clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

St. Louis Rams Vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: Calling the Matchup

New, comments

Everything you need to know about the Rams and the Steelers before Sunday's matchup. After two weeks, the emotional roller coaster in St. Louis can't get any higher or any lower.

Karl Walter/Getty Images

Welcome back to Earth City.

You were enthralled, downright elated, with the St. Louis Rams after a Week 1 decimation of the Seattle Seahawks' defense. Then it all came crashing down with a return of the favor in Washington.

Now, Jeff Fisher is faced with perhaps his greatest challenge thus far in 2015 with the Greatest Show on Mud, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Can the Rams get back on track before it's too late?

Here's how the Rams and Steelers stack up position-by-position.


Rams

Steelers  

Edge

Offense

QB

1. Nick Foles

1. Ben Roethlisberger

Only Kurt Warner would have made this a competition.

RB

1. Tre Mason
2. Benny Cunningham
3. Todd Gurley?
4. Isaiah Pead

1. Le'Veon Bell
2. DeAngelo Williams
3. Dri Archer
FB - Will Johnson

The suspension is over, and the NFL's most electrifying ball carrier is free. If you thought Matt Jones was good...

WR

1. Kenny Britt
2. Brian Quick
3. Stedman Bailey
4. Tavon Austin

1.Antonio Brown
2. Markus Wheaton
3. Sammie Coates
4. Darius Heyward-Bey

Not worth the explanation.

TE

1. Jared Cook
2. Lance Kendricks
3. Cory Harkey

1. Heath Miller
2. Matt Spaeth
3. Jesse James

Cook is maddeningly inconsistent, but when his hands work, he's a matchup nightmare. Miller can still ball after all these years, but Kendricks' versatility barely gives the Rams a nod.

OL

LT - Greg Robinson
LG - Jamon Brown
C - Tim Barnes
RG -Rodger Saffold
RT - Rob Havenstein

LT - Kelvin Beachum
LG - Ramon Foster
C - Cody Wallace
RG - David DeCastro
RT - Marcus Gilbert

For far too long, the Steelers were vastly underrated on the offensive line. Beachum is one of the best players to come out of the seventh round in years, and DeCastro is finally healthy.

Defense

DE/
Edge

RE - Robert Quinn
LE - Chris Long
3 - William Hayes
4 - Ethan Westbrooks
Eugene Sims

WLB - Jarvis Jones
SLB - Arthur Moats
3 - James Harrison
4 - Bud Dupree

This was no easy call. Jones has been a disappointment thus far, but Harrison continues to defy the odds and Dupree has surpassed early expectations.

DT/
Interior

1. Aaron Donald
2. Michael Brockers
3. Nick Fairley

RE - Stephon Tuitt
NT - Steve McClendon
LE - Cameron Heyward

One bad week doesn't diminish what the Rams have here. Still, Heyward has been a revelation in Pittsburgh.

LB

W - Akeem Ayers
M - James Laurinaitis
S - Alec Ogletree

M - Lawrence Timmons
M - Ryan Shazier
3 - Sean Spence

Timmons is coming off a breakout Pro Bowl campaign, and thus far, Shazier has looked even better. Ogletree has taken a step forward, but Ayers looked awful in Washington last week.

CB

1. Janoris Jenkins
2. Trumaine Johnson
3. Lamarcus Joyner
4. Marcus Roberson

1. William Gay
2. Cortez Allen
3. Brandon Boykin
4. Antwon Blake

It's quite telling that the Rams' cornerbacks faced little competition from the Steelers'. Jenkins and Johnson, though far from perfect, have played well.

S

FS - Rodney McLeod
SS - T.J. McDonald
3S - Mark Barron

FS - Mike Mitchell
SS - Will Allen
3S - Shamarko Thomas

Mitchell was expected to be a savior in Pittsburgh's secondary. So far, he hasn't been, and it's unfortunate that Thomas hasn't yet broken out.

Special Teams

All

K - Greg Zuerlein
P - Johnny Hekker
R - Tavon Austin

K - Josh Scobee
P - Jordan Berry
R - Dri Archer/ Antonio Brown

Pittsburgh's third kicker of 2015, Scobee, is on thin ice after missing 2 of 4  field goal attempts and an extra point. This is the right time for some Hekker magic.

