After spending the week off getting right, the Pittsburgh Steelers are back in action this evening, traveling for the second time this year to the west coast to take on the defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks.
Of course, the 2013 Super Bowl champions have not looked quite as fearsome this year en route to a 5-5 record. And it should be noted that the Steelers did manage to win their earlier west coast game, which is a rarity.
There are a number of things to watch in this game coming out of the bye week, starting with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who had to come off the bench in the last game and played quite well.
But when your franchise quarterback is nursing an injury, it’s always something you want to monitor, especially a lower body injury, where you are looking at his mobility in the pocket. That is an area in which he struggled two weeks ago, and the Seahawks’ front line, at home, can certainly pose some problems.
Center Cody Wallace got manhandled a number of times in the running game against the Browns in Pittsburgh. He will have a tough time in both facets of the game against Seattle’s interior rushers.
In terms of matchups, we’re obviously looking at Antonio Brown versus Richard Sherman, which should promise to be the best matchup, or at least one, that we see all year. Brown should manage to find his numbers, but look for Roethlisberger to get other people involved as a result, especially after the Seahawks just lost a corner opposite Sherman.
Today, I’m looking to see Markus Wheaton get involved in the offense. He has just seven receptions in the five games since Martavis Bryant has been back, during which the second-year receiver has put up over 400 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 20 yards per catch.
I also expect to see the ground game get back on track after being thrust to the backburner with a slow start and the need to move to the no huddle with Roethlisberger off the bench. Maybe we even see a bit of a rotation in the backfield, and more Roosevelt Nix.
On the other side of the ball, stopping the run is going to be the major issue, as the Seahawks have rushed for nearly 150 yards per game. but the Steelers do enter the game as one of the top run-stopping defenses in the league. The defense may try to keep Steve McLendon on the field and trust its pass rush to get home.
Speaking of which, Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt could stand to have a nice game as pass rushers against the Seahawks’ struggling offensive line, which has allowed Russell Wilson to be sacked 35 times already in 10 games. In spite of that, however, he has been protecting the ball well.
The biggest key to this game might be how well the secondary can hold up when Wilson is able to scramble out of the pocket and buy time. The Seahawks may not have a spectacular group of wide receivers, but they have several players who can step up and make a play, including rookie Tyler Lockett, as well as tight end Jimmy Graham, whom the Steelers will undoubtedly scheme for—perhaps to their detriment.