The Next Game for the Pittsburgh Steelers over the course of the past several weeks has been The Biggest Game of the Season. This week is no different, thanks to the fact that they lost last week to the Buffalo Bills. That loss threw them into a win-and-in scenario. While there is still the possibility that they can reach the postseason and lose to the New York Jets, it becomes complicated and involves the Houston Texans defeating the Tennessee Titans in the most probable scenario in Week 17.
So how do they avoid another disappointment? There are three keys, offensively. Protect the quarterback better. Protect the ball better. And run the ball more consistently, if the game circumstances and performance allows it.
They failed in each of these three areas last week, so some reason asking Devlin Hodges to drop back to pass 42 times versus 14 total designed runs throughout the night. James Conner, who told reporters that he wasn’t on a pitch count in his first game back, only carried the ball eight times, and had several positive plays, including two runs of 15-plus yards.
Seemingly no worse for wear from his return to the field a week ago, I would expect Conner to be more involved, and involved more consistently, during today’s game, particularly as the ball-carrier, but expect others to share that load as well.
With JuJu Smith-Schuster set to return, that takes a lot of pressure off of James Washington and Diontae Johnson, who have, generally, stepped up to the plate during the four games that he has missed. Assuming that Smith-Schuster is able to get a reasonable workload, that should provide some more one-on-one opportunities for the young wide receivers.
That won’t matter if Devlin Hodges can’t get them the ball, however, and that means they have to solve some of the issues in pass protection that they had last week, because the Jets are going to throw a lot of pressure from many different angles today.
Defensively, they have to tackle better. This was a key area of weakness on Sunday and allowed the Bills to run the ball with fairly consistent success. Even though Buffalo only scored 17 points, their run game kept the Steelers on their heels, and on the field, more than they would have liked.
A note must be made for special teams. Jordan Berry has had a rough couple of weeks. For a team situated as the Steelers are, field position is often the key battle, and they can’t afford to lose that. Berry is still overall having the best season of his career. He has to show why over the final two weeks.