The Steelers come off of a week 1 road drubbing against the Ravens and get the Seattle Seahawks at home as get well medicine. The Seahawks played a close game against the 49ers in week 1, but their special teams gave way the game. The Steelers are right around two touchdown favorites heading into this game and nothing helps forget a blowout loss more than blowing out the team you face the next week. As I do every week, here are my 7 things to watch for on Sunday as the Steelers host the Seahawks at Heinz Field along with my final score prediction.
Special Sunday - The Seahawks special teams unit gave the 49ers the game last week and are hurting even more this week with a few major special-teams players out this week in fullback Michael Robinson and cornerback Byron Maxwell. Both are out with ankle injuries. Defensive end Dexter Davis was placed on injured reserve and linebacker Malcolm Smith is also unlikely to play Sunday. The Seahawks were forced to re-sign cornerback Kennard Cox to help on special teams and that just is not enough on short notice. Steelers return man Antonio Brown could have a big impact in this game if the rest of the Steelers special teams unit comes to play. I expect a few big pops in this game.
No Mode For The Beast - The Steelers defense gave up 5.5 yards per carry last week against the Ravens and Mike Tomlin said this week on Sirius XM Radio that Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is likely foaming at the mouth after watching the tape of that game. Make no mistake though, Lynch is not Ray Rice and he will try to make his living running between the tackles. The Steelers defense must stop the run early and not let Lynch get into his self proclaimed "Beast Mode". James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote must fight off their blockers and be sure handed in their tackling of Lynch right from the get go. Aaron Smith, Ziggy Hood, Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel and Cameron Heyward must do a better job of holding the point of attack and control the gaps better than they did last week. The only chance the Seahawks have at winning this game is by running the ball well and hoping their defense can keep it a low scoring game.
12 & 11 - 12 is the personnel grouping I expect to see more of this week from the Steelers offense which consist of one running back and two tight ends. The Steelers only ran 8 plays out of this personnel grouping last week against the Ravens and they had good success when doing so in both the running and passing game outside of the fumble to start the second half. They can do so much out of this formation on early downs and that includes throwing to the tight ends as well as to Rashard Mendenhall on a screen. The 4 and 5 wide packages are not effective just yet as the offensive line has not shown the ability to hold off the pressure on their own. Should they get into passing situations, 11 personnel packages are the next best thing as it adds a third receiver on the field in lieu of a second tight end.
Carpenter Apprenticeship With Wood - Robert Gallery will be back this week at left guard for the Seahawks so that means rookie James Carpenter will be flipped back to right tackle. Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley should be able to feast on the rookie Sunday after a rough go of it last week against Ravens right tackle Michael Oher. Although Woodley recorded a sack in the game, it came pretty much in garbage time and he was held in check for most of the game. I expect a monster game from him this week as he gets after quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. It is time for the Pharaoh to reward the Steelers for that big contract he received a few weeks ago and I believe he will do just that.
His Name Is Earl - The Seahawks do have talent on their defense and it is most recognizable at the free safety spot in the form of Earl Thomas. The play of Thomas has been likened to that of Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu early on in his career as he has tremendous closing speed and usually takes good angles in pass coverage. He is a sure handed tackler in addition as he recorded 8 last week against the 49ers. He knows where to be on the field and can make game changing plays if quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is not careful. Thomas intercepted five passes last year as a rookie and showed the smarts of a safety that has been in the league for a while. Roethlisberger needs not to force anything into his direction and must account for him all day long on Sunday.
Swim Marcus, Swim - Steelers second round pick Marcus Gilbert will make his first NFL start Sunday against the Seahawks at right tackle after Willie Colon was lost for the season last week with a torn triceps. Gilbert played above the line at both left and right tackle during the preseason after getting off to a slow start in training camp with a hamstring problem. Roethlisberger and good friend Maurkice Pouncey seem to have schooled Gilbert all week long and we will see if he is ready to fill the Colon shoes on Sunday. He will work against ends Chris Clemons, Red Bryant and Raheem Brock throughout the day as the Seahawks like to rotate these guys around to different sides. The Steelers are predominantly a right handed running team and the Seahawks defensive line did a good job of bottling up 49ers running back Frank Gore just last week. The Steelers are running out of tackle options so Gilbert gets thrown into the deep end of the pool and must swim quickly and well.
Miller Time - Two very good tight ends with the last name of Miller will be on the field Sunday in the form of Steelers tight end Heath Miller and Seahawks tight end Zach Miller. The Steelers need to get their Miller involved in the passing game early on in the game and the Steelers defense must tighten up against the tight end position that killed them last week in Baltimore. The Seahawks no doubt saw this on the film and will look to use their Miller on crossing and drag routes this week with their main receiving weapon, Sidney Rice, sitting out again.
Steelers Seahawks Game Prediction - There is absolutely no reason to think the Steelers will not win this game and no reason to believe it will not be a blowout in addition. The Seahawks are down several key players and they just do not have the offensive weapons to score against the Steelers. It will take multiple shots to the feet for this game to be close in my opinion. It is time for the offense to look like the same one that showed up in the final three preseason games and I think they will.
Final Score: Steelers 31 Seahawks 6