As we’ve done in the past, the keys to the Pittsburgh Steelers winning (or losing) this week’s game. Three things that need to happen for them to end up on the right side of the score and vice versa for today’s game against the Los Angeles Rams.
My prediction is at the bottom.
The Steelers Will Win If…
1. They Go 2×2 To Force LA Into Zone Coverage
Rams have quality cover corners after trading for Jalen Ramsey, who is sure to shadow JuJu Smith-Schuster for the entire game. Steelers can move JuJu around, which helps free him up, but the man-heavy Rams’ defense most often plays zone against balanced, 2×2 formations. That’s when you can win with zone concepts, attack the seam, and allow JuJu some breathing room.
2. Mason Rudolph Stays Poised In The Pocket
Rudolph’s pocket presence has disappointingly regressed since the bye and even if the Steelers’ protect things well and their o-line shuffle works, he’s bound to be under duress facing the Rams’ fierce rush. He’s going to have to navigate well, know when to climb, when to bail, and how to avoid creating his own sacks. All three sacks allowed the last two games have been his fault. Can’t make it easy on Aaron Donald and company. Make them earn their pressure.
3. Linebackers Don’t Bite On Playaction
Expect the Rams to use plenty of playaction, especially on 1st and 10 and the first play of drives. That’s where their offense seems to function best. Steelers’ linebackers have struggled in coverage and have been vulnerable to biting on run fakes. Like the 49ers, Sean McVay and company do a great job making their runs and playaction look the same. And they have the talent to make you pay for guessing incorrectly.
The Steelers Will Lose If…
1. The Rams’ Trickery Works
Don’t be surprised if McVay reaches into his bag of tricks in this one. They’ve run eight fake punts since 2017, punter Johnny Hekker was a QB in high school, including one successful one already this season. Prior to the bye against Cincinnati, they pulled out a reverse flea flicker that went for a 65 yard TD to Cooper Kupp. Steelers have to expect something fancy from the Rams. If I’m Danny Smith, I wouldn’t go all-out on any punt rushes.
2. LA’s Specialists Win The Field Position Battle
Think of the Rams a bit like the Baltimore Ravens. Great kicker and punter. Greg Zuerlein has one of the NFL’s strongest legs and even at Heinz Field, they’ll basically be in field goal range as soon as they cross Pittsburgh’s 40. Hekker, in addition to being a threat to throw the ball, has a field flipping legs. They can come away with three points from further distances than most teams while Hekker is capable of pinning a struggling’ Steelers’ offense deep. Steelers have to respond with strong performances of their own from Chris Boswell and Jordan Berry, two guys who have played very well this season.
3. Running Backs Don’t Help Out Their Blockers
Obviously, the Steelers’ o-line has to turn in an A+ performance. But the backs gotta start returning the favor and helping out their line. Break a tackle, create, finish in the second and third levels. We talk plenty about “next man up.” Jaylen Samuels, Trey Edmunds, and maybe even Tony Brooks-James (his speed is an interesting compliment to the group) must turn in varsity performances.
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