By Jeremy Hritz
The Steelers are 1-2 entering their NFC matchup this Sunday at 4:25 PM at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers. With a brutal schedule ahead of them, and with a slight bit of panic setting in after failing to generate anything effectively on offense in the first three games, the Steelers offense is under pressure to improve this weekend, as both the rushing and passing game have been underwhelming and disappointing across the board.
There isn’t much to be optimistic and hopeful about heading into Green Bay, as it seems since the victory in Buffalo, everything has worked against the Steelers: a multitude of injuries, rookie play from an inexperienced offensive line, and skittishness from Ben Roethlisberger. While improvement is not out of the question, and this team is nowhere near out of it, some signs of life, some indications of hope need to emerge to give reason to believe that this 2021 Steelers squad has the potential to be competitive.
With all of the uncertainty and subpar play, it’s not an ideal weekend to play the elite quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Super Bowl contending Packers. And if the Steelers play like they have on offense the first three weeks at Lambeau, things could get out of hand quickly, and the sky-is-falling narrative will intensify with vitriol afterwards in the city of Pittsburgh.
The Packers have had their struggles on defense, allowing 27.7 points per game against the Saints, Lions, and 49ers, teams with decent offenses, but not necessarily powerhouses. In their opener against the Saints, the Packers stumbled, losing 38-3. Whether or not the Steelers can have similar offensive success as the Packers first three opponents has yet to be seen, but it is encouraging to know this defensive unit isn’t akin to the Baltimore Ravens.
Defensively, there is a noticeable absence of a pass rush for the Packers, though their interior defensive line can be disruptive. On the ground, the Packers surrender 115 yards per game, while against the pass, they allow 214 yards. What has to be acknowledged here is that none of the teams they have played have had a) a superstar passer or b) a proven runner. You could make the argument for Alvin Kamara in New Orleans, but he is more of a versatile offensive element as opposed to a every-down runner.
Offensively, all I have to say is Aaron Rodgers. Anytime you have an elite quarterback on the opposing side of the field, you have your work cut out for you, and if the Packers are to win this contest, it will be a result of the arm of Rodgers. Sure, Aaron Jones is an explosive runner, but he has been hindered by an ankle injury, and the Steelers should be able to account for him on Sunday. What plays into the Steelers favor is the Packers offensive line, which currently is thin as a result of an injury to David Bakhtiari. Bakhtiari is currently being replaced by Elgton Jenkins who is serviceable, but not nearly the blocker. This could be a potential matchup to be exploited by both TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith, assuming they both are healthy.
Defensively, the Steelers are beginning to get healthy, and it appears that at minimum, Watt will return to the starting lineup, though Highsmith is still a question mark. Still, Watt and Melvin Ingram will provide fits for the Packers offensive line, and it could be a long (and painful) day for Rodgers. With Devin Bush getting readjusted to the game after his ACL injury, he may be ready to break out this weekend with a productive game in which he shuts down the Packers rushing attack, with the assistance of his colleague Joe Schobert. The key defensively will be the pass rush for the Steelers, because if they cannot get home, and their secondary is forced to cover for an extended period of time, it is eventual and unavoidable that Rodgers will do his thing. As I indicated last week in my prediction, pressure on Rodgers is key for any chance for a Steelers victory.
In terms of the Steelers offense, I don’t believe it is bad, it is just young, and consistently prone to mistakes. Until it can be ensured that all 11 players are on the same page from play-to-play, the ugliness will continue, and so will the losses. While I envision improvement this week from the offense, there will still be miscues that set the team back and force them to play from behind for the majority of the game.
There is a loud part of me screaming to pick the Steelers to win this contest, but with the ineptitude of the offense the last 3 weeks, it’s hard for me to visualize. While I believe the Steelers will be better on Sunday, there will be a sloppy mistake in the form of a fumble/broken play, that sets this team back from earning its 3rd victory. I would not be surprised however, if on Monday we were celebrating a Steelers win, as they are due to pull it together.
While I have the Packers winning, this is going to be a slugfest, and I see the Steelers hanging in all of the way until the end.
Sadly, this team drops to 1-3, as the Packers win late in the 4th quarter, in a heartbreaking loss for the Steelers, 28-27.
But don’t fret. They will live, no with some confidence, to fight another day.