Steelers-Packers Preview: Steelers 'Have To Take The Explosive Plays Away,' Says CBS Sports Tracy Wolfson
(CBS Pittsburgh) -- The Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers may be heading in opposite directions going into Week 4. The Steelers seemed lifeless in losing to a Cincinnati Bengals team that's long been the AFC North punching bag. The Packers looked like just the opposite, coming back to knock off the San Francisco 49ers with a walk-off field goal. Pittsburgh will hope to turn things around this Sunday in the inhospitable environs of Green Bay's Lambeau Field. It will be a tall order.
"Forever Pittsburgh's had a team and talent surrounding them where you always felt that they were championship caliber and had the opportunity to make it to a Super Bowl," according to NFL On CBS lead reporter Tracy Wolfson. "And it just seemed to fall short every year. And this year, in particular, you're seeing maybe, as they're getting older, their pieces aren't fitting together. And it's not looking good. Then you look at the other side of it. Aaron Rogers is at the top of his game... When you have a new young coach, you have some young pieces surrounding him, and it's a team going in a different direction."
The Steelers are beaten up on both sides of the ball, and it showed against the Bengals. They struggled to control the line of scrimmage, giving up (or giving back) big plays on offense, and failing to cause many on defense. Each of the five offensive linemen was penalized at least once. Najee Harris rushed for just 40 yards on 14 carries, for an average of 2.9 yards per carry. Those numbers look significantly worse when considering that half of the yardage came on one play.
The makeshift offensive line held up enough in the passing game to allow Ben Roethlisberger to throw for 318 yards, though he went 38-58 with a passer rating of 70.9. And he paid the price. Big Ben was sacked four times and hit five more. Harris was his leading receiver, with 14 receptions out of the backfield, followed by Chase Claypool with nine. Juju Smith-Schuster left the game early with a rib injury, and Diontae Johnson didn't play. Both are questionable this week.
Can the Steelers offensive line slow up a Packers pass rush that lived in the 49ers backfield? The unit was missing linebacker Za'Darius Smith but still managed to sack Jimmy Garoppolo four times in Week 3 and hit him 11 more. Garoppolo went 25-40 for 257 yards and two touchdowns. The Packers shut down the 49ers running game, however, allowing just 67 yards on the team's 21 carries.
This Packers team still belongs to Aaron Rodgers, of course. And he showed it once again in Week 3, using two long passes to Davante Adams in the final minute to give kicker Mason Crosby a chance to kick for the win. Crosby converted his 54-yard attempt.
"You have to be able to close those games out and have the confidence to do it," Wolfson stressed. "Aaron Rodgers has it. LaFleur has it. Davante Adams has it. And with this team, it's so obvious if you give him 37 seconds, he's going to be able to march down there, and allow them to kick the field goal."
On the game, Rodgers completed 23 passes for 253 yards, two TDs and a passer rating of 113.3. He found Adams a total of 12 times for 132 yards. Aaron Jones averaged an effective 4.3 yards per carry on his 19 carries.
If the Steelers have any shot at staying with the Packers this Sunday, their defense will have to step up. The vaunted Pittsburgh pass rush failed to sack or hit Joe Burrow even once last week. And the Bengals offensive line is among the worst in the league. The return of Watt and Highsmith would help the Steelers generate more pressure, though both were limited in practice as of Wednesday.
"They're going to have to find a way [to pressure Aaron Rodgers], because Aaron Rodgers likes to get the ball out. He can move. He's going to find Davante Adams down the field," said Wolfson. "I think the key for them is really focusing on -- and I'm gonna use a term that Brandon Staley used in the Chargers game -- put a roof on it. Let's just blanket everyone, and let's take away that long deep passing game and not allow explosive plays... Take away the deep pass. You're not going to necessarily get that pressure. Hopefully they will have maybe Alex back, maybe T.J. Watt. I do think they have to take the explosive plays away and force Green Bay to beat them another way."
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