Both the Steelers and the Seahawks struggled earlier in the season after being touted as major contenders in the preseason. Both are now in the wild card hunt and need a win to solidify their positions. Pittsburgh is coming off a bye week after getting Ben Roethlisberger back from his second injury. Roethlisberger came on as a backup against the Browns and led the Steelers to a dominant win. With a bye week to get healthy, Roethlisberger should be back to the height of his powers this week. Seattle are in the midst of the chasing pack in the NFC after struggling for much of the year. Truth be told, they should be 3-7 instead of 5-5, but may have started their trademark late season surge. The defense is playing as well as ever, but has made mistakes. The offense will be without Marshawn Lynch, but seems to have found a capable replacement in Thomas Rawls.
Three Keys to the Game:
1. Can the Legion of Boom stop Pittsburgh’s weapons?
There’s no question that Seattle’s legendary secondary are slightly weaker this season. Cary Williams is a weak spot and the unit has given up several big plays in clutch situations that have cost Seattle wins. With Roethlisberger back at full strength, Seattle should be afraid of the weapons that Big Ben has at his disposal. Antonio Brown is making a case as the best receiver in the league. Martavis Bryant forms a potent one-two combination with Brown and can stretch the field. Markus Wheaton is another fast perimeter weapon while Heath Miller is a reliable tight end across the middle. DeAngelo Williams is equally adept at catching the ball out of the backfield as he is running through defensive lines. Unless the Legion of Boom can find a way to slow down Pittsburgh’s offense, Seattle could be staring at another home defeat.
2. Can the Steelers stop the run?
Even with Marshawn Lynch struggling this season, the Seahawks have still been one of the best rushing offenses in the league. Rookie Thomas Rawls has eclipsed Lynch this season, exploding for 239 total yards last week in the win over San Francisco. 209 of those yards came on the ground. Rawls is equally as good at catching the ball as Lynch has been, and threatens to become the centrepiece of Seattle’s offense. But Pittsburgh’s young defense has played well against the run this year. The Steelers have allowed 93 yards per game and just 3.8 yards per carry. They have also given up just three rushing touchdowns. Rawls may have a tough time on Sunday.
3. Protecting Big Ben
With Roethlisberger already missing several games with two separate injuries this season, protecting him will be paramount for the Steelers. Currently holding the AFC’s fifth seed comfortably, Pittsburgh can’t afford to lose Roethlisberger for any more games. But Seattle’s defensive front are more than capable of applying pressure. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are playing well, and the Seahawks have scored 25 sacks this season. The Steelers have allowed 2.3 sacks per game and have struggled to protect their quarterbacks.
Matchup to watch: Antonio Brown vs Richard Sherman
Antonio Brown is Pittsburgh’s main weapon, capable of taking the top off any defense and having a strong rapport with Roethlisberger. Brown is second in total yards so far with 1141 and has seven catches of over 40 yards; most in the league. Richard Sherman is proving that he outranks Darelle Revis as the league’s number one corner this year. In previous years, Sherman would hold down just one side of the field. This year, Sherman has shadowed the opponent’s number one receiver in every game. Sherman has locked down plenty of star receivers this year, including Dez Bryant and A.J. Green. But with Brown playing at such a high level, Sherman will struggle to add Pittsburgh’s number one receiver to his list.
Prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers have enough weapons to spread Seattle out and find weaknesses in the Legion of Boom. The defense can give Thomas Rawls some trouble and Ben Roethlisberger is ready to hit his stride. Another upset at CenturyLink Field looms.