet offseason after making a playoff run in 2015. Do you expect them to be right there in contention again this year or are they in danger of regressing?
If the Steelers don't beat themselves, there won't be too many games they won't be favored in. If the team's defense can just be in the top half overall, their offense will certainly be good enough to be a top unit in the NFL. As always, injuries are the biggest factor in this equation.
5. Where is the team's biggest weakness? Where is its biggest strength?
Last year the biggest weakness was clearly the secondary (ranked 30th in the NFL), and the team has done little to improve their situation at the position. That would clearly be the weakness of the team, but the strength goes to the offensive side of the football. The passing attack with Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown is second-to-none, and the rushing game with Le'Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams is top notch.