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Steelers-Panthers Pregame Primer: Keys to Victory, Picks, Prediction and More



Steelers Panthers

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers will take the field as evenly matched 5-8 opponents on Sunday. The bookmakers say the Panthers have a three-point edge, but with both teams having gone through multiple quarterbacks and Panthers a significant change at head coach, those early games reflected in their record seem a long way in the rear-view mirror.

What will be the keys to this week’s game? Let’s dive in.

Gameday: Steelers at Panthers, 1 p.m.

KEY TO VICTORY: It’s stopping the run, stupid.

The Panthers have won two straight games and three of their last four, with interim head coach Steve Wilks seemingly having helped turn the tide of the season after a 1-5 start. But with respect to Sam Darnold, the turnaround for the Panthers has come via the emergence of running back D’Onta Foreman.

In Carolina’s last five games, Foreman rushed for 130, 113 and 74 yards in the three victories and 23 and 24 yards in the two losses. That glaring stat, combined with the Steelers getting absolutely bull-rushed by the Baltimore Ravens rushing attack last week, sets the stage for the critical matchup of the game and the Steelers No. 1 key to victory.

BOLD PREDICTION: Mitch Trubisky takes care of the ball.

Mike Tomlin is an expert message-sender, and the one he sent this week was loud and clear. Even though Trubisky retained the starting role, Tomlin was not happy with his three-interception day against the Ravens, and he’s made sure that Mason Rudolph will be ready to go if the needs to bench Trubisky in-game for the second time this season.

Trubisky is not a Brett Favre-type gunslinger that just can’t help himself. In fact, he spent his tenure as the Steelers’ starter earlier this season being frustratingly risk-averse. Outside of stud corner Jaycee Horn, the Panthers don’t have any coverage playmakers that Trubisky should be afraid of. That might take one of George Pickens or Diontae Johnson away from him, but it should also let him throw the ball with confidence to other areas of the field and avoid a repeat performance from a week ago.

OVERLOOKED MATCHUP: Carolina LT Ickey Ekwonu vs Steelers ROLB Alex Highsmith

The Panthers got their pick of the tackles in the 2022 NFL Draft when they got on the clock at No. 6 overall, and they went with NC State tackle Ickey Ekwonu over Alabama’s Evan Neal and Mississippi State’s Charles Cross.

Neal and Cross were generally considered to be the better pass protectors, and some wondered if Ekwonu had the footwork to stick at tackle or if he would need to move to guard. So far, they’ve looked pretty good with that decision. Ekwonu has allowed only four sacks and has a 71 pass block grade per Pro Football Focus — better than his run blocking.

But he hasn’t faced a ton of competition as strong as Highsmith. Only eight players have more than Highsmith’s 10 sacks on the season, and of those, only two have lined up against Ekwonu. He shut down Nick Bosa, but Myles Garrett got two sacks against the Panthers. Highsmith has a chance to use his advanced repertoire of pass-rush moves to keep the rookie guessing and make an impact and get to Darnold.


The Steelers have a pretty simple formula for victory here. They need to apply the lessons learned from offense (value the football) and defense (stop the run first) from last week’s game, and those lessons directly apply to the results of this week’s game.

Head coach Mike Tomlin generally is pretty good at getting his team to absorb those lessons and not getting beaten the same way repeatedly. Fortunately for his group, if they do that, I don’t think the Panthers posses another way to win this game.

Steelers 23, Panthers 10

PICK IT DraftKings Promo

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Pittsburgh +3 (-115)

Under 36.5 (-110)

Sam Darnold under 180.5 passing yards (-113)

Last week: 1-2: W Under 36.5; L Pittsburgh -1.5, Tyler Huntley to throw an interception