The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their sixth regular season game of 2021 at home on Sunday night against the Seattle Seahawks and they’ll enter that contest marked as a favorite of more than three points. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game on Sunday night to come away with their third win of 2021 season.
Zone Out On Defense – While the Seahawks won’t have quarterback Russell Wilson on Sunday night against the Steelers they will still have their two dynamic wide receivers in D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Locket. Those two can certainly produce big plays even with Geno Smith at quarterback and the Steelers defense must be mindful of that. The Steelers would be wise to play a lot of zone defensive coverages on Sunday night in an effort to better keep a lid on the backend of the secondary. Zone defenses can include several different blitzes, which wouldn’t be bad to use against Smith, who has been known to be skittish in the pocket at the least little sign of pressure. The Steelers defense must make smith have long sustaining drives throughout his first start since 2017 and in the process make him throw the ball into zone open zone windows. The last thing the Steelers defense needs to do Sunday night is play a lot of man coverage as either Metcalf or Lockett or both might just make them pay for it with an explosive touchdown reception or two.
Ben Should Put His Money Where His Muth Is – Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said this past week that he must do a better job of getting the football to rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth more moving forward and especially now that wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has been lost for the remainder of the season to a shoulder injury. Starting Sunday night, we’ll see if Roethlisberger is willing to put his money where his Muth is. Freiermuth can be a great new third down target for Roethlisberger moving forward and especially knowing that the Penn State product has a knack for catching every football thrown his way. Freiermuth should also be an excellent red zone target for Roethlisberger moving forward. The Steelers can help mitigate the loss of Smith-Schuster by using a few more 12 personnel groupings. Those groupings consist of one running back and two tight ends. To date, the Seahawks have allowed opposing tight ends to register 23 receptions for 233 yards and three touchdowns in their first five games. Looks for Freiermuth to have at least four receptions on Sunday night and maybe even as many as eight with a touchdown or two mixed in.
Loads Of Harris-ment – Against the Denver Broncos last Sunday, and like I pretty much predicted would be the case, Steelers rookie running back Najee Harris had his best game of the season as the first round draft pick out of Alabama rushed for 122 yards and a touchdown on 23 total carries in addition to catching two passes for 20 yards. To better contextualize Harris’ game against the Broncos, 16 of the 23 (69.6%) runs that he had were successful. He would have been able to add to his totals had he not cramped up in the final quarter of play. On Sunday night at Heinz Field, the Steelers offense will face a Seahawks defense that has allowed opposing running backs to register a successful run rate of 56.3%. Need I say more? The Steelers used quite a few insert runs and RPO runs last Sunday against the Broncos and Harris made the most of them. Another 23 or more carries should be in the cards for Harris on Sunday night. If allowed to rush that many times or more, we should see another big game from Harris.
Jam Up Jamal – The Seahawks have one of the best blitzing defensive backs in the NFL in safety Jamal Adams. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin rightfully praised Adams and his play this past Tuesday. “That strong safety, we’ve got our hands full in terms of trying to minimize him, not only in terms of in the box, in terms of what he does in the run game, but he’s just an outstanding blitzer. Tomlin said of Adams. “I spent some time this summer delving back into 2020 tape and just looking at some opponents and looking at some players. This guy is the most dynamic secondary blitzer in football. The rate in which he gets to the quarterback, that is something to be respected. He gets on backs. He consistently beats backs in the blitz game in the ways that
linebackers beat backs. Our backs are going to be challenged from a pickup standpoint. Our wideouts are going to be challenged on the perimeter running plays trying to minimize his impact in that area.” It’s hard to add much to what Tomlin said about Adams. In short, the Steelers offense must account for Adams throughout Sunday’s game and especially when it comes to him getting after Roethlisberger.
Maintain Good Contain – Smuth might be 31 years of age now but the Seahawks veteran backup quarterback can still use his legs. He ran three times for 23 yards against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 5 in relief of Wilson. Smith has rushed for 682 yards and seven touchdowns so far in his NFL career and 604 of those came in his first two seasons, which was 30 total games played. He’s not afraid to leave the pocket at the slightest hint of pressure so the Steelers defensive front must rush smart and stay in their designated lanes on Sunday night. If Smith isn’t spied on very closely on Sunday, he might just flip the field a time or two via scrambles. Additionally, Smith should be considered a threat to scramble for a first down on third and long situations if forced to hold the football longer than 2.8 seconds. Make no mistake about it, Old Man Smith can still run.