The Pittsburgh Steelers have a road test Sunday in the St. Louis Rams as they look to move to 2-1 on the season. The Rams are coming off of a surprising Week 2 loss to the Washington Redskins so they’ll be looking to atone for that by ambushing the Steelers at home.
Below are seven things that I believe the Steelers will need to do Sunday in order to come away with a win.
Control the Donald – Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is worth all of the hype that he gets. He is not only stout against the run, he can also find his way to the quarterback even when double-teamed. Needless to say, Steelers center Cody Wallace is going to have his hands full on Sunday and he’ll definitely need help from either David DeCastro or Ramon Foster depending on the side that Donald lines up on. As far as their running game goes, the Steelers offense would be wise to run away from Donald and specifically outside of the left guard as that’s where the Rams defense appears to be most vulnerable. In other words, expect to see DeCastro pulling to the left quite a few times in this game.
Ring the Air Bell – The Steelers offense will get starting running back Le’Veon Bell back for this game now that he’s served his two-game suspension and while he can be effective Sunday outside on the ground, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger should try to use him in the passing game as much as possible in order to get the football out of his hands quickly. Bell caught 83 passes last season and on Sunday he should start his 2015 season off with a minimum of 5 catches.
Don’t Get Cook-ed – The Steelers defense will be without the services of inside linebacker Ryan Shazier on Sunday and this is probably music to the ears of Rams tight end Jared Cook, who led the team in receptions last season with 52. Cook already has 10 receptions to start the 2015 season and three of those have resulted in explosive plays. The Steelers defense has already allowed 14 receptions to tight ends so far this season, so the Rams would be foolish not to target Cook as many times as possible on Sunday.
Tavon Calling – Rams running back/wide receiver Tavon Austin is very fast and because of that, they attempt to get the football in his hands as often as possible via jet-sweeps and short passes. While Austin has yet to register an explosive play so far this season, he does have 9 for his carrer. Additionally, he’s averaging 5.55 yards per touch heading into Sunday’s game. He’s also already returned one punt 75 yards for a touchdown so the Steelers punt coverage team has to be on their toes as well in this game.
Foil Foles On Play Action – Rams quarterback Nick Foles appears to be a good fit in St. Louis. Not only can he deliver an accurate deep ball, he generally makes good decisions. Where Foles really has excelled so far this season is off of play action as he’s completed 8-of-12 attempts for 174 yards and a touchdown when using it. Last week against the Washington Redskins, Foles’ lone touchdown pass in the game came off of play action and it was a 40-yard strike to wide receiver Kenny Britt.
Climb the Ogletree – Because of the stellar play of the Rams defensive line so far this season, linebacker Alec Ogletree has been freed up to make quite a few plays. He’s currently tied for third in the league through two games with 23 total tackles and that includes the 15 he was in on last week against the Redskins. Seven of his tackles have resulted in one or less yards gained so far this season so the Steelers offense needs to make sure they get a body on the Georgia product as often as possible.
Don’t Get Exploded – Yes, that’s exploded and not exploited even though they roughly have the same meaning when it comes to football. How did the Rams beat the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1? Well, for starters, in addition to the aforementioned Austin returning a punt for a touchdown in that game, the Rams offense also hit the Seahawks defense up for 8 total explosive plays through the air. In fact, only two of their 11 offensive possessions in that game lasted more than 6 plays and four of them consisted of three and outs. The Steelers defense can’t give up yardage in chunks Sunday. Make the Rams earn their points by putting together long drives.