One could make a compelling case that the Green Bay Packers haven’t played a “real” game against the Pittsburgh Steelers since Super Bowl XLV. Aaron Rodgers was out with a broken collarbone for both the 2013 and 2017 games against the Steelers, and the 2015 preseason matchup, in addition to being a preseason matchup, is best lest un-discussed for Jordy Nelson/ACL-related reasons.
So that brings us to the two teams’ 2021 matchup, their first serious get-together since they battled for football supremacy on the biggest of stages. Obviously, quite a bit has changed since then, so for some insight into what we’ll see from Pittsburgh on Sunday, we turned to Jeff Hartman of Behind the Steel Curtain.
Acme Packing Company: The Steelers made a noteworthy commitment this off-season to Ben Roethlisberger, but he’s been underwhelming so far this season. Do you have any buyer’s remorse? What’s the path forward?
Jeff Hartman: I wouldn’t say the Steelers have buyer’s remorse. The only real commitment the Steelers have with Roethlisberger is for the 2021 season, after this season are nothing but void years in his contract. They can walk away after this year if they decide that is the direction they want to go. The path forward is anything but clear. The Steelers have Mason Rudolph locked in for 2022, and it will be extremely cheap for them to hold onto Dwayne Haskins too. Those two options don’t provide a lot of confidence for the fan base. If the Steelers are moving on from Roethlisberger after this year, let the search for the new long-term QB begin.
APC: Outside of Roethlisberger, what do you make of the Steelers’ offense so far?
JH: The Steelers’ offensive woes start, and end, with the offensive line. From left to right the unit is inexperienced and young...a rough combination. On the few occasions Roethlisberger has had time to throw, the offense has been able to move the ball. I would expect the group to improve throughout the season, but no one saw them being this raw to start the year. As for running the ball, Najee Harris has been working his tail off just to get back to the line of scrimmage. If the line can open holes for him, he is as dynamic as they come.
APC: Who’s an under-the-radar player on offense that non-Steelers fans should know about?
JH: I would have to say that player would be rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth. The former Penn State tight end has been a fan favorite of Ben Roethlisberger the past two weeks, and that will likely continue. Freiermuth has been the most targeted tight end on the offense, more than Eric Ebron, and looks to be an integral part of the offense moving forward.
APC: Packers fans are quite familiar with star pass rusher T.J. Watt, but he may not play this week and there’s more to defense than just one guy. Who else makes this Steelers unit go?
JH: The Steelers’ defense has been absolutely obliterated by injuries. Last week they were without their two top pass rushers, Watt and Alex Highsmith, as well as missing Tyson Alualu after breaking his ankle in Week 2. The Steelers’ defense starts with their pass rush, and when Watt, Highsmith and Melvin Ingram are all healthy there isn’t a better trio in the NFL. With the pass rush being a threat on the outside, it opens up interior lanes for Cam Heyward to wreck game plans. This only aids the secondary, which makes the defense go as their pass rush goes. Keep an eye on the injury report regarding Highsmith and Watt’s groin injuries.
APC: If you were going to attack the Steelers’ defense, where would you start?
JH: Attacking the Steelers’ defense starts with being able to run the ball. Teams who have been able to run the ball have avoided those down and distances where the Steelers can pin their ears back and get after the passer. When the team is giving up 4-5 yards per carry, they can never truly attack the offense. On top of that, it makes them susceptible to the play-action pass. When the Steelers make a team one-dimensional is when they do the most damage.
APC: What’s your pick for Sunday? Who wins and why?
JH: I’m a homer, just to get that out of the way, and I don’t see this Steelers team being as bad as advertised. Yes, they haven’t played well the past two weeks, but if they can get the defense healthy they will be in every game they play. The question then becomes if the offense can move the ball. I don’t expect this game to be a shoot out, but I do see the Steelers finding a way to pull out the win. After all, no one thought they could win in Buffalo in Week 1, and they found a way. I think they find a way again, and boy would this team need a boost like beating the Packers in Lambeau.
Steelers - 24
Packers - 20