Last week, the Seahawks played the role of Scott Farcus and beat up Ralphie’s brother wearing 49ers gear in a contest that was as predictable as NFL games get. While the Niners have a lot of Ovaltine to drink before they become relevant again, Seattle – now at .500 on the year – lurks just outside the playoff picture with six games remaining. On Sunday, Pittsburgh comes to town to play in CBS’ national game of the week.
A couple weeks ago, prior to their game against Cleveland, the Pittsburgh Steelers hosted and celebrated a reunion of players from their 2005-06 team. You know, the team that scored more points in Super Bowl XL than their opponent that day.
If you are either my Pittsburgh-born dad or are some sort of masochist and would like to see just how happy those players still are nearly ten years after their accomplishment, you may peruse my Steeler friend Ryan’s exclusive on-field photos here. Actually, the pics are pretty cool. This kind of thing will be nice to relive in eight years at Century Link.
While not pictured, I assume disgraced zebra Bill Levy was awarded a size 7 SB ring at the event, was an owner’s suite guest on this day, and currently has a bruised upper back from all the friendly pats.
I’m just kidding. I’m totally over that ga- NO, NO I’M NOT. I don’t want to hear the phrase “kicked two calls” again as long as I live. I hope your car’s “check engine” light comes on and flashes non-stop, no matter what you do to try to turn it off, Levy!
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- Seattle Seahawks: Four Takeaways from Week 14 21-7 victory
- Seattle Seahawks: Three Takeaways from the Week 13 43-16 victory
Moving on, this week’s tilt pits the 6-4 Steelers against the 5-5 and still alive Seahawks in Seattle. It should be a pretty entertaining game, and it’s one the Seahawks have to win if they plan to earn a wildcard playoff berth.
To say this will be a challenge for Seattle’s defense is an immense understatement. The Pittsburgh offense shares many similarities with the Arizona O that recently waltzed into the Link and dumped 39 points on Seattle’s heads. Both have excellent quarterbacks who are excelling with great play-calling coaches and throwing to a bevy of extremely talented receivers. The run games are efficient and the O-lines are getting it done despite some injuries.
The guys that Earl Thomas called out after the Arizona game better have their heads on straight and priorities in line, because these dudes ain’t playin’ around. This Pittsburgh offense can and will embarrass people.
I say this without hesitation – Ben Roethlisberger is the second best quarterback in the NFL at this moment. The only reason he isn’t #1 is because that guy is making a claim to be the best QB of all time, regardless of football air pressure.
Big Ben makes throws each and every week that have to be seen to be believed. With the advent of NFL Ticket, I do see them and am therefore forced to believe them. Like all the great ones, he always knows what you’re doing pre-snap and makes the right read and throw, accurately, nearly every single time.
Pittsburgh’s offensive line is led not by a player, but by decorated coach Mike Munchak. When I heard he was joining the Steelers, I wondered how long it would be before he would shape up their at-the-time beleaguered, Seattle-ish line. Answer: not long. Now they do things like open up running lanes and form a pocket from which the quarterback steps up and throws. Weird things like that. I don’t know, I guess it works for them.
The run game is now in the hands of D’Angelo Williams after Le’Veon Bell suffered a major knee injury several weeks ago. Williams has been impressive as the RB1, but Seattle’s game plan should be to force Williams and Pittsburgh’s rushing attack to beat them. I’ll take my chances playing more nickel and keying on the players whose numbers begin with 1 and 8, forcing the Steelers to win consistently on the ground. This will be Jeremy Lane’s first game action since his horrific Super Bowl injuries, and he needs to be out there a lot.
Fans at the game will get an up close and bittersweet look at one of (if not) the best wide receivers in the game today: Antonio Brown. Bittersweet because he’ll provide those in attendance a clinic on route running and making himself accessible to his quarterback, but of course it’ll be at the expense of Seattle’s defensive backs.
The thought of Cary Williams lining up across from Brown at any point during the game makes me violently queasy. Heck, this is even a bad matchup for Sherm. Seattle’s long corners are made to oppose the bigger wide receivers like Dez Bryant, A.J. Green, and the like. Guys similar in stature to Antonio Bryant have had success in the past against Seattle due to quick change of direction ability, and Brown is by far the best of that group, possessing elite moves. Tall corners can’t make those movements as quickly or easily. Separation and chunk plays are the result. Can rookie defensive coordinator Kris Richard scheme a way to contain this man?
The Seahawks should be able to better defend young, exciting deep threat Martavis Bryant for the reasons noted above. Bryant is 6’4” and fast with very good ball skills, but he won’t juke people out. Then again, I’d have said the same thing about Michael Floyd, and he had two big-time touchdown catches against Seattle- one on Williams, one on Sherm. But on paper it’s a decent matchup for the defense.
Throw in tight end Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeath Miller and a few subs that can make plays at times, and you can understand why this offense is so potent. If there was ever a time to establish a run game with a hungry Thomas Rawls and keep the opposing QB on the sidelines as long as possible, it’s this one.
