Putting the preseason in perspective

The Steelers' defense is ready to breath fire this season, but how effective it'll be in that capacity remains to be seen.

"We don't need to slay the dragon, we need to be the dragon this year," four-time defensive captain and noted "Game of Thrones" enthusiast Cam Heyward announced today. "We need to go into different towns and just blow everything up."

There's one more town to visit in August the Steelers will take on the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night in Charlotte before such attempts can begin in earnest.

The preseason has been encouraging if not definitive for the defense.

A two-point lead was preserved when a two-point conversion attempt was denied with 10 seconds left in regulation on Aug. 9 against Tampa Bay.

Outside linebacker Bud Dupree had a pair of sacks in limited action on Aug. 17 against Kansas City.

Defensive end Stephon Tuitt included a safety among the two sacks he registered in a span of four snaps on Sunday night in Nashville (the Steelers have amassed 14 sacks in three preseason games, including one in each from rookie linebacker Tuzar Skipper).

And opposing quarterbacks have a combined passer rating of 86.8 against the Steelers this preseason, a figure that includes a 47.9 from reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs (2-for-5 passing for 11 yards) and 39.6 from the Titans' Marcus Mariota (0-for-3) in a couple of preseason cameos.

When there's that much smoke, fire is a distinct possibility.

But it remains to be seen as to whether the defense is truly capable of blazing a trail in September and beyond.

"I don't think you can really establish too much in the preseason," Heyward cautioned. "We know who we'll play and we feel confident about the guys we have. We're just ready to get going now, it's about that time. No more talking needs to be said. We have our first game next week and I'm just excited to see what we actually look like in a regular-season game, because that's going to be the biggest question.

"You think you know what a team looks like, but there's not a lot of stock you can put in the preseason."

Heyward is more certain what the impact would be on Sept. 8 at the Patriots and beyond if players such as Dupree and Tuitt can turn the potential they've exhibited in the preseason into production in the regular season.

Tuitt, in particular, after what he flashed in Nashville.

"Tuitt has all the tricks in the trade and everything in his tool set," Heyward said. "I just look for him to be a more complete player, a more consistent player.

"If he does that, we'll be very successful."