The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their second regular season game of 2019 Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field against the Seattle Seahawks as they look to notch their first win. Below are seven key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with a big home win.
Make Sunday a blue Chris-mas – Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler said it all on Thursday regarding the Seahawks offense and what needs to be done to limit the production of that unit.
“Those guys run the ball for a good reason because that is what they do best,” Butler said. “[Chris] Carson is a big man with dadgum strong legs. He is hard to get on the ground. They have the team built for controlling the ball and stuff like that, keeping the offense off the field. Everything you think about old-school football, which is eat up the clock and stuff like that, time of possession, turnovers and all that stuff that usually works out positive in the past and that is what they are trying to do. So, what we have to do, number one, is stop them running the ball and number two, be effective when they go play action. Because how effective they are in play action is determined by how effective they are running the football, we have to be able to do both. Get them in third down, get them in third and long and stuff like that.”
The Seahawks offense will try to run through running back Chris Carson so it’s imperative the Steelers defense shut him down early. If that doesn’t happen, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson will become even more dangerous as will the Seattle wide receivers, which collectedly isn’t that great of a unit.
Release the Vanimal – Against the New England Patriots in Week 1 the Steelers offense failed to get the football in the hands of tight end Vance McDonald until late in the game and after it was already decided. The Patriots defense did a masterful job of playing man coverage against the Steelers offense and that included them having safety Patrick Chung spending most of the night on McDonald. Against the Seahawks on Sunday at Heinz Field, the Steelers offense figures to face a lot more zone coverages and that should result in McDonald being open a lot more often. This game sets up well for McDonald to make huge contributions so quarterback Ben Roethlisberger should be looking for his top tight end early and often. Last weekend the Cincinnati Bengals tight ends combined to have nine receptions for 93 yards. McDonald could have a similar stat line Sunday against the Seahawks.
Rookie dare – With Seahawks wide receiver David Moore out for Sunday’s game against the Steelers, fellow wide receivers Tyler Lockett and rookie D.K. Metcalf will once again try to be the main receiving targets for Wilson. Lockett is experienced and dangerous and the Steelers might want to pay him a little extra attention. As for Metcalf, while the rookie did have a good debut last week, he couldn’t take over the game. He’s big and fast, but still not an accomplished route runner. He’s also mainly just a left side receiver. The Steelers defense needs to make Metcalf take over the game Sunday and I’m willing to bet he can’t. He had two explosive play receptions last week and one shouldn’t have happened.
Conner strong up the middle – The Seahawks defense limited the Bengals offense to just 34 yards rushing last Sunday. That said, the Bengals managed to throw for over 400 yards in that game. The Seahawks aren’t likely to have defensive tackle Poona Ford against the Steelers due to an injury, so rookie defensive tackle Bryan Mone is likely going to have to play a lot of snaps alongside Al Woods. The Steelers should be expected to run inside the tackles on Sunday with running back James Conner and especially if they can get an offensive lineman to the second level on a linebacker. It will be disappointing if the Steelers run success rates against the Seahawks on Sunday aren’t near 50 percent.
Frontal assault expected – With apologies to the Seahawks offensive line, which could include Mike Iupati at left guard on Sunday. that unit should be a match for the Steelers front four or five depending on personnel used. The Bengals defense sacked Wilson four times last Sunday and pressured him several other times. Seahawks right tackle Germain Ifedi doesn’t match up well against Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt, so he’ll need help throughout the Sunday game from a tight end or running back. Steelers defensive tackle Javon Hargrave and defensive end Cameron Heyward both have favorable matchups as well. If the Steelers can shut the Seahawks running game down early, there’s a chance that the defensive front could have a huge day in the sack column.
Fix the shorts – The Steelers offense was miserable in Week 1 in short-yardage situations and especially when the game was still competitive in the second quarter. Had the Steelers offense converted their first three and-one opportunities, who really knows how the game would have unfolded from that point forward, Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner must start trusting in the play calls on the prepared sheet and especially in short-yardage situations. Conner is a more than capable short-yardage running back and the Steelers offensive line is one of the best in the NFL. Converting short-yardage against the Seahawks defense on Sunday should be easy to do.
Communication major – The Steelers defense once had several miscommunications against the Patriots last Sunday night and those seemingly played a part in at least two of the three touchdowns scored against the unit. The Steelers should have starting safety Sean Davis back on Sunday against the Seahawks and his presence will hopefully help in the communication department. Additionally, rookie inside linebacker Devin Bush should keep slowly improving and that hopefully means less mistakes.