Six Points: Steelers vs. Seahawks
Despite having dealt with injuries to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and marquee running back Le'Veon Bell, the Pittsburgh Steelers hold down the top wild card in the AFC as they prepare to visit the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
Last week's bye came at a much-needed time for Roethlisberger, allowing the swelling in his injured foot to subside in advance of his first trip to Seattle. Pittsburgh is two games behind first-place Cincinnati in the AFC North and needs a win to keep its division title hopes alive.
The Seahawks have yet to beat a team with a winning record despite holding a lead in the fourth quarter of every game. Running back Marshawn Lynch could be gone for the remainder of the regular season but rookie Thomas Rawls has been sensational in his place.
Here are three keys to the game for both the Steelers and the Seahawks.
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1. Exploit Seattle's other cornerback
Now that Richard Sherman is roaming around the field to cover the opposing team's top receiver, Martavis Bryant will have to win his one-on-one battle with either Cary Williams or DeShawn Shead. Roethlisberger will still surely look at his favorite target in Antonio Brown, but hitting Bryant for a few big plays early will loosen up the Legion of Boom.
2. Give Ben time
Seattle's front seven presents a major problem for an offensive line down its two best players (Maurkice Pouncey and Kelvin Beachum). The Steelers need to figure out a way to give Roethlisberger time to throw, even if it means using tight end Heath Miller as a blocker.
3. Slow their Rawls
Needless to say, the Steelers can't allow Rawls to go off for 209 yards as he did last week. Pittsburgh's fifth-ranked run defense should be able to get some push up front against Seattle's subpar offensive line, and as long as the linebackers tackle well and finish the job, the Steelers should be able to contain Rawls.
1. Shadow Antonio Brown
Richard Sherman typically draws the assignment of covering the opposition's top receiver and could be facing his toughest test yet. Brown endured a midseason swoon when Roethlisberger was injured, but he has been unstoppable the past two games with a staggering 27 receptions for 423 yards and two TDs. Roethlisberger is also one of the few quarterbacks willing to test Sherman.
2. Keep pounding the rookie
While there might be a tendency to dismiss' Rawls 209-yard performance as a bit of a fluke, particularly given the opposition, the hard-running rookie also churned out 169 yards on the ground at Cincinnati in Week 6. It's no coincidence that quarterback Russell Wilson had his best game of the season with Rawls carrying the ball 30 times.
3. Beware the tight end - again
The Seahawks have been burned repeatedly by tight ends, giving up huge games to Cincinnati's Tyler Eifert and Carolina's Greg Olsen. St. Louis' Jared Cook and both San Francisco tight ends, Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald, also had big games against Seattle. Moral of story: Keep an eye on Miller, a longtime favorite target of Roethlisberger.