Coaching Staff

All

HC - Jeff Fisher
OC - Frank Cignetti
DC - Gregg Williams
S T - John Fassel

HC - Mike Tomlin
OC - Todd Haley
DC - Keith Butler
S T - Danny Smith

Tomlin has a ring and, despite much adversity, continues to  win. And Haley and Big Ben have the offense figured out.

Rams Total - 6

Steelers Total - 6

The player second to only one in touches last year, Le'Veon Bell is finally hitting the field, which we'll get to soon enough.

Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown are more "elite" than the word itself anymore.

The Steelers and Rams nearly swept each other on offense and defense, respectively, but a slight advantage in a key position narrowly edged the gaps.

Believe it or not, there are many yinzers who don't much care for Mike Tomlin. Imagine if the Steelers finished just below .500 every year instead of squeaking into the playoffs.

Injury Report

Rams: Out - RB Chase Reynolds, DE Eugene Sims. Full participant - RB Todd Gurley.

Steelers: Did not practice Thursday - DT Daniel McCullers, LB Ryan Shazier, WR Markus Wheaton. Limited practice - DE Cameron Heyward, CB Cortez Allen.

Don't get your hopes up here. McCullers is likely the only Steeler listed who won't suit up on Sunday.

Gurley, though, is far from a given, and Brian Quick might as well be on the injury report until he hits the field.

Rams Offense vs. Steelers Defense

The inexplicable, inconceivable and infuriating Rams offense torched Seattle for 27 points. Then it was stymied by Washington, which couldn't do anything against the New York Giants Thursday night, and scored only 10.

In theory, Pittsburgh presents a chance at redemption.

One player who has shown up in both the first two contests is living conundrum Tavon Austin, and I expect what has arguably started as a breakout third season to continue against a susceptible Steelers' engaging defense. Whether via the deep ball, obvious reverse toss plays or hand-offs in the backfield, Austin will continue to get touches.

The players who may threaten Pittsburgh most, though, are tight end Jared Cook and receivers Kenny Britt and (please?) Brian Quick, whose size/speed advantages give the Rams their best chance at keeping up with an elite offense.

Running the ball, unfortunately, may once again prove difficult against a team that has surpassed expectations. Regardless of whether Todd Gurley takes the field, the Rams may struggle to move on the Steelers, who have allowed 191 rushing yards (12th in the NFL) through two games.

Rams Defense vs. Steelers Offense

This is where Keanu Reeves steps in to give a heartfelt, emotionally simulating, adrenaline-pumping speech that, in fact, makes no overall difference on the outcome of anyone's life.

Antonio Brown is a lock to get his, Ben Roethlisberger will get even more, and the angry and hungry Le'Veon Bell currently views the Rams as a vengeance opportunity. Right there, you have the AFC's three favorites for Pro Bowl MVP.

Chicks dig scars. Rams fans have enough.

If this game goes anyway how it's supposed to, it's quite possible the Rams' defense surrenders its first 400-yard  game of the year. Still, that's OK. Football is a game of points, not offensive production.

Nothing has changed since 2014, since July or since Washington. St. Louis will live and die by its pass rush, and disrupting Ben Ben is the Rams' only chance. Make Josh Scobee kick.

The Rams cannot allow a third consecutive productive week to an opposing tight end, not if they want to retain their identity, and not if they want to win. Take Brown and Bell out of the equation -- and Markus Wheaton, because he warrants the attention -- and Heath Miller becomes a lethal threat.

Tough.

Who to Watch

On the Rams: QB Nick Foles
Pittsburgh's defensive backs, even when they played their assignments, were shredded by Tom Brady in Week 1, but that's no surprise. Still, Colin Kaepernick blew up the Steelers in garbage time en route to an ugly defeat. The quarterback is a must-watch regardless of the week and competition, but this is a must-produce situation for Foles. "Make-or-break" remains a prevalent term in St. Louis.

