World_news Tim Benz: Steelers tempt fate, escape unscathed in Tennessee – Tribune-Review

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The Pittsburgh Steelers played Russian roulette with their veteran starters and won.

For the most part. Let’s see how bad safety Sean Davis’ ankle injury is. And linebacker Bud Dupree’s thumb. At least Mike Tomlin didn’t give a dire diagnosis about either player after the Steelers beat the Tennessee Titans 18-6 in a preseason game Sunday night.

Teams such as the Houston Texans (running back Lamar Miller, ACL) and the New York Jets (linebacker Avery Williamson, ACL) haven’t been as lucky.

Ben Roethlisberger and most of the Steelers offensive regulars absorbed three series, scoring a touchdown on the third try.

Just like coach drew it up. @TeamJuJu@steelers

: #PITvsTEN on NBC pic.twitter.com/EepBYwXjyi

NFL (@NFL) August 26, 2019

Meanwhile, many of the front-line defensive regulars stayed on the field well into the second Quarter.

Or at least I think they did. Based on that horrid NBC camera angle, “Mean” Joe Greene and Mel Blount could’ve been playing and I wouldn’t have been able to tell.

Even if the network didn’t utilize that abomination, I wouldn’t have had a very good view of the game anyway. I was watching it through my fingers because I was covering my eyes on every snap, holding my breath to see if every player survived unscathed.

So is that all it took? Did they do enough to “knock off the rust”?

I doubt it.

I always laugh at that excuse to use starters in the preseason: “Knocking off the rust.” We talk about teams being rusty coming off bye weeks or after a week of rest in advance of the playoffs.

So if rust can build up after 13 days to the point that can affect four quarters of midseason football, how can three preseason series erase eight months of inactivity?

That’s old school rah-rah hyperbole. There’s no intellectual connection to make there. The risk of one play ending a star’s season isn’t worth the reward of “knocking the rust off” for one quarter of meaningless action.

Based on that bye-week comparison, much of the rust may come back anyway before the game against the New England Patriots to open the season a week from Sunday.

If ever there was a year that there was reason for the Steelers to have used the starters a lot in the preseason, this was it. The wide receivers are reconfigured, the team should want to see how Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell run behind first-team offensive linemen, and the evolving nickel and dime looks on defense would be best served to get lots of reps in advance of facing Tom Brady in the opener.

But it appears the Steelers starters will wind up with roughly the same amount of time in the preseason as any other year.

Also, don’t coaches and general managers usually cringe at the idea of trimming the preseason because they so desperately crave live reps from lesser-known players to evaluate the bottom of the roster?

Then why absorb any time for the starters in the first place if the “real” reason for having four preseason games is evaluating depth and getting young players experience?

Here’s the problem: If a perceived advantage exists, players and coaches will be swayed to take it.

Every time. Because what if they don’t, somebody else will.

And God help us if Team X gets three series for its starting quarterback in August and your team doesn’t. Then what? If those two teams should match up in December, I mean, clearly that difference four months earlier will make or break the game.

Please.

If the opportunity is present to make the good players better, coaches will eventually give in to that temptation. And players with a competitive streak will want to get on the field any time they can to sharpen their skills.

That’s why the league would be wise to take the option off the table for the coaches and starters. Get rid of the preseason entirely and just play the games for real as the college kids do. Or trim the preseason to two games, so that the coaches feel inclined to evaluate the bottom-of-the-roster guys above all.

Or come up with a roster-restriction system for the preseason as is done in the regular season and force coaches to prioritize what they want out of this exercise.

The Steelers are fortunate. It appears they got the benefit of both worlds last night. Good reps and good health.

I hope they don’t bother tempting fate at all in 2020.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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