Steelers look to continue Packers' struggles
The Green Bay Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in a classic Super Bowl to conclude the 2010 season.
Maybe Sunday night's game at Pittsburgh would have set the stage for a Super Bowl clash this year. Instead, the surging Steelers are two-touchdown favorites against the slumping Packers for this not-fit-for-primetime matchup between traditional powers.
Green Bay won four of its first five games before Aaron Rodgers' suffered a broken right collarbone in the first quarter of the Week 6 game at Minnesota. The Packers lost that game and are 1-3 in Brett Hundley's four starts. They lost 23-0 at home to Baltimore last week, which snapped the Packers' 175-game shutout-free streak, which was the fifth-longest in the league.
The Steelers, meanwhile, are winners of five in a row, including a 40-17 shellacking of Tennessee last Thursday night.
Offensively, Le'Veon Bell leads the NFL in rushing yards and Antonio Brown leads the NFL in receptions. Defensively, the Steelers rank second in the NFL in scoring while surrendering an average of 16.5 points.
This appears to be "Mission Impossible" for Green Bay. In the five games with Hundley, the Packers are averaging 13.4 points. During Pittsburgh's winning streak, it hasn't allowed more than 17 points. The Steelers rank second in the league with 34 sacks.
"When you go through the statistics, when you put the opponent up as we did on Tuesday with our offense, there's a lot of production," Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said of Pittsburgh's defense. "There's a lot of production throughout their defense and especially their defensive front. That's a real tribute to not only what they're doing and how they're doing it but really to their personnel. This is an excellent, excellent opportunity for our offense."
And a huge challenge for Hundley, who ranks No. 34 in passer rating and owns two touchdowns vs. seven interceptions. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, however, is taking nothing for granted.
"I've been impressed that their offense hasn't been reduced in any way," he said. "They can change the pace on you, they spread you out, they personnel you. It speaks to their level of confidence in his preparedness. The play is the play, you know. Sometimes you play well, sometimes you don't but, when I watch the video, I'm just impressed with their level of confidence in him by what they ask him to do and the manner in which they function, which appears to be very normal."
The Packers are in ninth place in the NFC playoff race but can take solace in what they did last year, when they were 4-6 and losers of four in a row before running off eight consecutive wins to get to the NFC Championship Game.
That team, of course, had Rodgers at the controls. He'll be sidelined for at least the next three games. Still, at least there's some positive history.
"This is one game and we're focused on getting this game and getting a sixth game," McCarthy said. "Adversity experiences are all definitely things you can pay forward because you have to know what it feels like, you know what it looks like, you know what it smells like.
"At the end of the day, this is its own unique situation. I love the way our guys are working. I can't say enough about their work ethic, their prep. But we know it takes a lot more than that to win games."
That's a formula the Steelers have found since getting crushed at home by Jacksonville 30-9 in Week 5. They played their best game of the season in routing the Titans. Tennessee limited Bell to 46 yards on 12 carries -- the fourth consecutive game in which Bell has failed to average 4.0 yards per carry -- but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made it pay by throwing for 299 yards and four touchdowns.
Green Bay's run defense has been superb the past three games. If those trends continue, it will be up to Roethlisberger to move the offense again.
"We have to be able to ring up the scoreboard and get yards in chunks by any and every means," Tomlin said. "Sometimes we're going to step into the stadium and people are going to be committed to minimizing our passing game. And we've got to take that running game when it's given to us, and vice versa."
Coming off their mini-bye, Pittsburgh listed only five players on its injury report. Cornerback Joe Haden (fibula) and receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (hamstring) did not practice on Wednesday.
Green Bay's injury report was filled with 12 players, with outside linebacker Clay Matthews (groin), defensive tackle Kenny Clark (ankle) and running backs Aaron Jones (knee) and Ty Montgomery (ribs) not participating to start the week.