Five Storylines Heading Into Seahawks-Steelers

Can they stop the bleeding against Seattle?

Matt Koll
September 13, 2019 - 1:17 pm
Donte Moncrief

Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Time to leave the 33-3 beatdown in the past. Here's what I'm looking at for Week 2 against the Seattle Seahawks. 

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5. No Clownin’ Around

The Seahawks pass rush was already pretty good. Then it got better on August 31st when they acquired defensive end Jadeveon Clowney from the Houston Texans for Jacob Martin, Barkevious Mingo and a 2020 3rd round pick. Many have called it a steal for Seattle, and they now pair him with Ziggy Ansah, who had 12 sacks in a healthier 2017 season. Clowney has had at least nine sacks in each of the past two seasons.

This isn’t the Legion of Boom defense of Seahawks teams past, but the front seven should be much more of a challenge than New England’s last week. On the other hand, the Steelers boast a veteran offensive line with Pro Bowlers throughout. Maurkice Pouncey’s health and availability scares me a little, but this unit shouldn’t let the pass rush totally destroy things on Sunday.

4. Dot Talk

It’s truly incredible how much discussion there is about defensive communication with the Steelers and it seemingly occurs to begin just about every season. After multiple missed assignments last week, Mike Tomlin was peppered with questions about who wears “the dot” on defense, referring to the green dot on the back of the helmet of the player who gets the defensive signals from the coaching staff and relays it to the team.

It was revealed that TJ Watt “wore the dot” in New England, slightly atypical as normally a player in the middle of the defense, say a guy like Devin Bush, is the communicator. Whoever it is and however the message is received, it needs to be cleaned up and executed in a much more effective way against Seattle.

The last thing I want to see is Russell Wilson hitting a wide-open receiver deep down the field for a score and watch as the cameras cut to a confused-looking Steelers defense. We had our fill of that last week. Keith Butler’s crew certainly didn’t impress and the communication, or lack thereof, was a major factor.

3. All About The Ground And Pound 

The Seahawks LOVE to run the football and they’re not bashful about it. In fact, Seattle head coach Pete Carroll was quoted this week as saying the Seahawks’ 75 yards on the ground last week against Cincinnati was not enough and that they need to be much better. This offense feeds off its run game and ability to control the clock. Chris Carson and former first round pick Rashaad Penny lead the way here and we should expect a heavy dose of them right from the start.

Related: Three-Point Stance: Welcome To Week 2 In The NFL

Seahawks beat writer Gregg Bell from the Tacoma News Tribune joined The Fan Morning Show on Friday and said that while Russell Wilson is an elite quarterback, they need the run in order to pass. They need the ability to run play action.

That seems to favor the Steelers, as they have traditionally been much better against the run than the pass. But I’m also concerned about the running game on the offensive side of things for the Steelers.

James Conner was flatly a non-factor in New England. He mustered just 21 rushing yards on 10 carries and couldn’t pick up key first downs, even when he wasn’t receiving a pitch to the outside for the third time in a row.

The Steelers talked about using both Conner and Jaylen Samuels out on the field at the same time during OTAs and the preseason and offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner mentioned that possibility again this week. I want to see how exactly that plays out and if it, you know, actually works. Fichtner also mentioned how he got a little gun shy to call running plays against New England after a few of them failed. They’ve got to get more on the ground this week, especially with the question marks littering the receiving corps. Which leads me to…

2. Steelers Receiving Group: Fluke Or Fiasco?

Whoops. I think Donte Moncrief just dropped another ball. The Steeler newcomer put together one of the most horrendous stat lines he could have in his Pittsburgh debut. 10 targets. 3 catches. 7 yards. Two very important drops, one on a 4th and 1 and the other in the endzone.

Second year receiver James Washington, a breakout candidate for 2019, was only on the field for 51% of the offensive snaps last week. That’s 10 fewer snaps than Ryan Switzer and just 11 more than rookie Diontae Johnson. Mike Tomlin said he wasn’t concerned about Washington’s playing time when asked about it Tuesday, which frankly blows my mind and also scares me a little.

Why are they so hesitant to use him? Tomlin says he will carve out a role, but why not give him ample opportunity to do so? Another alarming trend was that Vance McDonald was virtually invisible and didn’t notch a reception until garbage time last week. So was New England’s physical secondary just that good or are the Steelers…*gulp*…missing Antonio Brown as the playmaker down the field?

Seattle’s performance against Andy Dalton and the Bengals gives you hope. They allowed over 400 yards passing and John Ross, technically their third receiver, racked up 158 yards and 2 TD’s.

I think we’ll see a much better showing from the group as a whole. Ben Roethlisberger continued to express his confidence and support of Moncrief this week, which leads me to believe he might go to him early in this game to prove it and to allow Moncrief an opportunity to put last week’s disaster behind him.

1.  A Must-Win? In Week 2?!?

I know, it sounds ridiculous and over-the-top.

As former Pirates broadcaster and current Waynesburg University professor Lanny Frattare used to tell my peers and me, “It’s only a must-win when the team must to win to keep its season alive.”

It’s obviously far away from its literal meaning here and still probably an overstatement in its figurative sense but consider this…

Since 2007, 98 NFL teams have started the season 0-2. Only 12 of those 98 (slightly over 12%) went on to make the playoffs. The slight silver lining here is that 2 of the 7 teams to start 0-2 last year did turn it around to make the postseason (Texans, Seahawks). But do you really want to see the Steelers face those kinds of odds?

Here are a few things to maybe put your mind at ease heading in.

  1. Seattle comes in having barely beaten the Bengals, not expected to be a playoff team, by just one point, 21-20, at home.
  2. The Seahawks are a west coast team coming to the east coast to play a 1:00 game. That usually heavily favors the home, eastern team.
  3. Ben Roethlisberger is 10-2 in home openers.

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