The New Orleans Saints host the Pittsburgh Steelers Friday night at the Mercedez-Benz Superdome with both clubs likely emphasizing defense with the regular-season opener nearly two weeks away. In 2015, the Saints finished 31st in average yards allowed per game (413.8), while the Steelers finished 21st (363.1.)
The Saints enter the season with questions about the offensive line, but making sure the defense improves from a woeful season is probably a top priority. New Orleans recently cut veteran cornerback Keenan Lewis, who was a target for Pittsburgh until the team learned of his hip injury, and defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, the No. 12 pick in the draft, is coming off a surgery to repair a broken fibula.
But there is still optimism that New Orleans can make strides from 2015. The unit has looked good in the first two games, with top cornerback Delvin Breaux providing a solid effort. Third-round pick Vonn Bell is a promising safety to go along with Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd.
One player to watch for on the defensive line will be David Onyemata, a developing prospect who may have an increased role with Rankins sidelined. There might be a rush for the Nigerian to learn quickly and ease pressure off fifth-year veteran Nick Fairley.
On offense, there is a bit of a running back competition between rookie Daniel Lasco and veteran Tim Hightower, who has been a comeback story. Lasco has 17 carries for 42 yards in two preseason games, while Hightower has just four carries for two yards.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert addressed the defense in the draft, selecting cornerback Artie Burns in the first round to go along with safety Sean Davis in the second round, and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave in the third round. All three have the potential to be starters, so determining their value in training camp and preseason could have added importance.
"When they are ready to play, they will determine that," Colbert told "The Cook and Poni Show" in May. "They all have the credentials to be starters."
But depth may also be crucial to the season, and Pittsburgh has had some health issues at linebacker. Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler won't have the services of linebacker Bud Dupree, who has been limited in practice, due to a groin injury. However, Jarvis Jones will finally see some playing time after missing time due to an illness and injury.
Outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo, 23, a sixth-round pick in 2015, should also see additional action.
On offense, head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed that Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams and Antonio Brown will all play their first preseason game of the year.
An interesting battle may be developing between offensive linemen Alejandro Villanueva and Ryan Harris, who are both seeking the starting left tackle job.
Saints head coach Sean Payton told The Times-Picayune that there are several ongoing position battles to make the final 53-man roster, including kicker. Kai Forbath and Connor Barth are fighting for spots, with the former going 2-for-3 on his preseason attempts the latter nailed a 33-yard attempt in last week’s loss to Houston. Last season, New Orleans ranked No. 31 in the league with 18 field goals made (half of which belonged to Forbath) and a poor 69.2 percent success rate.
Start Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV Channels: KDKA-CBS 2 (Pittsburgh); WVUE-FOX 8 (New Orleans)
Live Stream: A live stream is available at NFL Game Pass