12/19/19-Pittsburgh Steelers at NY Jets

December 19, 2019 by  
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By: Mike Pelaia 

The Steelers visit the NY Jets this week in a game that they must win to stay in the playoff mix.  It’s going to take 2 wins over the final two weeks or the Titans going 0-2 for the Steelers to hang on to the last playoff spot after the loss to Buffalo this past Sunday night.

The Steelers will need to win this game going back to basics.  First, they’ll need to play their Steel Curtain defense, getting after Sam Darnold and forcing him into errant throws and making poor decisions.  Make him “see ghosts” as he did against the Patriots.

With a rabid pass rush, led by defensive player of the year candidate TJ Watt and pro bowl snub Bud Dupree they should be able to light Darnold up.  After that, it’s ensuring Le’Veon Bell, they’re former teammate, doesn’t go off on them.  Bell hasn’t had a good season thus far but this would be the one game where he breaks out big. He can single handedly ruin the Steelers season and despite what he may say, despite what the Steelers locker room might say, he would love to do so. 

On offense, Randy Fichtner cannot throw Duck Hodges to the wolves, as he did last week.  Hodges will need to make some throws, sure, but he shouldn’t be throwing the football over 20 times in this game.  The ground game must be the focal point, to help control the clock and help set Hodges up for success. 

If James Conner is going to be the guy, then run him 20 times and let him control the pace of the game.  It’s going to be a close game, you can count on that, so the black and gold may as well control the clock and ideally the outcome in the process.

Since it will be close, and the offense can’t be counted on to do too much, special teams will certainly be a factor.  The return game with Diontae Johnson will need to help flip the field and you know Chris Boswell will need to continue his stellar 2019 season by making his kicks. 

In the end, if the Steelers can control the clock and force Darnold to be the guy that has to beat them, the black and gold should come out on top of this one 17-10.

12/14/19-Buffalo Bills at Pittsburgh Steelers

December 14, 2019 by  
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By: Mike Pelaia

The surprisingly good Buffalo Bills enter town with a 9-4 record on Sunday Night to face the also surprisingly good Pittsburgh Steelers, who currently sit in the 6th seed with an 8-5 record. In order for the Steelers to stay in prime position, they need to win this game, which would enable them to pass the Bills in the seedings and avoid the Chiefs in round one, if things played out as they currently stand now.

The Bills are still in a position to catch and pass the Patriots for the division title and have a lot to play for.  They have a solid defense and an offense that does just enough to win ball games.

The Steelers will need to keep Josh Allen in the pocket.  He’s a versatile quarterback, capable of making plays with his legs and the Steelers seem to have trouble with guys once they get in the open field.  Allen doesn’t make a lot of huge plays in the air, but he is also pretty careful with the football, meaning the Steelers are going to have to blitz him early and often, trying to force him to make bad throws.  The defense will need to force Allen to beat them rather than allowing Devin Singletary to rush all over them.  Singletary is averaging 5.6 yards per carry and can make game changing plays. 

If the black and gold can contain Singletary and put the game on Allen, I think they’ll have a good chance at winning.

Offensively, it’s on Duck Hodges to keep playing like he has. He’ll need to make the throws downfield, distribute the ball between Diontae Johnson and James Washington and make the smart throws, protecting the football.  Hodges has been confident in the pocket, seems to read the field well and moves the ball.

I look for the ground game to assist him. With James Conner back, I’m looking for him to show up and carry the ball to the tune of 20 times for 80 yards and help control the clock.  My preference would be that Benny Snell be the main back but they may choose to go by committee, and that’s fine too, as long as they are moving the football, controlling the clock and helping Hodges.

It’s more than likely going to come down to special teams and a last minute field goal by Chris Boswell, set up by a punt return from Johnson.

In the end, I see the Steelers winning another close game, late 23-20.

 

11/21/19-Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals

November 21, 2019 by  
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By: Mike Pelaia

The Steelers find themselves in a not so envious position as they head to Cincinnati this week to take on the winless Bengals.  At 5-5, the black and gold are in must win mode and the Bengals are looking to play spoilers.

All the talk this week has been centered around the melee between Mason Rudolph and Myles Garrett and my first concern is if that is causing a distraction to the team, most importantly to Rudolph.

Rudolph is coming off his worst game as a pro (albeit in a very short career thus far) and cannot afford to play that poorly again this season, should this team want a chance at the postseason. 

