Hats on hats, pitch-and-catch, special teams splash

They occurred in games that didn't matter, so they didn't really mean anything in the grand scheme of things.

But the specifics of what could be considered a handful of the most potentially revealing plays pulled off by the Steelers in the preseason just might.

What could eventually prove memorable is the way they were executed, the players that made them, and what they may yet represent.

Following is a look back in an effort to look ahead:

Aug. 11, at Tampa Bay

Third-and-8, Buccaneers' 33-yard line, first quarter: Quarterback Kenny Pickett hits wide receiver George Pickens for a 33-yard, catch-and-run touchdown.

This one checked a lot of boxes. Pickett and Pickens, two second-year players perceived to be on the precipice of breakout campaigns, connecting from distance, something the Steelers struggled to do last season. Pickett delivered an absolute strike over the middle, an area not often exploited in 2022. And that afforded Pickens the opportunity to gain some of the yards after the catch the Steelers will be consistently seeking. Pickens did the rest in eluding two defensive backs on the way to the end zone. A third-down conversion for a touchdown.

Repeat as necessary.

Aug. 19, Buffalo

Third-and-7, Bills' 14-yard line, second quarter: Outside linebacker Alex Highsmith drops quarterback Josh Allen for a 6-yard loss.

Highsmith and the Steelers agreed upon a long-term contract extension just prior to the start of training camp. Highsmith hasn't wasted much time justifying the investment.

In this instance, he beat left offensive tackle Dion Dawkins as part of a four-man rush against an empty set. Allen stepped up in the pocket initially, took off up the middle and then cut left away from closing safety Damontae Kazee, who fired forward when Allen crossed the line of scrimmage. Allen eventually retreated and spun away from inside linebacker Kwon Alexander, but Highsmith didn't miss a second chance to bring down one of the toughest quarterbacks on the planet to tackle.

Pressure with four, and the defense got off the field thanks in no small part to Highsmith, who has been referred to as an "Elite Robin," as a complement to T.J. Watt's "Batman," by Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.

That might not be doing Highsmith justice.

It might be "Batman & Batman" at outside linebacker this season.

Aug. 24, at Atlanta

First-and-goal, Falcons' 1-yard line, first quarter: Running back Najee Harris runs for 1 yard and a touchdown.

Pickett and Pickens had just hooked up for 35 yards down the sideline (yeah, those two again).

The Steelers followed up splash with smash, with a little "Bully Ball."

Tight end Pat Freiermuth pulled left out of a bunch-right formation. Pickett handed off to Harris in front of a fake-jet sweep motion by wide receiver George Pickens. Left guard Isaac Seumalo and center Mason Cole wiped out defensive tackle Tae Davis with a double-team. Left offensive tackle Dan Moore Jr. got a piece of right outside linebacker Turay Kemoko, then worked up to the second level. Freiermuth engaged Kemoko once Moore moved on.

Harris stepped out of a diving attempt at an arm-tackle in the backfield, then lowered his shoulder and powered through Kemoko at the goal line.

The easiest way to improve the success rate in the red zone is to just run it in from in close.

Aug. 19, Buffalo

First-and-10, Steelers' 38-yard line, first quarter: Running back Jaylen Warren runs for 62 yards and a touchdown.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with running it in from distance, either.

Warren's jaunt was the result of perfect blocking up front, five hats on five hats, just the way it was drawn up. And wide receiver Diontae Johnson did his part with a downfield block on cornerback Dane Jackson, personifying the type of team-wide buy-in the players and coaches have referenced as a critical component of the Steelers' offensive success in August.

Warren won't ever have a better-blocked 62-yard run.

Aug. 11, at Tampa Bay

Second-and-2, Buccaneers' 49-yard line, first quarter: Inside linebacker Kwon Alexander is penalized 15 yards for unnecessary roughness.

It's not the penalty that's worth remembering. "You drop the top of your head, they see the crown of your helmet, it's a penalty," defensive coordinator Teryl Austin acknowledged.

But the way Alexander diagnosed, reacted and arrived in the flat as if he'd been shot out of a cannon is worth celebrating, and replicating.

The swing pass to running back Chase Edmonds would have resulted in a 2-yard loss had it not been flagged. Alexander also stuffed a third-and-2 run for a gain of 1 and had a tackle for a loss.

Aggressive, proactive and pugnacious inside linebacker play has been a revelation this preseason.

Aug. 24, at Atlanta

Fourth-and-21, Falcons' 8-yard line, first quarter: Wide receiver Calvin Austin III returns a punt 21 yards to the Falcons' 29.

Welcome back.

This was Austin's second explosive punt return in three preseason games (he also had a 54-yard effort against Buffalo). And Austin is of the opinion this is the type of thing that ought to happen when he gets the ball in open grass. He also caught a 67-yard touchdown pass in Tampa.

He's apparently ready to make up for lost time after missing his rookie campaign due to injury.

Perhaps that's why Tomlin was giddy upon Austin's return to the sideline in Atlanta, and even provided a head slap and a butt slap for emphasis.

There isn't yet reason to celebrate, but there's much to anticipate coming out of the preseason.