Preview: Green Bay Packers at Steelers

When I first saw this game on the schedule, I mentally penciled it in as a loss. As recently as a couple weeks ago, I still expected the Green Bay Packers would lose this game.

On November 9th, the Steelers beat their Broncos to move to 6-2, and they were favored to finish as the No. 2 seed in the AFC. Five consecutive losses later, the playoffs appear out of reach. On November 8th, the Packers were surprisingly beaten by the Buccaneers to fall to 4-4. Five consecutive wins later, the Packers are on the verge of locking up a wild card spot. These are two teams heading in two different directions.

Here are the official rankings from NFL.com:

Team Run Offense Pass Offense Run Defense Pass Defense
Packers 13 9 2 3
Steelers 16 12 1 13

 

Looking at the hidden yards, according to Football Outsiders, the Packers have the worst special teams unit in the NFL, while the Steelers are only 3rd worst. The Packers still lead the NFL in penalty yards per game at 71.9/game, while the Steelers are a little below average with 48.4/game. The Packers still lead the league with 48 sacks allowed, but the Steelers are bad too and have allowed 38 sacks.

Statistically this looks like a close matchup. The Steelers' offense is a notch below the Packers. The defenses are similar, but there is some weakness in the Steelers' secondary. As usual, the Packers are outperformed by their opponent on special teams, penalty yards, and sacks allowed. Add the hidden yards to the Steelers' home field advantage, offset by the Steelers' slight disadvantages on offense and defense, and it's understandable that the Steelers are favored by 1

But something is wrong in Pittsburgh, and a statistical review just doesn't work this week. Here's a comment posted by Steelfrog at Behind the Steel Curtain:

That short of repeating, this might be the best thing that could have happened to this team. Now they’re going to have to take a long look at themselves and really try to get better. No more of the "yeah but we won the Superbowl that way" talk. The offense and special teams coaching needs improvement, the defense needs some retooling, time to go to work and find an identity…

Identity seems to be a key word for them right now. NYSteelersFan4 wrote about it too in his excellent FanPost. There was talk of change after their 4th loss in a row, at home to the Raiders, but Johnny_S didn't notice much change in the loss at the Browns. There might be a coaching makeover this offseason, primarily on special teams and offense. That might be a good idea: the Packers change of defensive coordinators from Bob Sanders to Dom Capers has made a world of difference. But look closely at the replacement. The Packers fired their special teams coach Mike Stock after the P Derrick Frost experience, and promoted from within. The result has been a complete special teams collapse.

The Steelers remind me of the 2008 Green Bay Packers. Last season, the Packers outscored their opponents but finished with a 6-10 record. This season, the Steelers are 6-7 and have outscored their opponents. The Steelers have lost their last 5 games by a combined of only 22 points, though 3 of those losses came against three of the worst teams in the NFL (Chiefs, Raiders, and Browns). Last season, the Packers were in a lot of close games too, but their flaws (usually the run defense) were constantly exposed. The Packers found so many different ways to lose that Football Outsiders began mocking them. Sometimes when teams start losing, and are losing for ways that are hard to pinpoint, it seems like they'll never turn it around. The Packers do it until they played such an incredible doormat at home (the 0-15 Lions) that it was almost impossible to lose.

So I expect this to be a close game again, but the Steelers will find someway to lose. The Packers' D has had trouble keeping teams from scoring TDs once they get in the red zone, and the Steelers should be able to get down that far twice. The Packers' offense settled for FGs last week against the Bears, so that might be something they again have a problem with again.

Packers 20, Steelers 17.

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