As we’ve done in the past, the keys to the Pittsburgh Steelers winning (or losing) today’s game. Three things that need to happen for them to end up on the right side of the score and vice versa. My prediction is at the bottom.
The Steelers Will Win If…
1. Defensively, they handle all the window dressing.
It’s a short week. And the Carolina Panthers are kings at false keys and reads. Heavy dose of motion and shifts pre-snap to get players out of position or in lose-lose situations. Fall one step behind of some of the weapons they have…look out. You’re not going to catch up. That’s an 11 man battle, not just one guy who has to stay disciplined. Watch for the boot, watch for the end around, the reverse, and whatever else OC Norv Turner throws at this defense.
2. The defense continues to tackle well.
Goes hand-in-hand with the first point. On a short week, it’s all about the fundamentals. Whoever plays with better technique, like tackling posture and the ability to finish, is going to win this game. Like I hinted at above, the Panthers have the talent to make you pay if you don’t. Curtis Samuel, D.J. Moore, Christian McCaffrey and of course, Cam Newton, all serious threats in the open field.
This defense has tackled well over their win streak. But they haven’t faced an arsenal of weapons quite like this yet. Tons of space players that will routinely test this group coming off a physical Ravens’ game.
3. Ben Roethlisberger thrives in the no huddle.
It sure sounds like the Steelers’ offense will run a ton of no huddle to compensate for a short week, using a more selective grouping of plays and an attempt to test a Panthers’ defense on a short week too. But it’s gotta be effective. Otherwise, you’re not going to sustain drives and put out a tired defense against a potent Panthers’ attack.
No huddle can also create miscommunication on your own end too. Someone running the wrong route, a blocking scheme that’s not correct, anyone who isn’t on the same page could result in disaster. Knowing that, it’ll be interesting to see how much James Washington plays and if Jaylen Samuels will still be the #2, like he was last week.
The Steelers Will Lose If…
1. They struggle running against the Panthers 4-3 front.
While the Panthers aren’t a great run defense statistically, the Steelers don’t have a strong track record versus even fronts, Cincinnati aside (and that’s part because the Steelers are familiar with them). So I’m worried that Pittsburgh will struggle with their run game more than the success they’ve had over the past few weeks.
Even though this line has been among the league’s best, I’d argue the best, to face an unfamiliar front with different rules on a short week? Not saying the run game will suck. But it’ll be tough.
2. Vance McDonald doesn’t get involved enough.
McDonald has still made some key plays over the winning streak but this has to be a game where he’s getting peppered with targets. Only once in the Steelers’ last four wins has he gone over five catches or 50 yards and he hasn’t found the end zone since Week Three.
While the Panthers have excellent cover linebackers, it’s still a winnable matchup. And if someone like Washington will have his snap count limited because of the added no huddle, then McDonald truly becomes this team’s #3, even if he already is in terms of production. Gotta find ways to get him the football and ideally, down around the red zone too.
Get this. Inside the 20 this year, he has just one catch for zero yards.
3. Penalties don’t go away.
Say it every week. And it’s not getting better. Eight more of them for over 100 yards last week against the Ravens. The Steelers no longer have the most penalties – hooray – now second behind the Kansas City Chiefs, who have yet to have their bye week, but the 74 Pittsburgh has racked up is about 20 too many.
Some of that circles back to coaching, I agree, but keep in mind a giant chunk of these are happening after the snap. In terms of pre-snap penalties, the Steelers actually rank halfway decent: they’re tied for the fewest such penalties on offense.
Carolina is on the other end of the spectrum, tied for the 6th fewest flags. If those trends hold true for both teams, it’ll be awfully tough for the Steelers to make it five in a row.
Season Prediction Record