The Pittsburgh Steelers will take on the Green Bay Packers Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field and below are seven things to watch for in the game.
Kelvin Molding Clay - Steelers left tackle Kelvin Beachum will square off against Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews this afternoon and a solid performance by the young tackle could result in him owning the job headed into next season. While pass protection will certainly be key, how Beachum handles the athletic linebacker in the running game might wind up being even more important if the weather plays a huge role in this game. Matthews has registered 23 tackles for loss in 10 games played this season, while Beachum's run blocking is still in need of improvement.
Ring The Bell Up The Middle - The Packers defense has allowed an average of 4.43 yards on runs up the middle this season. Nose tackle Ryan Pickett is playing hurt as is inside linebacker Brad Jones. The Steelers have to get guard David DeCastro out to the second level in this game and force the Packers to play eight defenders in the box. If they do, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger should be able to take advantage of a few mismatches in the passing game. The Steelers have gone 22 straight games without a 100 yard rusher and it would be nice for Bell to break that streak while taking the air out of the football.
Force Eddie Wide - Rookie Eddie Lacy has had a great season thanks to the inside zone and inverted bone that the Packers love to run. The Steelers defense has played runs right up the middle good so far this season and they must force Lacy to try to bounce outside of the tackles instead of running north and south between the guards. The Packers interior linemen, center Evan Dietrich-Smith, left guard Josh Sitton and right guard T.J. Lang have really played well this season, so the Steelers down defensive linemen will certainly be put to the test early and often. It's worth noting that nose tackle Steve McLendon and defensive end Brett Keisel are both expected be back for this game after sitting out last week with injuries.
Ben Back Moving Chains - In the Steelers win last Sunday night over the Cincinnati Bengals, the offense really lacked luster when it came to moving the chains in key situations. In fact, the offense only converted two third downs out of ten opportunities and that resulted in three field goals by Shaun Suisham, which in turn allowed the Bengals to hang around. As I pointed out on Saturday, Roethlisberger hasnt been his usual self this season on third downs, but he has two games left to change that.
Troy Safety Dancing - Safety Troy Polamalu is a lot more effective when not having to play a linebacker role and we saw that this past week against the Bengals. As a result, the defense didn't allow an explosive play of 20 yards or more for the first time this season. The weather could dictate personnel packages used by the Packers in this game and a lot of three wide receiver sets should be defended with cover-two safeties over the top.
Press On 3rd - Believe it or not, Packers quarterback Matt Flynn has been pretty solid on third downs since returning to Green Bay. In fact, he has a 68.2% completion percentage on third downs of five or more yards to go with seven of those 15 completions resulting in first downs. As mentioned above, if the Steelers play Polamalu back, the Steelers cornerbacks must play up on the Packers wide receivers in an attempt to allow the pass rush to do its job. In their last two games, the Packers offense has converted 50% of their third down opportunities and sghould they have that kind of success again on Sunday, they will win.
Feed Brown - Wide receiver Antonio Brown has had success against whomever he has lined up against this season and on Sunday it will be up to Packers cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Sam Shields to try and limit his production. Shields has been the better of the two as of late, but both will likely get time in this game on Brown, who will be looking to have his 15th straight game with at least five catches and 50 yards receiving.