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 in tonight’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
My prediction is at the bottom.
THE STEELERS WILL WIN IF…
1. Ben Roethlisberger’s INT-less streak continues
Roethlisberger hasn’t thrown an INT in five straight games, his last 173 pass attempts. It’s the longest in-season consecutive game streak of his NFL career, if you can believe it. And there’s a reason why the Steelers are 4-1 over that span, with the one loss certainly not falling at Roethlisberger’s feet. They’ll need more of that turnover-free play from himself and everyone else in this game. Do that and as the turnaround shows, your chances of winning skyrocket.
2. James Pierre Redeems Himself
Unfortunate that Joe Haden can’t play in this one, missing his second game with a foot sprain. That means James Pierre will start, and means he’ll have a chance to redeem himself today. Pierre was the man burned by Ja’Marr Chase at the end of the first half in Week 3’s loss, a play Mike Tomlin accurately cited as a turning point. Pierre has grown and played well as of late, but he’ll certainly be tested by the Bengals to see if he can learn from his mistakes.
3. Run Game Gets Back On Track
Pittsburgh was unable to take advantage of a poor run defense a week ago against the Chargers. Their sledding gets much tougher this time around, though their mission remains the same: Run the ball. Success rate is important, but they were over 50% last week, and clearly, their performance wasn’t good enough. This run game doesn’t need the home run, but it needs some doubles, not infield singles. First down success is an important metric. Pittsburgh ranks 31st in the league, averaging just four yards per play.
THE STEELERS WILL LOSE IF…
1. Joe Mixon Repeats His Success
On the other side of the ball, the Bengals will look to replicate Mixon’s success from their first meeting. In Week 3, he rushed for 90 yards at five yards per carry. Cincinnati’s run game, like Pittsburgh’s, isn’t explosive, but it’s consistently successful, and Mixon is a big part of that with his blend of power and vision. Obviously, the Steelers’ run defense has been poor, and the entire front seven must do a better job holding the point of attack.
2. Pass Rush Is Good But Not Good Enough
It’s reasonable to expect the Steelers’ pass rush to improve from their first meeting. At least, it can’t get any worse, not sacking or even hitting Joe Burrow once in Week 3 (it helped he only threw the ball 18 times). T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith’s return is huge and their impact must be felt. A splash play from one – or both – of those guys would be welcomed. Highsmith has to string together pass rushing performances, not just show up every couple weeks with a big game.
3. Return Game Makes A Mistake
Been awhile since the team hasn’t had Ray-Ray McCloud as its return man. Whoever will handle those roles today, Anthony Miller, Anthony McFarland, someone else, will be pretty new to that spot, which always increases the chance of a mistake. A bad judgment, a muffed punt, a fumble on the actual return. Ball security and good decision-making is all I care about in a game like this. Don’t be the storyline of the game.
SEASON PREDICTION RECORD