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.

 

9/19/19-Pittsburgh Steelers at San Francisco 49ers

September 19, 2019 by  
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By: Mike Pelaia

The Steelers head out west, with an 0-2 record to take on the 2-0 49ers.  The 49ers are a team on the rise while there is now some serious debate about who or what the Steelers are. 

With the season ending injury to Ben Roethlisberger, the team must now turn to 2nd year man Mason Rudolph to lead the charge.  Rudolph performed well in his debut last week, with some very Roethlisberger like numbers.  Will he be able to repeat that in his first career start? 

I think he can but I don’t think he will.  It’s not that he’ll make mistakes, it’s that the Steeler should and hopefully will, implement a heavy rushing attack to take pressure off Rudolph.  They need to run the ball 30 times or more, control the clock and keep the game as low scoring as possible. 

While all of Steeler Nation is certainly excited by Rudolph’s youth and ability and his inarguable connection with his college teammate James Washington, the team needs to take it slow with him, as they did with a young Roethlisberger.  They need to let him get his feet wet, let the ground game dictate the offense and allow the defense to pick up the slack.

That’s where the bigger question lies, however.  Is this defense capable of picking up that much needed slack?  Roethlisberger and his abilities were often able to mask and overcome the shortcomings on all sides of the ball.  With him gone, the defense needs to do their part. 

The arrival of Minkah Fitzpatrick should certainly electrify the team and the defense but he too, will need to be slowly eased in.  Let’s not forget that he just arrived this week.  I expect him to be a force in the secondary but I’m willing to allow him a little time to adjust to new schemes and teammates. While he, along with the rest of the secondary need to prevent Jimmy Garoppolo from going downfield, who will stop George Kittle?

Keith Butler always has trouble stopping big time tight ends and if history serves as any indication, he’ll have trouble again.

He needs to have his blitzers get home on Garoppolo, he needs to have Kittle covered by someone capable and he needs to ensure he makes adjustments mid game as Kyle Shanahan will on the other side.  If he doesn’t, it won’t matter what Rudolph and the offense does, it will be lights out.

While I think the Steelers have the talent, and will win 8 games or so this season, they aren’t going to get that first win on Sunday in San Francisco.  There are too many reasons this team isn’t quite ready yet and it’ll have to wait another week.

San Francisco 31 Pittsburgh 23

9/12/19-Seattle Seahawks at Pittsburgh Steelers

September 12, 2019 by  
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By: Mike Pelaia

 

The Steelers come home battered, wounded and hopefully a bit embarrassed after the 33-3 pummeling they endured this past Sunday night at New England.  In the aftermath of the massive season opening defeat, the Steelers will lick their wounds and face the 1-0 Seattle Seahawks. 

This game is a crucial turnaround game for the black and gold.  They cannot afford to drop to 0-2 and after a putrid output on both sides of the ball, they need to prove to themselves, and the fans, that they are closer to the team that everyone thought they were than the team that showed up (or didn’t show up) on Sunday night.

It starts on the offensive side of the ball.  The team will need to utilize James Conner far more effectively.  Conner needs to carry the football 20-25 times for 85-100 yards.  The offense must utilize this ball control and limit the time the defense is on the field. 

If the Steelers can run the football and if Randy Ficthner will open up the playbook for Ben Roethlisberger to throw the ball downfield (or maybe just let Ben call his own plays) then the Steelers will have a far better opportunity of success than they did in New England. 

I’d also like to see JuJu Smith-Schuster become more of an impact player early in the game and have the team less reliant on Donte Moncrief this week.

Additionally, I believe the Steeler should and will involve Vance McDonald in the offensive game plan to the tune of 6 catches for 75 yards and a touchdown. McDonald could be a key player for this team if Fichtner would allow it.

That all said, if the defense doesn’t do their job, it won’t matter what numbers the offense puts up.  Stopping Russell Wilson is objective number one.  The defense has to blitz him and more importantly contain him. He’s dangerous outside of the pocket and the black and gold should be nervous about him making plays with his legs if he decides to tuck and run.  If he throws, the secondary needs to be far better than they were last week. Getting burned far too frequently, specifically over the top as the safeties failed their assignments.  Wilson may not be Tom Brady but he has an arm and he will make the Steelers pay if they fail to get to him.

At the end of the day, I believe the team will come out with enough energy and just enough on both sides of the ball to leave Sundays home opener with the ‘W’.

Steelers 24 Seahawks 23

12/28/18-Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers

December 28, 2018 by  
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By: Mike Pelaia

The Steelers enter the final game of the season in a must win situation and in need of help from their rival Cleveland Browns over their other rival, the Baltimore Ravens.  However, if the black and gold don’t get past the Bengals on Sunday, nothing else matters.  I fully expect a Steeler victory and I don’t expect it to be close.  Beyond that, they have to hope and pray and keep their fingers crossed that the Browns come up with the upset.

 

Here Are The Keys To Victory:

 

Stop Joe Mixon:

The Bengals are with out Andy Dalton and AJ Green, the only offense they have at this point is a running game that starts with Joe Mixon. If the Steelers can stuff Mixon at the line, they’ll force the ball to be distributed by Jeff Driskel, the Bengals backup quarterback who isn’t someone to truly fear.

 

Create More Turnovers:

The black and gold have created turnovers the past couple of weeks and they need to continue to do so this week in order to flip the field and gain some momentum.  Turnovers have been extremely difficult to come by this season for the black and gold so getting a pick or two or a fumble will go a long way in setting up the day for the Steelers and helping them edge their way to victory.

 

Limit The Penalties:

The Steelers rank near the bottom of the league in penalty yards given up and there is no better way to keep a bad team in the game than giving up free yards.  Yes, the refs played a huge part in the penalty yards given up last week, no arguments here, but the Steelers need to help themselves and stay out of those situations (when they can). No reason to provide free yards or easy points to a inferior opponent.

 

Matt McCrane Must Make His Kicks:

Matt McCrane was signed off the streets this week to replace Chris Boswell who was placed on IR.  McCrane must do what Boswell hasn’t done consistently this season, hit kicks. Problem is, McCrane kicked for the Raiders earlier this season is 5 of 9 for the year himself. Kicking in Heinz Field is no picnic so let’s hope he can get the job done when called upon.

 

Conclusion:

The Steelers really shouldn’t have any challenge this week. The Bengals are a horrible football team and the black and gold are playing for their lives. If they don’t win, nothing else matters. I expect a large margin of victory in this one with a 34-14 victory. 

From there they need to scoreboard watch and hope the Browns get it done. Unfortunately, I don’t think the Ravens will falter in a must win game at home and I think they’ll get by the much improved Browns by a score of 23-20.

 

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