Without Maurkice Pouncey, the offensive line is going to need to step up and protect their young quarterback, something they seemed unable to do last week in Cleveland.  Rudolph already looks scared and doesn’t seem to be able to sense a collapsing pocket very quickly, his line needs to give him extra protection this week to help him out.  The Bengals will be blitzing and Rudolph will need to anticipate it.

At this point in the season, Randy Fichtner needs to allow Rudolph to audible.  There were times in Cleveland where the Steelers attempted to run the ball with nine Browns stuffing the box.  There is no opportunity for success in those situations, yet the play stayed as called.  Either Rudolph doesn’t know how to audible or he’s not allowed to. Either way, something needs to change this week.

The Bengals will stuff the box and will force Rudolph to beat them.  The good news for the Steelers is Benny Snell will be back in action this week and I think he can be a big play back. With James Conner out, yet again, Snell will need to be the guy that controls the clock.  If Snell can get some big runs, the passing game will be better off.

Rudolph will hopefully utilize guys like Vance McDonald in the intermediate passing attack and James Washington and Diontae Johnson further down field.

Defensively, it’s all about rattling Ryan Finley. With the blitz the Steelers have, they can force Finley to beat them by stuffing the box and not allowing big plays from running back Joe Mixon.

I also think the Steelers will key on Tyler Boyd as I suspect Finely is going to force the ball his way, providing an opportunity for some turnovers to lead to field position changes for the black and gold.

Should the Steelers control the clock on offense and stuff the run on defense, they’ll have a fruitful day.  I don’t think the offense will put the ball in the end zone however and they’ll need to rely on the defense to produce turnovers, flip the field and let Chris Boswell do his thing.

 

Steelers  15  Bengals  10

11/11/19-Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns

November 11, 2019 by  
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By: Mike Pelaia

As the Steelers come off their 4th straight victory over the defending NFC Champion Los Angeles Rams, they need to make a quick turnaround and head to Cleveland to take on the Browns.

Cleveland has been a disappointment thus far this season, however, after beating the Bills this past Sunday, they may have found a little life and some motivation to take down their intra division rivals from Pittsburgh.

The game will feature two quarterbacks who are no strangers to each other from their Big 12 days at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph. This will be the first time these guys have faced off as pros but I expect a good, heated battle.

On offense, the team wants to get more touches from JuJu Smith-Schuster but I anticipate the Browns will double team him, as most teams have this season, meaning Rudolph is going to need to distribute the ball downfield to both Diontae Johnson and James Washington. Washington is coming out of the best game of his career where he just posted six receptions for a 90 yards. Given he has a good, solid connection with Rudolph, I’m looking for him to put up similar numbers again this week and really become a go to guy for the young QB. 

I’d like to see the use of Vance McDonald even more, especially in the red zone and on third down. McDonald should be Rudolph’s safety blanket and I look for more involvement out of him this week.

From Rudolph’s standpoint, he needs to get more comfortable in the pocket and read the defense faster. He’s taking too many hits, getting stuck in the pocket too frequently lately and has been the victim of two safeties over the past two weeks.  While I recognize, the Steelers offensive line had to contend with Aaron Donald, this past week, possibly one of the best defenders in the entire NFL, Rudolph needs to be more aware. 

This upcoming week, he’ll have to face another monster in Myles Garrett and if he continues to hold onto the ball too long, it could spell disaster.

In addition to getting the ball downfield, I maintain, as I have for weeks, the pass game needs to be set up by an effective rushing attack. One that controls the clock and moves the sticks, no matter who’s carrying the ball, is extremely important for a young quarterback. If the Steelers can’t gain 4.0 yards per carry, the passing attack will suffer against the Browns.

But this game, like most this season, won’t be won by the offense.  It’s this new look defense that will need to step up again. I look for an all out blitzkrieg on Mayfield. He talks a big game but he’s a turnover, mistake machine and this opportunistic defense led by Minkah Fitzpatrick will be ready to pounce.

Mayfield will be looking to distribute the ball to his two stud wideouts, Odell Beckham Jr and Landry Jones but if the Steelers can get into the backfield as quickly as they have been, with guys like TJ Watt and Bud Dupree, Mayfield won’t have the time necessary to get it out to his playmakers. 

I anticipate Watt will get a few more sacks this week and Mayfield won’t know what him.

The Browns will need to and will try to, run the ball with Nick Chubb who has been a terror on defenses this year, amassing 919 yards already.  To add to that threat, Kareem Hunt is back in the mix and is a playmaking thereat.  I’m looking for the front line to plug the holes.  Javon Hargrave and Cam Heyward have been impenetrable this season and if Chubb or Hunt get through, they will be hard pressed to get past Vince Williams and Devin Bush.

