The Los Angeles Rams will have a chance to get over .500 for just the second time this season as they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. The Steelers will be coming off of a bye week and should be getting wide receiver Diontae Johnson off of injured reserve. Meanwhile, the Rams will be without Kyren Williams who rushed for over 150 yards in last week’s win over the Arizona Cardinals.
1. Force Kenny Pickett To Throw Over the Middle
Kenny Pickett’s efficiency ratings are slightly better over the middle than they are outside the numbers. The Steelers quarterback has a -0.04 EPA per attempt on passes outside the numbers compared to -0.02 EPA per attempt on throws over the middle of the field. With that said, Pickett prefers throwing to the flat and pushing the boundaries.
The above chart comes from Week 3’s matchup against the Las Vegas Raiders. You can see all of the throws to the boundaries and the flat. Kenny Pickett has thrown four interceptions this season. Only one of those interceptions has come outside the numbers. The Rams need to force Pickett to throw over the middle of the field where the windows get tighter and where his accuracy will be tested.
2. Get Creative With Defensive Pressure Looks
Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris has gotten really creative with his pressure looks this season in order to find advantageous matchups or give the offensive line a lot to think about in their protection slides. That needs to continue on Sunday when the Rams should be able to make Pickett uncomfortable.
Morris has used a lot of “BOSS” looks on the defensive line this season, also known as Bigs On Same Side. You can see an example of that in the clip below with Byron Young, Michael Hoecht, and Kobie Turner all on the left which gave Aaron Donald a one-on-one matchup on the right against rookie Blake Freeland.
Fourth down for the Colts.— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakTST) October 4, 2023
Raheem Morris overloads the left side with Young, Hoecht, and Turner. Leaves Donald one-on-one against Blake Freeland.
Tight coverage by Yeast. Rams defense gets the stop. pic.twitter.com/wxQoAOQwUr
The Steelers should be starting Dan Moore Jr. at left tackle. Moore has been the worst tackle in pass-protection this season according to Pro Football Focus. His 20 pressures are the 10th most allowed. At center, Mason Cole has struggled as well as he’s allowed the third most pressures among centers. Look for Morris to get Donald matched up against Moore with BOSS looks and to bring Ernest Jones on blitzes to try and get to Pickett.
3. Don’t Beat Yourself on Offense
It’s going to be crucial for the Rams offense not to beat themselves. When these two teams played back in 2019, the Rams turned the ball over four times. The Steelers rank sixth in the NFL in turnovers. This is a defense that knows it has to be able to create opportunities for their offense and they play that way.
Earlier this season against the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers scored two touchdowns — the first one was created by a defensive turnover that gave the offense the ball in the red zone and the second was scoop-and-score on a fumble. The Baltimore Ravens missed several opportunities as they went 1-for-3 in the red zone and 0-for-1 on fourth down just outside the 20 in a 17-10 Week 5 loss.
This isn’t to say that the Rams need to play conservatively and not take the occasional risk. However, if a play isn’t there to be made, don’t force it. This is a “live to play another down” type of game.
4. Be Ready For the Big Play on Defense
The Steelers don’t do just enough on offense where defenses can get caught in undisciplined moments where they lose focus. Pickett’s 13.3 yards per attempt on deep passes ranks 10th in the NFL and two of his five touchdown passes have been on “deep passes”. He also ranks 10th in average depth of target on deep passes at 30.3 yards. Pittsburgh should get wide receiver Diontae Johnson back on offense on Sunday as well.
This isn’t to say that Pickett is a great deep ball passer. At the same time, Pickett leads the NFL in turnover worthy play percentage when targeting down the field. This is only to say that the Steelers offense has a hard time creating as an offense. Defensively, you need to be ready when they decide to take their shots. The last thing a defense wants to give up against a stale offense is an explosive play.
It’s possible that this is also a game that the Rams defense needs to create opportunities for the offense. Defensively, the Rams need to be ready for the takeaway or a ball that comes loose on a fumble and pounce on it. The Steelers don’t turn the ball over often. If the opportunity arises, the defense needs to be able to take advantage.
5. Keep Steelers Defense Off Balance
The Rams have struggled at times blocking elite pass rushes this season. In Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals, Matthew Stafford was under pressure on 50 percent of his drop backs. That was tied for the second-most that week. In the second half against the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles, Stafford also faced a good amount of pressure.
In those games, the Rams averaged 12.6 carries by their running backs. None of those games were necessarily out of reach until very late in the fourth quarter. This isn’t a game where Stafford can throw the ball 30+ times. The offense would be set up for disaster if that happens. That’s also not to say that the Rams need to play ground-and-pound and run the ball 30 times either.
It’s all about keeping a balanced approach. The Steelers rank eighth in dropback EPA and just 21st in EPA per rush. With that said, they rank 10th in run defense success rate and 19th in pass defense success rate allowed. This Steelers defense can be attacked, but it’s about staying balanced. The Rams can’t get into a situation where Alex Highsmith and TJ Watt are able to pin their ears back and just rush the passer.