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The Steelers preseason win over the Bills was a preview of coming attractions

I don’t know if the Steelers second preseason game vs. the Bills at Acrisure Stadium on Saturday night could accurately be categorized as a “dress rehearsal.”

Back in the old days, before NFL head coaches and owners had to concern themselves with the salary cap and the consequences of injuries, the starters would play a good bit in the fourth and final preseason game. That all changed in the early-’90s when salaries, the cap and free agency made it a little harder to “stash” players away for a year. It wasn’t long before the third preseason game became the “fourth” preseason game for the starters; also, instead of a game, the starters usually played a half before bidding adieu to their exhibition season.

That third game soon became known as the dress rehearsal.

Now that the NFL’s exhibition season is made up of three games, what do we call the middle contest? Week 2 of the preseason is now viewed in the same manner as Week 3 used to be, but can it still be called a dress rehearsal?

I don’t think so.

I didn’t see much of T.J. Watt or Najee Harris on Saturday night. What about Cam Heyward or Minkah Fitzpatrick? Did any of those guys play? You’ll have to excuse my ignorance because I didn’t make it home from work until near the end of the first quarter; by then, quarterback Kenny Pickett had already led two touchdown drives and was done for the evening.

That’s the kind of quarterback “dress rehearsal” that used to be reserved for Ben Roethlisberger.

I didn’t get to see Jaylen Warren, the man who is now the Steelers new starting running back in the minds and hearts of many Steelers fans, because his 62-yard touchdown run came on his only carry of the night early in the first quarter.

I did get to witness Alex Highsmith do some things–he tallied a textbook pass breakup on one play and pursued quarterback Josh Allen as if Allen had stolen that lucrative contract he just signed on another–before giving way to his backup.

Is rookie Nick Herbig Highsmith’s new backup? Maybe Herbig will be the primary backup outside linebacker on both the strong and weak side during the regular season. You’ll have to excuse my bold proclamation. I wasn’t expecting Herbig to live up to the post-draft hype that was bestowed upon him after the Steelers selected the Wisconsin product in the fourth round this past April. However, he more than enticed me in his preseason debut against the Buccaneers on August 11. Then, I watched Herbig tally a strip-sack against the Bills on Saturday night at Acrisure Stadium.

I’m now big on Herbig.

I was always big on Little Joey Porter, and then I watched him intercept a pass in his first-ever preseason game vs. the Bills.

I came into this preseason very skeptical of Calvin Austin, the tiny second-year receiver who missed his rookie campaign with an injury. But I have to say this after watching Austin follow his 67-yard touchdown catch eight days earlier with a 54-yard punt return against Buffalo on Saturday: Someone better have a plan for that man.

The Steelers 27-15 win over the Bills on Saturday night didn’t include a lot of playing time for most of Pittsburgh’s starters, so, again, it’s kind of hard to call it a dress rehearsal.

But how about a table read?

If what we saw on Saturday night–including yet another precision touchdown pass from Pickett that cut right through the heart of the Bills defense (this time to tight end Pat Freiermuth)–was the script that Pittsburgh will use and the players who will star in the show in 2023, well, it figures to be the most exciting Steelers campaign we’ve witnessed in over a half a decade.

Obviously, it was only a preseason game, and it’s hard to imagine the Bills, a perennial AFC contender, giving all that much of a darn, but when was the last time the Steelers looked as impressive as they did on Saturday, preseason or otherwise?

The win over the Bills doesn’t counted in the standings, but it may have done wonders for the public perception of what these Steelers can truly be when the bullets start flying for real on September 10.




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