This defense is one of the best we’ve seen in Pittsburgh in years and they will gain at least five more sacks this week, generate at least two more turnovers and will shut the Browns offense down. 

I look for the Steelers defense to set up their offense with short fields and easy scoring opportunities in this matchup, allowing the Steelers to extend their winning streak to five games.

Steelers 24  Browns 20

11/7/19-Los Angeles Rams at Indianapolis Colts

November 7, 2019 by  
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By: Mike Pelaia

The defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams travel to Pittsburgh this coming Sunday to take on the suddenly hot Pittsburgh Steelers in yet another game that both teams need to have to stay close in the playoff hunt.

The Steelers now find themselves sitting at 4-4 and just one game back of the Indianapolis Colts for the 6th and final playoff spot in the AFC.  Since they beat the Colts last weekend, the black and gold hold the tie breaker. 

Yet, none of that matters if they don’t put up a ‘W’ this week at home against the Rams.

In order to do so, the Steelers are going to need to open up the playbook a bit more and allow Mason Rudolph to throw downfield to his big play threat, JuJu Smith Schuster. I don’t suspect that will be easy considering Jalen Ramsey will be blanketing him all game long.  Guys like Diontae Johnson, James Washington and primarily Vance McDonald need to have plays drawn up for them by Randy Fichtner to help Rudolph spread the ball around.

If the passing attack wants to get vertical, the running game needs to be the piece that sets it all up. If Jaylen Samuels can be featured, the team can control the clock and set up the play action.  If Fichtner keeps it simple, the Rams will win the battle. 

The offensive line will need to keep Aaron Donald in check, somehow as well as Dante Fowler and Clay Mathews away from Rudolph. No small task to ask.

Defensively, the black and gold will have their hands full with a very potent offense lining up against them on the other side of the ball.

While he’s not having a superb year, Jared Goff is still very dangerous and he’ll look to get the ball out quick to Cooper Kupp. Yet, I’d rather the team take their chances on Goff beating them then leaving it up to Todd Gurley. Gurley, to me, is still a supreme back and can break out with a huge game at any time.  I’m not sure why he hasn’t been putting up the big numbers this season but I don’t care, he must be the primary focus of the defense.

If the defense can stop Gurley, they can then blitz the day lights out of Goff and force him into mistake throws, where you know Minkah Fitzpatrick will be ready to pounce.

I suspect this game will come down to Chris Boswells toe again and it will be won late, with points in the 30’s needed to get it done.

Steelers 31  Rams 28

11/1/19-Colts at Steelers

November 1, 2019 by  
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By: Mike Pelaia

The Steelers will try to win their 3rd consecutive game this week when the 5-2 Colts come to town. Just as the last several games have been, it’s a must win scenario for the black and gold if they want to stay in the playoff conversation in the AFC North. 

The team has officially passed the Cleveland Browns in the standings and are now chasing down the Baltimore Ravens, who have a very tough matchup against New England on Sunday night ahead of them. 

In order for the Steelers to win the game, they must run the football and play the rabid defense they’ve been playing for the last several weeks.  They’ll need to get after Jacoby Brissett who isn’t making many mistakes this season.  Yet Brissett is still relatively inexperienced.  If Keith Butler calls for a barrage of blitzes, Brissett will be forced to get rid of the ball early and therefore won’t be able to get the ball downfield to his top threat, TY Hilton.

Marlon Mack is the guy that scares me the most on offense for the Colts.  He’s been solid this year and a guy the defense will need to center on.  Stuffing the run and forcing Brissett to make throws to beat them is the best formula for success on the defensive side of the ball.  I’m looking for big games out of both Vince Williams and Devin Bush and expect them to be high impact guys on Sunday afternoon.

On the offensive side of the ball, they must continue to allow Mason Rudolph to throw downfield.  Last week, he was able to involve JuJu Smith-Schuster which changed the game.  Thanks to the help of Diontae Johnson, Smith-Schuster was freed up for one on one coverage and put up number one receiver numbers.  If Rudolph can spread the ball out again, JuJu will have another big day. 

Yet the offensive line will be the true key on offense as the Steelers must start their game plan with running the football.  It is my expectation that Jaylen Samuels will be getting the bulk of the carries this week.  Samuels is a capable back but coming off an injury that sidelined him the last few weeks, he may be a bit rusty. The O-line must open up holes for him and any other backs carrying the ball, on a consistent basis. 

