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Steelers vs Panthers: Week 3 NFL preseason preview

The Pittsburgh Steelers are hitting the road for the third time in four exhibition contests to take on the Carolina Panthers as these teams meet in Week 3, seeking to cement some final roster decisions and get to the regular season as healthy as possible. Read our preview of Friday’s action in Charlotte below.

See where the Steelers rank in our latest NFL defense rankings

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Carolina Panthers: What you need to know

Mason Rudolph vs Dwayne Haskins

It’s probably been the story of the preseason to follow for Steelers fans, because let’s face it: They don’t have a viable successor to Ben Roethlisberger as of now.

Big Ben is likely playing his final season. Usually, the final preseason game doesn’t mean too much, yet the winner of the backup job behind Roethlisberger between Rudolph and Haskins is a big deal. Haskins is going to get the start on Friday, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, so he has a chance to really put the heat on.

  • Reeling Rudolph: Once thought to be a potential replacement for Big Ben after going 5-3 as a starter in 2019, even a decent preseason might not be enough for Rudolph to preserve his QB2 status. Haskins wouldn’t have been brought in if Pittsburgh truly had faith Rudolph could take the reins in the next year or two.
  • Haskins Hype: The former Ohio State star and 2019 first-round pick just needs to keep his head down and work. If he does that, the Steelers might’ve really lucked out, and Haskins’ failure with the traditionally turbulent Washington franchise may wind up being the ultimate blessing in disguise.

Advantage: Dwayne Haskins

Chuba Hubbard vs Steelers front seven

Steelers vs Panthers: What you need to know
Aug 15, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Chuba Hubbard (30) runs the ball while Indianapolis Colts defensive back Ibraheim Campbell (33) defends in the first half at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Although he didn’t play as much in 2020, there’s no denying Chuba Hubbard is an electrifying ball-carrier. That’s why the Panthers drafted him this year in the fourth round despite having Christian McCaffrey firmly entrenched as the starting running back.

Even against the Steelers’ backups, though, Hubbard will have his work cut out. He won’t have Carolina’s starters in front of him, and Pittsburgh has tons of depth across its star-studded front seven. It’s a great little subplot to watch as Hubbard tries to seize the backup tailback job.

  • Hardcore Hubbard: This man ran for over 2,000 yards at Oklahoma State in 2019. That type of production doesn’t happen by accident. It’ll be fascinating to see what kind of role Hubbard can carve out as a rookie.
  • Steel Curtain: We’re going to see a lot of players fighting to make Pittsburgh’s roster. Keep an eye on who stands out, because if they don’t make the Steelers’ final cut, another team could be scooping up a quality depth player.

Advantage: Pittsburgh Steelers

Mike Tomlin vs Matt Rhule

Steelers vs Panthers: Week 3 NFL preseason preview
Aug 12, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin reacts before a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Panthers lost a lot of close games in Matt Rhule’s first season. He actually dealt with the crazy circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic quite well, all things considered. It’ll be telling if Carolina’s back-end roster players show out well versus a quality franchise like the Steelers.

Mike Tomlin has long been considered one of the better coaches in the NFL. However, he’s entering a critical year in Pittsburgh, and really needs to deliver.

  • Tomlin’s Trademark: No matter who’s on the field for the Steelers, they’re going to play fast and with lots of physicality. Drama has surrounded the franchise in recent years, but Tomlin’s imprint on the organization is unmistakable, and should show even in the preseason.
  • Rhule of Thumb: Meanwhile, Rhule is still establishing his program with the Panthers, and the roster is extremely young. There’s not as much depth or experience on his side, which usually doesn’t bode well in the win-loss column.

Advantage: Pittsburgh Steelers

The bottom line: With Haskins and Rudolph likely battling out for the backup job throughout this one and Pittsburgh’s defenders fighting it out to make the team on a highly competitive unit, there’s little reason to think the Steelers won’t win. It’s probably not going to be the prettiest game, though.

Are the Panthers or Steelers postseason-bound in 2021? Read our NFL playoff predictions now