The Steelers are as healed up as any team can be entering week 12, following their bye week. The bye week could not have come at a better time, especially for Ben Roethlisberger, as he is getting over his second significant injury on the season, a mid-foot sprain suffered as he was being sacked by Aldon Smith of the Oakland Raiders. With a 6-4 record heading into the final six games of the season, a healthy Big Ben is the key to the Steelers playoff hopes, and a chance to catch the Bengals for a second consecutive AFC North title. Their first matchup comes in the form of the reigning NFC champions, the Seattle Seahawks. The Steelers face two significant challenges in this game, the defense known as the “Legion of Boom”, and the 12th man, the supposed loudest crowd in any NFL stadium. Fortunately for Pittsburgh, they have the offensive weapons to take the 12th man out of the equation, and execute a quick passing game to neutralize a ferocious Seahawks pass rush.
On defense, the Steelers bring with them their own hard hitting secondary and linebackers, who have been laying people out like a “League of Assassins”, under new defensive coordinator, Keith Butler. Along with that physicality, they need to bring their assignment discipline with them to Seattle as well. With a mobile quarterback like Russell Wilson, who can cause damage to a defense from outside the pocket, the defense is going to have to maintain their gaps to eliminate the cutback lanes when he is on the move. Ideally, the Steelers will want to keep Wilson contained in the pocket, since the strongest part of his game is throwing on the run. His biggest target is tight end Jimmy Graham, who may not have the numbers he put up in New Orleans, but is still just as dangerous.
The Seahawks running game is going to be without Marshawn Lynch, who is suffering from an abdominal injury. In his place is a rookie out of Central Michigan, Thomas Rawls, who is beginning to garner attention for the job he is doing. At 5’9″ 220 lbs, Rawls is a bigger and slightly faster version of Maurice Jones-Drew, and is coming off of a 206 yard rushing game. The Steelers are going to have to make sure they wrap this guy up and severely limit his yards after contact. The best chance the Steelers have to keep Seattle off the scoreboard is to make them one dimensional and force Russell Wilson to beat them with his arm.
The matchup that everyone is looking forward to, is Antonio Brown versus Richard Sherman. In the last two and a half years, the only thing to slow Brown’s production has been the MCL sprain that kept Ben Roethlisberger out for four games early this season. As much as the Steelers move Brown around, it’s doubtful that Sherman will be matched up with him for the entire game. When they are paired up, I see Antonio’s quickness being a real problem for Sherman. There’s no denying that Richard Sherman is one of the best, but he hasn’t run up against Antonio Brown before. According to Ben, they will not be shying away from Sherman one bit, so there should be plenty of opportunities for Brown to show why he is clearly the best receiver in the NFL.
Haley and the Steelers need to attack from the spread, with a quick passing game to neutralize the Seahawks pass rush, and to create space for Deangelo Williams. I’d also look for Ben to be in the shotgun for most of the day to protect that sprained foot. On the other side of Brown, Martavis Bryant may end up being little more than a decoy. He’ll get some deep balls thrown his way, but he’s sure to see numerous double coverages, setting up what could be a big day for Heath Miller and Markus Wheaton underneath. If there is one game the rest of the season that the Steelers could afford to lose, it would be this one, seeing as how it’s against an NFC team. But the Steelers aren’t going to lose this one, because they have too many weapons for the Seahawks defense to deal with. Conversely, the Steelers defense is going to get off to a strong start coming out of the bye, as the “League of Assassins” will hold the Seahawks offense in check for the most part. Playing with a sense of urgency, and a chance to edge closer to the Bengals, the Steelers leave Seattle with a 31-17 win.