Through the battle, I think it will come down to a last minute kick by Chris Boswell. Boswell has had a sensational season thus far and my expectation is he will continue it with a game winning kick late in the fourth quarter, enabling the Steelers to move to 4-4 and stay in the AFC North chase.

Steelers 27  Colts 24

 

10/26/19-Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers

October 26, 2019 by  
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By: Mike Pelaia

The 0-6 Dolphins come to Heinz Field on Monday Night to take on the 2-4 Steelers in a game that must be won by the Steelers.

The Dolphins are clearly one of, if not the, worst team in football and with the Steelers coming out of their bye week and off a win on the road against the Chargers, there is no reason for them to come out flat.

The first thing Pittsburgh needs to do is get after Ryan Fitzpatrick and force him to make the mistakes he’s known for. Fitzpatrick is gutty and will make throws all over the field, often to the opposing jersey. The way the Steelers defense has been playing, I anticipate at least two interceptions out of the secondary. 

Fitzpatrick is also a guy the Steelers should be able to sack often. I’m looking for a big game out of TJ Watt.  I don’t expect the Dolphins offense to do much against the rabid Steelers defense but it will be interesting to see how the Steelers play in their first game without out stud defensive end Stephon Tuitt.

Will that change their approach?  No.  Will it change their play?  Yes, naturally it has to, he’s a talent that’s hard to replace.  Against the Dolphins however, it won’t matter much. 

Offensively, the Steelers must go back to doing what they did against the Chargers, center the offense around James Conner and run the football. 

Mason Rudolph will start the game and it’s my hope that Randy Fichtner will allow him to throw the ball downfield and utilize his receivers more.  It’s time to get JuJu Smith-Schuster the ball and there is no better team to try throwing deep against than the winless Dolphins.

No matter what the approach is this week, the Steelers must and will come out on top. The Dolphins are “tanking for Tua” and it’s working.  The Steelers will be dead in the water should they lose. Heads must roll if the team loses to the Dolphins after a bye week.

Not going to happen this week though.

Steelers 27  Dolphins 3

 

10/10/19-Steelers at Chargers Preview

October 10, 2019 by  
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By: Mike Pelaia

The 1-4 Steelers head west to take on the 2-3 Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday Night.  Both teams are in dire need of a win and despite the Steelers poor start to the season, they are very much alive in a watered down AFC North. Should they pick up a victory this weekend, they can remain in the divisional conversation.

Devlin “Duck” Hodges will be under center for the Steelers and he’ll need to provide an immediate spark to an offense that has had some trouble moving the ball downfield.  The key to success will be running the football with James Conner. Randy Fichtner has not enabled the traditional running game at a time when his offense needs to control he clock and help out its’ young quarterback(s).  It needs to start this week and Conner has to get 20-25 touches.  I’m tired of saying it so I hope it happens! 

I’m also very adamant that the Steelers let Hodges loose.  They need to allow him to throw the ball downfield to JuJu Smith-Schuster and they need to let him run some draw plays.  Hodges can move and I think this is exactly what this offense needs right now, his mobility.  I anticipate he’ll have a relatively productive night, if Fichtner doesn’t get in his way.

The defense needs to continue to do what they have done over the last three weeks. They need to pressure Phillip Rivers on nearly every play. Rivers is a statue back there and can be sacked many times over, if the Steelers continue to apply pressure throughout the game.  TJ Watt is the guy on defense that I’m looking for to be the star of the game.  I anticipate him getting a couple of sacks and creating a fumble.  Keenan Allen is the guy that the secondary will need to contain and stop from making the big splash plays.  If they don’t, it could be a longer day than the team wants.

My fear around this game is the “Fichtner Factor”.  Despite what I wrote above, I don’t think he’ll run the ball efficiently. I think his game plan will be poorly constructed and without adjustments and I think he’ll be the reason, once again, the Steelers come out on the wrong side of the game despite, in all likelihood, being competitive.  “Fire Fichtner” must rain down upon the plane as it lands back at home early Monday morning with a 1-5 Steelers team losing 24-17, thanks to Fichtner and his ineptitude.

10/5/19-Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers

October 5, 2019 by  
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By: Mike Pelaia

 

The Steelers face another big game this Sunday afternoon as they host their bitter rivals, the Baltimore Ravens. After a 2-0 start, the Ravens come into Heinz Field losers of their last two games and in desperate need of a victory. 

The black and gold, after finally putting up a ‘W’ against the Bengals, need a win just as badly.  Should the Steelers find a way to pull off the game and the Browns lose on Monday Night, the Steelers will find themselves atop the AFC North after a dreadful 0-3 start.

