The Pittsburgh Steelers turned their 2022 season around in the bye week, making changes to find an identity on offense, and losing just one game down the stretch run of the season as a result.
The 2023 bye is earlier, and the team’s results have been better so far in terms of wins and losses. But the offense has yet to find itself, and Matt Canada’s unit needs to prove that it can make the same kind of in-season adjustments it did a year ago in order to keep the playoffs in play.
KEY TO VICTORY: Pressure Matt Stafford
The Rams probably aren’t going to be able to run their way to victory. They were just average at rushing before an injury to starting back Kyren Williams, and now that he’s out, it’s a collection of rookies and suspect vets that figure to be toting the rock for the Rams on Sunday.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the L.A. passing attack can be more than dynamic enough to carry the load on its own. The Steelers are probably going to give up some plays in the passing game in this one, but they can live with that if they also get turnovers. Matt Stafford is a seasoned vet, but he’s always been prone to turning the ball over when he has to deal with pressure, and this Rams offensive line can be picked apart by a superior unit. Much like the games against the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers will likely need a big play from the defense to win this one.
OVERLOOKED MATCHUP: Chandon Sullivan vs. Rams WRs
There has been a lot of chatter about what Joey Porter Jr. has to do to earn more playing time at outside cornerback. The second-round rookie had a game-changing interception against the Ravens last time out, and has continually earned greater roles and responsibilities as the season has gone on. Porter probably won’t start in the base defense, but I expect his share of playing time to continue to increase until he’s at near a full third of the outside reps alongside Levi Wallace and Patrick Peterson.
But there has been less chatter about the slot, where Chandon Sullivan has struggled just as much as his outside brethren. Desmond King, who had been the only real threat to Sullivan’s playing time, was released his week.
The Rams have three basically interchangeable parts in Cooper Kupp, Tutu Atwell and Puka Nacua. All can and will move all over the formation. If the Rams can get Kupp isolated on Sullivan, that will be a huge mismatch that the Steelers will have to work to minimize.
BOLD PREDICTION: The offense finds life
While the team would love for the running game to be its identity, the Steelers need to get Kenny Pickett going in order to change its offensive fortunes. Najee Harris can only do so much running into stacked boxes, and the Steelers haven’t done enough as a passing offense to make teams back off.
The Rams’ passing defense is ripe for the attack. With a pass rush that consists of Aaron Donald and no one else scary, a combination of uninspiring vets and youngsters in the secondary and Diontae Johnson returning to the fold, the Steelers should have their best day of the season throwing the ball. Bold prediction: Kenny Pickett gets his second career 300-yard passing game.
The Steelers will be able to score, but can they keep the Rams from doing the same? This feels like the kind of game where the team with the ball last wins. The Steelers’ shoddy tackling in the secondary will play large against a passing game that loves to throw it short and run long. I think that’s ultimately what will sink the Steelers.
Rams 28, Steelers 27
Last week: Steelers 19-16 (W)
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Last week: 3-0 (W Steelers +4.5, Under 38.5, Najee Harris over 13.5 carries)
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