Going on the road in the NFL into a hostile environment where thousands of fans will be screaming and yelling for hours is a difficult challenge for any team.
The challenge is heightened when the home team is the defending AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers who are coming off an embarrassing defeat against their bitter rivals, the Baltimore Ravens. A proud team, they will be looking to let out some frustration against the visiting Seahawks on Sunday.
I preface like this because that is probably the most important thing to keep in mind this week when watching the Seahawks. They likely will be a little over-matched.
Here’s the next most important thing to keep in mind: The Seahawks started the LEAST experienced offensive line the NFL has seen since 1995 against the 49ers last week. Pittsburgh has finished first or second in the league in sacks in each of the last four seasons (they lead the league last year). Tarvaris Jackson has been praised by the media, coaches, and even Steeler head coach Mike Tomlin for his toughness. He’ll need every ounce of it this weekend – he’ll get hit.
Well, rely more on the ground game you say?
Wrong. The Steelers had BY FAR the best run defense in the league last season, and though the Ravens ran them over last week, the odds of the Seahawks repeating Baltimore’s success are slim.
I expect the Seahawks to play pretty conservatively on offense, with lots of quick throws to try to negate the exotic blitz packages that Steeler Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau loves to employ (LeBeau’s defenses have lead to the nickname “Blitzberg,” for Pittsburgh). The Seahawks will likely try to limit their turnovers and to win the field position game. If they don’t, I really don’t see a way in which they will win.
Last week, the Seahawk defense impressed me with their performance against the 49ers. They were stellar against the run, and held the 49ers to the second fewest yards of any team last week.
The Steelers, under current Head Coach Mike Tomlin, have traditionally utilized a run-oriented offense that features vertical passing. Receivers Mike Wallace, Hines Ward, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and tight end Heath Miller offer star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger an elite cast of pass-catchers. Running back Rashard Mendenhall ran for over 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. Those numbers remind me of totals similar to what Shawn Alexander posted in his heyday for the Hawks.
When I try to judge the talent on the Steelers’ roster, it is no shock that they that won the AFC last year, and had done so in three of the last six seasons. They’re among the NFL’s elite, and the Seahawks have a tough task ahead of them. They probably only have a chance of winning if they can limit their mistakes, manage to get a couple touchdowns, and have another stellar defensive performance.
Last thing to watch for in the game: Sunday’s referee Bill Leavy was also the referee that many Seahawks fans believe cost Seattle the Super Bowl in 2006. Leavy was quoted in 2010 as saying “I kicked two calls in the fourth quarter, and I impacted the game… and as an official, you never want to do that.” Though I don’t anticipate that he will affect the game this week, this little aside just proves that penalties could also be a key to this game. A few penalties here and there are how upsets can happen.
About the Author
Written by Erik Olsoy
Erik was born in Columbus, Ohio during the only Ohio State football victory over Michigan in the 1980s, but moved to Washington state and grew up there. His loyalty to Ohio State remains strong, but his strongest allegiances developed toward Seattle sports. Though he recently graduated from Boston College, he has not yet been converted to the ways of New England Sportsdom, and only roots for the Red Sox against the Yankees because the Yankees are the root of all evil.