The Pittsburgh Steelers lost their grip on their playoff destiny last week after failing to the Seahawks on the west coast 39-30. The loss dropped them to 6-5 on the season and now in a group of five teams competing for two wildcard slots with the same record.
Tonight’s game is one of two remaining at home, so the Steelers cannot afford to squander this opportunity if they hope to make the postseason this year—not that they can afford to lose any more games from here on out without getting some kind of outside help.
Presumably the one thing more than any other that Steelers fans will be looking for in this game is the cornerback position. After the secondary gave up five receiving touchdowns and nearly 12 yards per passing attempt, even head coach Mike Tomlin was finally open to entertaining a change.
Antwon Blake’s tackling has been an issue throughout the year, but he struggled in particular last week, and Ross Cockrell had one of his worst games as well. In response, the Steelers worked Brandon Boykin in some with the starters early in practice, but he did not work there on Thursday, and his role in practice to end the week is unknown.
Whether or not the fourth-year corner receives any playing time tonight, how long, and at whose expense, remains to be seen, but I think it goes without saying that Boykin is holding out hope as much as anybody that he gets to see the field.
Elsewhere on the defense, the Steelers must get pressure on the quarterback, as Matt Hasselbeck is an experienced player who reads defenses and gets the ball out quickly and with accuracy. He has lost a lot since he was once a starter, but if he is given time, he can pick a defense apart, as he has shown in four starts this year.
Markus Wheaton had a bit of a monster game the last time he was inside a stadium, but an encore performance is not likely. A lot of his opportunities were produced as a matter of circumstance based on how the defense was playing the formation.
What he did accomplish, however, was establish himself as a reliable target who has the capability of coming through in the clutch if given the opportunity, and even showed his capacity to be a big-play generator.
Antonio Brown was pretty well handled last week by Seattle’s defense, though he still got his five and 50. But the Colts don’t have the firepower to keep him locked out, so expect him to be in line for a big game. After all, he had no problem with this same secondary a year ago.
Over the course of the past two games, the Steelers haven’t really run the ball much, even against some of the less quality run defenses in the league. I’m not sure if DeAngelo Williams is in line for a bigger workload on the ground in this game or not.