It won’t be easy for the black and gold but if they can come out with a solid game plan, they have a real shot of getting it done. 

First and foremost, the defense needs to continue to rush and sack the quarterback as they did against the Bengals.  Getting to Lamar Jackson won’t be as easy as it was getting to Andy Dalton.  Jackson has had a very solid year thus far, only throwing two interceptions vs. the ten touchdowns he’s put up but if the black and gold can get heavy pressure on him, he can be forced into mistakes.  The front seven will need to contain him if he scrambles but if they can force him to make quick decisions, the defense will win that battle more often than not.

The secondary is going to need to make sure Marquise Brown plays like he did the last two games vs. the first two games where he was unstoppable.  Joe Haden will probably man up against Brown and will stick with him all day.

I believe the Ravens are going to try to bring a heavy dose of Mark Ingram to the game plan.  He’s averaging 6.0 yards per carry and can easy the pressure off of Jackson if he’s successful and the black and gold are getting to the quarterback with regularity.

But the game plan cant’ stop with the defense. The offense needs to be opened up. Randy Fichtner must allow Mason Rudolph to throw the ball downfield.  JuJu Smith-Schuster is a big time play maker that needs to see the ball more often.  Rudolph wants to involve Schuster, will Fichtner let him?  The wild cat and touch passes will not work against the Ravens, in my opinion, so let the game plan open up and see what happens. 

Much like Jackson, Rudolph needs his running game to help him as well.  I’d like to see the Steelers bring a heavy workload from both James Conner and Jaylen Samuels. If those two can get going, that should in turn open up the deeper passing game. 

My gut feeling is it’s going to come down to special teams, kicking, punting and most importantly coverage teams.  This will be a tight game, as it always is between these two teams.  Despite the fact that the Steelers are at home and coming off a win, I don’t think they are quite as good as the Ravens and therefore I think the Ravens are going to win it late.

Baltimore 23 Pittsburgh 20

9/28/19-Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers

September 28, 2019 by  
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By: Mike Pelaia

The 0-3 Cincinnati Bengals travel to Pittsburgh to take on the surprisingly 0-3 Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football. 

The loser of this contest is most assuredly out of any type of playoff talk but the winner is still alive, believe it or not.  Crazier than that.  If the Steelers beat the Bengals this week and the Browns beat the Ravens, and then the Steelers beat the Ravens next week and the Browns lose, the Steelers will be in first place.  Not probable but definitely possible. 

Yet that journey needs to start with the classic cliché of ‘one game at a time’.  It needs to start with a re energized offense on Monday night.  Randy Fichtner needs to allow Mason Rudolph to play football.  Fichtner must allow deep balls to be thrown.  He needs to allow Rudolph to take advantage of the playmaking ability of JuJu Smith-Schuster. Rudolph has the talent to do so. And though he’s only making his second start, on the national stage, the Steelers must show confidence in him, not hinder him. 

That certainly falls on Fichtner.  Part of allowing Rudolph to gain confidence will be the use of the running game, in particular James Conner. Bluntly, Conner is off to a terrible start.  There are a combination of reasons why, including blow out losses necessitating throwing the ball, horrible play calling, bad offensive line play and Conner not playing well.  I expect that to change Monday night.  I certainly expect the talented offensive line to get it together sooner than later.  Their play has been poor. They know it, and they need to fix it.  If they can’t, their young QB, young RB and the rest of the team will falter.

Defensively, sacks have to happen. Pressure on the Andy Dalton has to happen. Getting off the field on third down has to happen.  Not giving up big drives after the offense puts the team ahead; has to happen.  Making adjustments, Keith Butler, I’m looking right at you, has to happen!

Some of these will happen. I expect more pressure on the QB. I am looking for Cam Heyward to have a big game and lead the charge.  I’m expecting TJ Watt to have a big game to the tune of two sacks and a forced fumble. 

What I’m not expecting, is adjustments by Butler. We have multiple seasons of proof indicating that he’s either incapable or unwilling to do so.  The attitude exhibited by Butler about making adjustments is ridiculous.  Should this team lose to the Bengals and fall to 0-4, Butler should be the first person to be fired on Tuesday morning.  It will in all likelihood be the defenses fault.  The unit is loaded with talent yet they are not being placed in schemes that allow them to make plays and win football games.  Some prime years are being wasted and something needs to be done about it. 

But let’s wait for that until the time comes. 

Personally, I don’t think this team will lose on Monday. They are too talented to drop to 0-4. The Bengals are bad, period.  These divisional games are often hard fought but in the end, the black and gold will prevail with a 27-17 victory.

 

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