The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the season as a team looking to prove that the Antonio Brown soap opera would not define their destiny. That was before Ben Roethlisberger sustained a season ending elbow injury in Week 2, and the Steelers sputtered to a 1-4 start, and we all said good night. Since we stopped watching though, the Steelers have won three straight and clawed themselves back into the AFC Wildcard picture. While their 4-4 record may seem less than impressive, they were only really beaten down in their opener in New England. Otherwise they’ve competed and come close in losses to quality opponents like the Seattle Seahawks. Baltimore Ravens, and San Francisco 49ers. Last week, the Steelers were able to eek past the now 5-3 Indianapolis Colts, and are by no means on the level of the Rams previous two opponents, the Atlanta Falcons or the Cincinnati Bengals. Buckle up.
In a change from recent history, the Steelers defense will look to carry the day. They are a very opportunistic group that is second in the league in turnovers. Bolstered by the acquisition of free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who already has four picks, the defense can definitely turn up the heat on Jared Goff and test the Rams inconsistent offensive line. Coming off back to back trips to the Pro Bowl, defensive end Cameron Heyward currently boasts a whopping 90.8 grade on PFF and should be a real problem. From the outside the Steelers will try to turn up the heat with TJ Watt (7.5 sacks, 20 QB hits) and Bud Dupree (6 sacks). Rookie Devin Bush has had an up and down rookie campaign but currently leads the team with 66 tackles. NT Javon Hargrove will be sitting in the middle, and should be another test for the Rams interior, which is hoping that Joseph Noteboom’s replacement, David Edwards can continue to provide some semblance of stability.
Overall, the Steelers defense has been a little better against the pass than the run, so there is an opportunity for the Rams to feed Todd Gurley and the gang, but based on what we’ve seen so far this season I wouldn’t count on that approach beyond the first two possessions.
If, and that’s a huge if, the Rams can play a clean game they should be able to outscore the Steelers offense, which is currently 18th in scoring and 28th in yardage. Their offensive line remains a story of stability and continuity, but the Steelers will be without running back James Conner, and might not have their WR1 Juju Smith Schuster either. While the Steelers line is plenty capable, coverage sacks may be the story of the day as the Rams secondary appears rejuvenated while playing more man press coverage since the arrival of Jalen Ramsey. Quarterback, Mason Rudolph was unexpectedly given the keys to offense following Big Ben’s injury, and has shown grit while working through traditional rookie miscues. He has rode a more conservative approach to decent completion percentage and touchdown/interception ratio, and actually currently has a higher rating than Jared Goff does.
Given the competitive terrain of the NFC, this is a must-win game for the Rams, and they are favored to get it. However, unlike in the previous two weeks, this road victory would feel more like a quality win should the Rams prevail. The key will be whether or not the Rams can limit their turnovers, no lapses allowed, or there could be disappointment where the Monongahela and Allegheny join streams to form the Ohio River.
By the end of the day, the Rams will either be 6-3 with playoff hopes alive and well, or we’ll all be wondering what went wrong at 5-4. Stay tuned!