Pivotal questions Steelers must answer against the Panthers
The Steelers season is essentially over, but that doesn’t mean that they will roll over and let the Panthers beat them.
The Steelers loss to the Ravens was a damaging one. Winning out would only yield a 9-8 record, and the odds of a playoff birth are slim to none. Worse yet, this team is still struggling with a lot of the same issues that they have struggled with all season. Instead of building and improving, this team is laying around in mediocrity.
The Panthers were in a similar boat, but a midseason coaching change has propelled them to a 4-4 record as of late, and while not a powerhouse, they are a team on the rise. Neither team is going to allow the other one an easy win, and while the outcome of this game is likely meaningless for both sides, I expect a hard-fought matchup. Here are three questions the Steelers will have to answer to beat the Panthers.
Can the Steelers stop Brian Burns?
The Panthers defense isn’t a great unit, but they do have a premiere edge rusher in Brian Burns. He has reached double-digit sacks this season and is consistently giving tackles trouble when he is going after the quarterback. The Steelers pass blocking, meanwhile, has struggled as of late. There have been quite a few missed assignments and a lot of pressure given up.
The lone benefit of having to deal with Burns is that the Panthers lack another consistent pass rusher to take the focus off of him. Burns can be targeted for some double teams and chips since there isn’t another consistent pass rusher across from him. That said, he is still an issue that this line will have to figure out how to deal with.
Can the Steelers depend on the run?
One of the lone strengths that the Steelers have as a team since the bye has been their ability to get the ground game going. Najee Harris has been a more decisive runner and the line has done its part to open lanes. There was some regression last week, as Harris was reverting back to his older self, but they have a prime opportunity to play some ground control against Carolina.
The Panthers run defense has been suspect this season. With the quarterback situation in Pittsburgh a mess right now, this team has to be committed to establishing a ground game. Constant passes haven’t worked for any quarterback, and the only way this team has done well is when the running game has been the feature. They need to be dedicated to establishing the running game this week.
Can the Steelers stop the Panthers run game?
This was a very similar question that was posed last week, and the obvious answer was no. Not only could the Steelers stop the Ravens rushing attack, but they also posed no threat to them there. It got to the point where everyone was expecting a run, but this defense still couldn’t contain the runner. It was an embarrassing performance.
The Panthers offense has won recently because of their running backs. To be clear, D’Onta Foreman isn’t some sort of elite back, but the Panthers line blocks well and he runs with a lot of power. This defense has to go into the game expecting him to be an issue and committed to making the Panthers have to win through the air.
While this game has little bearing on the Steelers this season, they will still be looking for the win against a Panthers team on a bit of a streak. If Pittsburgh wants to have any shot at winning this week, they will have to answer these three questions during their Sunday matchup.