The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their second near-must-win game in a row, and this one will come on the road as they face the Seattle Seahawks with their playoff hopes essentially on the line on Sunday.
KEY TO VICTORY: Have an Answer When Seahawks Defense Changes
In many ways, the Seattle Seahawks defense is one of the units in the league that is most like playing against the Steelers’ own. However, one of the hallmarks of that defense is the flexibility and variety of ways they have to attack the quarterback and deploy personnel.
The Steelers were ahead of the curve last week against the Bengals. They correctly predicted that Cincinnati would over-react to getting carved up by tight end Pat Freiermuth the last time out, and instead, the Steelers fed them a heavy dose of George Pickens throughout.
The Seahawks are a different animal. They’re a less familiar opponent, and they also seem more capable of making big adjustments in the game. The Steelers offensive braintrust of Eddie Faulkner and Mike Sullivan will have to repeat their strong performance and not let the Seahawks find something that works.
OVERLOOKED MATCHUP: Michael Dickson & DeeJay Dallas vs. Pressley Harvin III and Calvin Austin III
Michael Dickson is one of the NFL’s best punters, with a 49.8 net average, which is sixth in the league, and a quality Seattle coverage unit has helped him to a 44.1 net average, which is third in the NFL. Steelers punter Pressley Harvin III is 30th in the NFL with a 44.0 average and tied for 31st with a 39.1 net.
The Seattle special teams advantage carries over to punt returns, where DeeJay Dallas is sixth in the NFL with a 10.4 yards per return average and Calvin Austin III is 23rd at 6.6 yards per return.
In a game where offense may be hard to find, the Steelers can’t afford to get dominated in the field position game.
BOLD PREDICTION: Defense Gets Six
The Steelers defense obviously rattled Jake Browning last week, and forced him into making some absolutely terrible decisions. They shouldn’t count on Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith panicking under pressure and throwing the ball right to them, but the Steelers defense has absorbed losses at key positions and still found ways to get their defenders in positions to make plays.
The Steelers are susceptible over the middle and they know it. Teryl Austin even took the rare step of admitting it publicly. That tells me he has a plan to deal with it, and it could involve hiding some defensive backs in unusual situations to try to get a surprise interception. That worked for the Steelers against the Cleveland Browns in Week 2, when Minkah Fitzpatrick moved to outside cornerback and Alex Highsmith dropped into coverage, a combination that the Browns were clearly not ready for. Fitzpatrick got the tip and Highsmith got the pick six. Part of the downside of living in short passing areas, is that if the defense gets ahold of it, they can score easily.
If the Steelers can protect Rudolph, their offense can get going like it did last time against Cincinnati. The defense should feel pretty good about most parts of this matchup, if their patchwork replacements can hold together. I think the defense can do just enough, but a turnover will put them in a bad spot that they can’t recover from and Cincinnati wins a relatively close game.
Steelers 17, Seahawks 13
Last week: Bengals 20-13 (L)
Steelers +4 (-110)
Under 40.5 (-110)
Kenneth Walker III anytime touchdown (+270)
Last week: 1-2 (W Steelers +3, L Under 38.5, Freiermuth over 2.5 rec)
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