Steelers Vs. Panthers: 5 Keys To Victory In Week 15

The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their fourteenth game of the 2022 regular season on the road and on Sunday afternoon against the Carolina Panthers, and they’ll enter that contest listed as a slight underdog. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do on the road Sunday afternoon to come away with their sixth win of the 2022 season to complete a sweep of the NFC South division.

Be Meat Eaters Up Front – The Panthers’ identity on offense is to run the football and run it a ton. They attempt to do so with a lot of beef up front and specifically, with their “Arby’s package” that includes up to eight offensive linemen on the field at the same time with one even lined up in the backfield as a fullback. With the Steelers defensive front being ate up by the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday, you can count on the Panthers offense attempting to pick up where they left off. Against the Seattle Seahawks last week, the Panthers registered 223 rushing yards and only 30 of those came from quarterback Sam Darnold, who had the offenses longest play in that game, a 26-yard scramble in the third quarter. In fact, the Panthers’ longest run outside of that one was just 16 yards. They just ran it a ton with 21 non-quarterback runs resulting in gains of 4 yards or longer.

Third Darnold & Long – For the entire season, the Panthers offense has been bad on third and longs when dropping back to pass. In fact, on 73 third down dropbacks when 6 or more yards were needed, the Panthers’ offense has converted just 13.7% of the time and that’s last in the NFL when it comes that particular stat. In the two games that Darnold has played in these last two games, the Panthers’ offense has been even worse when passing on third down and 6 and more as the unit has converted just 12.5% on eight dropbacks. Darnold completed just three of those seven attempts and was sacked once. It seems pretty simple here and that’s get Darnold in third and six or more several times and the Steelers defense should have a great shot at getting off the field.

Don’t Get Burned By Burns – The Panthers’ pass rush is led by defensive end Brian Burns as the former first round draft pick out of Florida State leads his team in sacks with 10.5 and in quarterback hits with 18. Burns can rush from both sides of the line and has registered sacks from both. The Steelers two starting tackles, Dan Moore Jr. and Chukwuma Okorafor, are sure to have their hands full with Burns on Sunday and especially on obvious passing downs. Those two tackles will need help whenever possible in the form of either a chipping running back or tight end. Burns, much like Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt can be a game-wrecker if not kept in check. He uses all sorts of pass rush moves and counters and has the speed and power to beat anyone he lines up across.

Gut It Out, Up The Gut – The Panthers’ run defense has been suspect at times this season. In total, they have allowed an average of 128.8 yards a game rushing entering Week 15 and that’s ranked 24th overall in the NFL. 4.54 yards per tote against is ranked 21st overall, if you like the old school stats. On runs scored up the middle this season, the Panthers have allowed an average of 5.51 yards per carry and that’s on 81 such plays. In short, the Steelers need to focus on running up the gut with running backs Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren as much as possible on Sunday.

Tackle The Catch, Tackle It Hard – The Panthers enter the Sunday game with their top two wide receivers banged up quite a bit. D.J. Moore is dealing with an ankle injury while Laviska Shenault is dealing with a shoulder injury. Both entered the weekend listed as questionable. Playing physical with these two wide receivers on Sunday and especially after the catch, could pay dividends as the game goes on. Against the Seahawks last Sunday, Moore and Shenault combined to catch four passes for 31 yards and the later had all four catches. Holding those two to a similar combined stat line on Sunday would be huge. Hit them early, hit them late and make sure to hit them hard after every catch.

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