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After further review: A philosophical approach

NICKEL FOR YOUR THOUGHTS: It didn't come from head coach Mike Tomlin (the opinion that matters most), but one starter on defense endorsed Cam Sutton as the nickel-cornerback in the five-defensive backs sub-package following Saturday night's 26-20 preseason victory over the Lions.

"That's where I'm expecting him to be at this point," outside linebacker Alex Highsmith said.

That's the way it played out against the Lions.

Sutton moved inside and was replaced at outside cornerback by James Pierre on the Lions' first third down of the game.

On Detroit's second possession cornerback Arthur Maulet came on as the nickel for a second-down snap but was replaced at the nickel by Sutton on third down.

The next time the Lions got the ball Maulet was again the first option at nickel but was once again replaced by Sutton after one snap. And that was it for Maulet, who left the game with an ankle injury.

Cornerback Antoine Brooks Jr. opened training camp as the first-team nickel but was unavailable for the Detroit game, the second consecutive preseason game he's missed due to injury.

Undrafted rookie Shakur Brown took nickel snaps in the second half.

More intriguing, potentially, is how often the Steelers went to the six-defensive backs dime alignment.

They didn't.

When the varsity players were playing, that meant inside linebackers Joe Schobert and Devin Bush both stayed on the field in sub-package defense. And this despite the Lions facing third-and-20, third-and-25 and third-and-20 again as the first half played out, downs and distances that have traditionally called for six defensive backs.

FAMILIAR, NOT DEFINITIVE: The Steelers may have a new offensive coordinator, a new offensive line coach and a new commitment to running the football but they still have Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback.

That might help explain why they deployed three wide receivers and lined up in an empty set on third-and-3 from their 25-yard line on their second possession.

And why they went with three wide receivers and the shotgun on third-and-3 from the Lions' 25.

And why they relied on three wide receivers and lined up quarterback Mason Rudolph in the shotgun on third-and-2 from the Lions' 17 early in the second quarter.

Who they were playing had a lot to do with it, too.

"I think that was the plan for this week," Roethlisberger said. "I think we have a lot of options but we wanted to show some different looks on those situations. We had an idea of what we might get, I know you have a small sample size (to study) on the defense but we had an idea.

"I think we converted a lot of them if not all of them."

The first third-and-3 produced a 43-yard completion to wide receiver Diontae Johnson.

"Whatever the defense presents on third down looks, that's what we're gonna capitalize on," running back Najee Harris said. "Going into this game they were playing a lot of man (coverage), so that was emphasized a lot.

"Me being 1-on-1 with the linebackers was emphasized a lot. That's why you saw that today but whatever team we're playing against, I don't expect us to be doing the same thing. We have to fluctuate or whatever with what the defense is presenting on third down."

GETTING IT DOWN PAT: Tight end Pat Freiermuth's two receiving TDs confirmed the progress he's made since arriving as a second-round rookie with the potential to make a significant impact.

The second one, in particular, came on a play Freiermuth hasn't always made.

"The defense that they called, we basically had one option and that was him down the middle," Roethlisberger explained. "And I knew he was going to be on a linebacker and that's what we want him to do, he's gotta win against linebackers and he did.

"We work that a lot. You watch practice, I try not to throw good balls all the time. I know it sounds crazy but I want to see what they're capable of doing. I'm sure when rookies or guys come in here they're like, 'Man, Ben is not very accurate.' It's intentional. I've thrown that ball to him dozens of times in practice. He was ready for it and he made the rest happen.

"I'd like to give him more credit, too, because in practice probably three or four times, back end line, he hasn't gotten his feet in. He's gotten one in, which would be good in college but not in the NFL. He had one this last week where he didn't keep them both in, but there he kept them both in and you could tell he's working on his craft, as the coach would say."

The play Roethlisberger referenced was a 7-on-7 pass from Rudolph on Wednesday.

This time the stakes were higher and the scoreboard changed.

THE JOE SHOW: Schobert had an unremarkable debut game (three tackles). His most memorable play might have been a third-and-10 in the second quarter on which Schobert engaged tight end Darren Fells after a short reception well below the sticks but couldn't get Fells on the ground before a first down was achieved.

But Schobert is continuing to make a positive impression on his new teammates.

"It's been great having Joe so far," Highsmith said. "As soon as he came in he's been a guy that's worked hard, I just see that in him. I see a guy who wants to be the best he can be for this team."

Take a look at Karl's best photos from the preseason Week 2 matchup against the Detroit Lions. The Steelers defeated the Lions 26-20

STAT OF THE NIGHT: The Steelers won time of possession 20:21-9:39 in the first half.

Roethlisberger's reaction: "I wish sometimes our defense would give us more time on the sidelines so I could communicate through all the pictures, but that's a good problem to have."

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