Honorable Mention: LT Greg Robinson
The second overall pick in 2014, the Rams' franchise left tackle -- stop me if you've heard this before -- is circling the drain as a potential bust. Now, anyone who can block is an upgrade over Jason Smith, but G-Rob came into the league with even greater expectations. He's still quite raw in his techniques, and he has his positive moments, but Robinson has to show improvement with Stephon Tuitt and the combination of fellow bust candidate Jarvis Jones and the ageless James Harrison bearing down on him.

On the Steelers: ILB Ryan Shazier
After an up-and-down rookie campaign in which he battled injuries more often than opposing offenses, Shazier has emerged as a sideline-to-sideline, three-down linebacker. Similar to the Rams' Alec Ogletree, he boasts safety speed with freight train tenacity. No matter who carries the ball for the St. Louis come Sunday, he'll have a difficult time getting past Pittsburgh's dynamic sophomore linebacker. The tight ends, too, will need to step up.

Honorable Mention: C Cody Wallace
This has become a motif that I can't shake, but every time the Rams face an inexperienced and struggling interior offensive lineman, it requires mentioning. St. Louis essentially won its first game against an overmatched Seattle front, but it was rendered nearly useless in Washington. What happened, I still don't know.

Overall, Pittsburgh boasts a quite formidable offensive line -- its bookends have shockingly dominated and the guards are solid. Then there's the center, a sixth-year pro entering his ninth career start, who stepped in for injured Pro Bowler Maurkice Pouncey. This is Wallace's toughest test yet.

Best-Case Scenario

Le'Veon Bell struggles to shake off the rust and the high of league-imposed personal days in his 2015 debut, hindering the Steelers' offense from the get-go, while DeAngelo Williams, who dominated in the first two weeks, succumbs to age. Pittsburgh, looking one of two ways, is caught predictable on offense, and frequent deep balls and slant routes to Antonio Brown are met quickly.

Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn and the rest of the Fearsome Front-7 (this is more of a certainty than a question) plays angry and astute football in the wake of a second-game drubbing. Ogletree picks up where he left off in Washington, smothering the 'Burgh's running backs and veteran tight end dump-off option, and the safety trio follows suit.

Both Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins are burnt once or twice for brutally costly plays, but as always, they could be worse.

Nick Foles not only plays his best game thus far as a Ram, but it goes down as arguably his best game of 2015. Carrying an offensive backfield that does little to steal a win as a committee, St. Louis' quarterback is solely responsible for all three of the team's touchdowns, once connecting with a wide open Jared Cook, who miraculously holds onto the ball.

Todd Gurley, held to 50 yards on 10 touches, instills faith for the future.

Worst-Case Scenario

This could be bad ... very bad.

Those 400 yards mentioned earlier, Ben Roethlisberger throws for nearly that many on his own, and Bell tops 100  from scrimmage with ease. Brown reaches the end zone -- which I expect to happen anyways -- and also surpasses 100 yards.

Simply put, break out the brown paper bags, and start planning your Mondays accordingly.

Pittsburgh scores first and second and third, taking an early unanswered 17/21-point lead, leaving St. Louis scratching for solutions before halftime.

The Rams have none.

Donald and the rest of the defensive line are helpless as the Steelers coast and pound DeAngelo Williams late in the game.

The Rams' offensive line is physically abused as badly as it was last week as Pittsburgh re-enters the playoff discussion, all but eliminating St. Louis from it.

Everything you thought St. Louis was versus Seattle has dissipated. Everything you thought St. Louis was at Washington is true.

Prediction: Rams 26, Steelers 24

The Steelers aren't that good, and the Rams aren't that bad. The NFL is a parody in and of itself, and one week doesn't simply discredit the last.

It's easy to call Pittsburgh the clear favorite now -- it dismantled San Francisco in week two while the Rams dropped to lowly Washington -- but St. Louis was the odds winner just two weeks ago.

I believe in football as an emotional sport, if not the the most emotional sport, and the Rams should be furious. Meanwhile, the visiting Steelers have a tough road ahead with a Thursday night matchup against AFC North rival Baltimore just four days ahead and a road contest across the country in San Diego in week five on Monday.

Analytics, simple psychology, far too much speculation, whatever -- those things matter.

Call me crazy, but I think the Rams have chance.