As for the defense, well, this isn’t your father’s Steeler defense. Gone are the identifiable players of years gone by, along with long-time coordinator Dick LeBeau. In are players like Stephon Tuitt and Cam Heyward on the line. Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons at linebacker (along with a favorite of mine coming out of the draft a few years ago, Sean Spence). Mike Mitchell takes over as the hard-hitting safety. And at the coordinator position, an old friend – former Seahawk linebacker Keith Butler. A warm reception awaits Butler, for sure.
The old two-gap, 3-4 look of past defenses featuring edge pressure from linebackers has given way to a more aggressive one-gap, penetrating style of defense intended to blow plays up behind the line of scrimmage, before they get started. It workse\ for St. Louis when they play the Seahawks. Can the offensive line prevent the Steelers from causing the offense to similarly get behind the chains and hit explosive plays behind them?
Seattle must run effectively in this game against statistically one of the very best rush defenses in the league to control the flow of it, but points will come from attacking the secondary through the air. CB Antwon Blake has had the most passes thrown his way in the NFL this year for a reason. William Gay has a high football IQ, but is not in any sense a shutdown corner. Jimmy Graham, versus SS Will Allen, should be targeted A LOT. There are winnable matchups here, but the fly in the ointment is, as always, the offense’s difficulty finding and sustaining rhythm when they aren’t playing a Mountain West team like San Francisco.
Pittsburgh, like San Francisco last week and Arizona two weeks ago, is coming off their bye and will be as healthy and fresh as ever to face Seattle. Huh. What a neat little scheduling quirk that is. I’m sure facing three straight teams coming off a bye is just a coincidence though and not something the league intentionally did to help ensure a different NFC city representative at year’s end, right Roger?
Now to the good stuff. Having grown up 60 miles west of Pittsburgh, I have pertinent and very real internal, classified intel on the Steelers. While the locals would hang me from the track of the Duquesne Incline if they could for spilling these beans, at 5-5 I am desperate enough to risk physical impairment if it helps yield a Seahawks win.
Popeye ate spinach to get in a zone and win his fistfights. Underdog needed only a phone booth to transform him into an extraordinary crime fighter. Dillon, TX high school football’s Coach Taylor knew clear eyes and full hearts couldn’t lose. Freddy Krueger acquired insurmountable strength from teenagers’ fears. The Steelers? The Steelers have a song. A song that always leads to big plays:
The jig is up the news is out they’ve finally found me
The renegade who had it made retrieved for a bounty
Never more to go astray
This will be the end today of the wanted man
That’s right. The song “Renegade” by Styx is a magic potion that, when played during a Steelers game, sends that team into a PCP-like state where all of their senses are heightened and entirely focused on playing incredible football simultaneously. No one can explain why, but it does. At Heinz Field, they play it at times when they need something good to happen, and it arguably never fails.
So, let me be very clear, and I need everyone in the Greater Seattle area to treat this as an Emergency System Broadcast- do not, under ANY circumstances, play or allow anyone around you to play “Renegade” on any music device or certainly from any radio station between the time the Steelers plane lands at Sea-Tac and the moment they leave the city. I am totally serious right now. Heed this warning.
The Seahawks are a 4 point favorite. This is because they played like the Seahawks last week, but it looked like fool’s gold to me. Blaine Gabbert still had a very productive day and found matchups to exploit (read: picked on Cary Williams like everyone else does). The right side of the offensive line still allowed multiple pressures and scored poorly in metrics. The problems this team had in September (horrible O-line, secondary breakdowns) have not been solved in November like they had been in recent years.
This is not your 2013 Seahawks, nor your 2014 team. Heck, this isn’t even the 2012 squad. Doug Baldwin is right – enthusiasm is missing. Earl Thomas is right – some guys need to get out of their own way and play for the team. I keep waiting for them to turn it on, but I’m not seeing it. Maybe Thomas Rawls’ rhino impression will rub off on his catatonic teammates.
Seattle has a great record this year versus bad quarterbacks and a poor record versus good ones. I’ve not seen anything recently in their play to make me believe a switch has been flipped and that they’re about to go on a roll starting this week against challenges as stiff as those that Ben and offensive coordinator Todd Haley will provide.
Roethlisberger to Brown, Roethlisberger to Miller, Roethlisberger evades pressure and finds the open eligible receiver. These are things that we will see a lot on Sunday. It will take a full, 46-man effort playing in concert for all 60 minutes to withstand Pittsburgh’s assault and scratch out a victory.
Unfortunately, when I play this game out in my head, it ends like of others did this year. I see debilitating penalties committed by the offensive line when they’re not allowing pressures and guys wearing jersey numbers 26 and 35 being taken advantage of time and time again in the secondary.
Keeping the song lyric theme, I turn to The Eagles’ “Victim of Love:”
I could be wrong, but I’m not. No I’m not.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 27, Seattle 16
Wager: 75 credits on Pittsburgh +4, 25 credits on Pittsburgh (Even) at +160 odds
Season to Date: +50 credits