Fearless Prediction: Packers-Steelers

Game Snapshot

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 p.m.ET

SURFACE: Grass

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.

Personnel News

Packers:

  • 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

    53-man roster.

     

Steelers:

  • 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

    season.

     

  • 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

Packers:

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

Ravens.

“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

top-rated 84.9).

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.”

Steelers:

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

concussion.

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