Fearless Prediction: Packers-Steelers
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 p.m.ET
TV: FOX (Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver)
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Packers’ pass protection has been
better of late, but the 48 times QB Aaron Rodgers has been sacked
still leads the league – by eight. The offensive line will be under
pressure to pick up the correct assignments against the Steelers’
well-disguised blitz packages. When given time, Rodgers will be
aggressive against a Pittsburgh secondary that is soft underneath.
With the NFL’s top two run defenses on the field, the Steelers’
much-maligned offensive line also has its work cut out. But coach
Mike Tomlin still wants an increased focus on the ground game to
help alleviate some of the pressure on QB Ben Roethlisberger.
FAST FACTS: Packers coach Mike McCarthy is a Pittsburgh
native. … RB Rashard Mendenhall needs 60 rushing yards to become
the seventh Steeler to reach 1,000.
- CB Charles Woodson was a non-participant in practice
Thursday, though his conspicuous absence wasn’t for an injury
reason. The defensive leader was tending to a personal matter. He
is expected to rejoin the team Friday. Woodson was on his usual
limited schedule Wednesday because of a lingering shoulder
injury, which shouldn’t keep him from playing Sunday.
- LB Nick Barnett exceeded the team’s expectations when he went
through the full practice Thursday. Barnett was targeted for
limited work, but his surgically repaired knee responded well
after he was held out Wednesday to alleviate swelling that has
cropped up after the past couple games. Barnett should make the
start Sunday at the Pittsburgh Steelers.
- DE Johnny Jolly had limited work for the second straight day
as he recovers from a knee injury he aggravated in the last game.
Jolly didn’t practice most of last week but was fine to play, so
the same is expected for Sunday’s game.
- CB Brandon Underwood continues to be bothered by a hip
strain, which has kept him from practicing this week. The rookie
suffered the injury in a special-teams role in the last game. His
availability for Sunday’s game isn’t looking promising.
- LB Jeremy Thompson is the only player who has been ruled out
for the game. Thompson is recovering from nerve damage in his
neck, an injury he suffered in practice Dec. 4. Although Thompson
isn’t expected to play the rest of the season, he remains on the
- WR Hines Ward went through his first full practice Thursday.
He has a hamstring injury that limited his effectiveness last
week vs. Cleveland.
- C Justin Hartwig missed his second practice after having a
knee drained of fluid. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said he
is optimistic he will play Sunday. Doug Legursky backs him up.
- WR Limas Sweed, No. 4 on the depth chart, missed his second
day, home sick. He has one catch this season, in the third game.
- WR Mike Wallace has only seven of his 32 receptions in the
past five games. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians says defenses
started targeting him more after his fast start in his rookie
- RB Mewelde Moore, who lost his third-down job to Rashard
Mendenhall last week, has only 10 yards rushing and one catch in
his past four games.
Inside The Camps
Ryan Pickett turned a positive corner Thursday in his
recovery from a hamstring pull.
The veteran nose tackle was on the practice field — albeit
only for the jog-through portion at the start — for the first time
since he suffered the injury in the Dec. 7 win over the Baltimore
“It’s a hamstring. They’re kind of tricky,” Pickett said.
“But, I felt pretty good today.”
Pickett also went through some testing and rehab work
Thursday as he tries to get well enough to return to action Sunday
at the Pittsburgh Steelers after missing a game.
“That’s my goal,” said Pickett, who is counting on
practicing in team segments Friday. “Hopefully, I’ll feel good
tomorrow. I would know for sure tomorrow.”
Head coach Mike McCarthy indicated the team won’t be rushing
Pickett back from the injury. The Packers (9-4), winners of five
straight games, are in good shape to qualify for the playoffs. They
likely need only one win in their final three regular-season games
to clinch a wild-card berth.
“We’re trying to bring him back in steps,” McCarthy said.
“We’ll see how he does tomorrow.”
Pickett has been the anchor of a defense that has been stout
against the run this season.
The Packers rank second in the league, allowing an average
of only 85 rushing yards per game (just behind Pittsburgh’s
What’s more, Green Bay has built a streak of 10 games in not
giving up 100 rushing yards to an opposing player. The last
100-yard producer was the St. Louis Rams’ Steven Jackson in the
Packers’ Week 3 win Sept. 27.
“That’s been our main point every week — we have to stop
the run,” Pickett said. “If we make a team one-dimensional, we kind
of have our way with ’em.”
Pittsburgh, which won six of its first eight games this
season after winning a Super Bowl, is desperate to win one as the
losses and criticism pile up on the Steelers.
Even one of their most admired former teammates has taken
potshots at them.
“The Steelers are done,” Jerome Bettis said on a national
radio show this week. “When you lose your spirit, then everything
is pretty much gone. And that’s what I saw when they hit the field
against the Cleveland Browns. When you don’t have the enthusiasm to
get up for a game in which you have to win, then it tells me that
the leadership isn’t there.”
This comes on the heels of safety Ryan Clark lashing out at
the Pittsburgh media and Steelers fans, and after Hines Ward
questioned quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s intent when he was held
out of their Nov. 29 game in Baltimore because of headaches after a
Roethlisberger said then that Ward’s comments “hurt” and
Thursday he had words for his former teammate, Bettis.
“Jerome who?” Roethlisberger wondered. “I guess he’s
entitled to his opinion. He’s not on this team, he’s not in this
locker room. So he’s just taking an outside view as all of you guys
are. If you don’t know I don’t think you should speak on it.”
Their five-game losing streak, however, has been the talk of
Pittsburgh and across the football world as they try to avoid tying
their longest losing streak in 40 years when they play Green Bay,
winners of five straight, Sunday in Heinz Field.
“Beat anybody,” nose tackle Casey Hampton declared. “You
don’t give a damn who you beat at this point. Just getting back on
track, something to get you out of the funk, getting us out of this
mentality of losing games.”
PREDICTION: Steelers 27-23