The AFC North is loaded with talent at the quarterback position, but here’s how the Steelers can take advantage of favorable situations down the stretch.
The NFL season is a grind, and franchises continue to work hard until the last game is over. A Week 17 matchup could be the final exhibition matchup for the Steelers this season. Struggles at the beginning of the season jeopardize the Steelers’ odds of clinching seeding in the AFC playoff bracket. Mike Tomlin’s squad record (5-7) is an eyesore that could improve with a few games left to play on the schedule.
Consecutive wins against the Colts and the Falcons put a new perspective on Pittsburgh’s season. It took a few weeks for players to adjust to a quarterback change, but the switch is working in Pittsburgh’s favor. Kenny Pickett is showing signs of development – resulting in a better-flowing offense. His decision-making is improving, ranking him seventeenth in completion percentage (65.2) and fewer interceptions. It’s been four since the rookie’s last turnover, and the Steelers are finding their groove in the air.
The improvements are visible, but the Steelers still sit a the bottom of the AFC North. Divisional losses (3) weigh heavy on Pittsburgh’s ranking, but there is time left to change the narrative. Wins in against the Ravens and Browns could improve the Steelers’ record – keeping playoff hopes alive heading into the postseason.
Lamar Jackson’s PCL Injury will give the Steelers an advantage
Taking on the Ravens will be easier than planned. A PCL Strain in Lamar Jackson’s knee forced Baltimore’s playmaker to exit the game early against the Miami Dolphins last Sunday. His availability for this weekend is “less likely” – presenting the Steelers with a big advantage. This season, Baltimore ranks 18th in total yards (4,202) – Lamar Jackson accounts for more than half of the total (3,006).
Tyler Huntley will fill in for Jackson this weekend and needs help against a hungry Pittsburgh defense. Pittsburgh is ranked seventh in rushing yards allowed (1,290) – forcing Greg Roman to evaluate his strategy entering this weekend’s game. Baltimore ranks third in rushing yards per game (189.2), but most of the yards belong to No.8. Lamar is ranked fourteenth in rushing yards (764) – a vital part of Roman’s run-first offense.
Passing the football will be Baltimore’s Achilles heel without their starting quarterback. The Ravens are ranked 26th in passing yards per game (192.4) with Lamar under center and must find ways to get Huntley comfortable in the pocket. No.2 has only thrown three touchdowns in his eleven-game career. Minkah Fitzpatrick and the Steelers’ defense will play an important role – looking to add to Huntley’s five career interceptions. Pittsburgh will take on the Ravens twice before the end of the year, and will need to win both games to improve their record.
Steelers defense must force Deshaun Watson to play perfect
A Week 17 matchup against the Browns will be the last regular season game of the year. If the Steelers take care of business leading up to the closing weekend, a win over Cleveland could propel them into the playoff picture. Deshaun Watson will debut as a rival quarterback – adding new tasks for Terryl Austin’s group. Watson attempted twenty-two passes in his first showing with his new team. He threw one interception and failed to complete a touchdown pass.
It’s clear that Watson is still getting acclimated, but he should adjust by the time the Steelers come into town. T.J. Watt must put pressure on No.4, while Fitzpatrick roams the secondary looking for easy interceptions. Stopping the run will be the focus for Alex Highsmith and Cameron Heyward. Nick Chubb is ranked second in rushing yards (1,119) and fourth in rushing attempts. Cleveland ranks fourth in total rushing yards and will force the Steelers to have a solid defensive performance.
Defeating divisional will help Pittsburgh recover from a rough start to the new campaign. Wins show improvements on and off the field and could lead to a late playoff berth. Remaining optimistic will help Pittsburgh stay positive heading into the off-season. There is more football left to play, with or without the playoffs.