The Steelers need to bounce back from the tough loss to the Jets just a few short days ago and the Panthers could be the medicine the Steelers need. The Steelers control their own destiny for a bye and the number 2 seed in the AFC by winning out. There is absolutely no reason why they should lose this game. None. Below are what we deem to be 7 keys to the game for the Steelers to beat the Panthers in week 16.
12 In The Box - Of course I am kidding, but it is no secret the Panthers know the best shot they have is to run the ball effectively. They are averaging 116.8 yards per game on the ground and have two running backs they will rotate in depending on the situation. Jonathan Stewart is a very capable power runner and must be wrapped up on first contact. He has 460 yards in his last 4 games and is a threat every time he touches the ball. The Steelers would be smart to crowd the line with 8 in the box on obvious run downs and dare them to throw out of run formations.
Bust Beason - Linebacker Jon Beason is the quarterback of the Panthers defense. He chases the ball well on running plays and when the Steelers linemen have the job to block him, he needs to be taken care of. He reads and reacts and is great at attacking the football and causing turnovers. Maurkice Pouncey and Ben Roethlisberger must know where he is at every snap and account for him. Beason is also the one to watch on a delayed inside blitz and comes shooting in very fast and can cause havoc.
Jimmy Leg - Rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen has not been impressive thus far this year. He is still learning and can be confused easily with those walk around defensive fronts. The Steelers defense wants him to try to beat them through the air. The Panthers will likely want to use several screens and quick receiver slants to avoid having Clausen take too many hits. The defense also wants him to get the happy feet and force the ball like most rookie QB\'s tend to do. I suspect a handful of opportunities for some interceptions. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley would love to deliver a Christmas present to the rookie.
Move Carolina Furniture - The offensive line had perhaps their best game in two season last week against the Jets. The Panthers are giving up an average of 126.2 yards per game and the Steelers should be able to run their power game to the right on the Panthers. Ramon Foster and Flozell Adams can move some bodies Thursday night as too can the pulling Chris Kemoeatu. The Steelers match up real well against the Panthers defensive front.
Heathhhhh - The Panthers will really be concerned with stopping the Steelers running game and keeping the wide receivers under wrap. Matt Spaeth had tons of room to work last week against the Jets and this week a healthy Heath Miller could see lots of space down the seem especially if the Steelers get off to a good start running the ball. Miller needs to get back into the flow of things after missing the last two games and the Panthers defense makes a great opportunity to do so. In 3 wide sets the Steelers want to get Heath on a linebacker if all possible. Regardless of passing game output, merely getting him back on the field Thursday night is a win in itself.
No Short Fields - As long as the Steelers do not turn over the ball to Carolina by means of a fumble or interception, the Panthers will be hard pressed to put up a long, sustained drive. Punter Jeremy Kapinos needs a better showing this week and can make a huge difference in this game just by flipping the field a few times with good punts.
No Injuries & Get Backups Some Work - This is pretty obvious every game, but the Steelers are relatively healthy right now outside of Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith and both should be back for the playoff run. The Steelers can not afford any new injuries right now, especially to an already thin offensive line. It would be great to get Trai Essex and Tony Hills some work assuming Hills gets a helmet Thursday night. Adams and Kemoeatu could use a 4th quarter off if possible and the same goes with Pouncey. It would be great to get Doug Lergursky some relief center snaps to Byron Leftwich late in the game if all possible. The only way all that happens hopefully is by a Steeler blowout and not because of injuries.
Steelers Panthers Game Prediction - If the Steelers lose this game Thursday night, you have my permission to jump off the ledge. The Panthers strength on offense plays right into the strength of the Steelers defense, even minus Polamalu. The only way the Steelers come out of this with a loss is by multiple gun shots to their own feet with their own gun. They need a good lead by the 4th quarter to get a few starters some rest and get some back-ups a few snaps. The Panthers get a late garbage TD to break double digits, but this one should not be close and the Steelers cover at home.
Final Score: Steelers 31 Panthers 13