The Seahawks head to Pittsburgh knowing that they will be playing without quarterback Russell Wilson for the first time since 2011, but they hit the road confident in what Geno Smith can do running the offense, and looking to get a better performance out of their defense to help earn a bounce-back win following last week's loss to the Rams.
Both of these teams are used to success, and at 2-3 both know they need to get going to keep up in the playoff chase. If the Seahawks are going to earn another road victory, these are three key matchups that could make the difference in Sunday night's game at Heinz Field:
1. The deep ball to DK Metcalf & Tyler Lockett vs. Pittsburgh's secondary.
The Seahawks will be without Wilson, who throws arguably the best deep ball in the NFL, but Smith has a heck of an arm too, so there's no reason to think the Seahawks won't still look for some explosive plays downfield, particularly to DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, one of the league's most prolific pass-catching duos since Metcalf came into the league.
And playing where Metcalf had his first touchdown catch in Week 2 of his rookie season, the Seahawks very well could have some opportunities to take shots down the field. While the Steelers do have one of the NFL's best safeties in All-Pro Minkah Fitzpatrick, they have still been susceptible to big plays in the passing game and have allowed touchdown passes of 20-plus yards in each of their past four games, including scores of 61, 39 and 34 yards.
So far this season opposing quarterbacks have a robust 101.2 passer rating against the Steelers and have thrown 10 touchdowns with only two interceptions. But again, the Seahawks still need to be careful with Fitzpatrick on the back end of Pittsburgh's defense, as he has nine interceptions since arriving in Pittsburgh in a 2019 trade.
"He's a playmaker," Lockett said. "I think teams have tried not to go after him, they tried not to get him in the same positions that he was when he was making plays the way he was making them last year. He's definitely a guy that you've got to be able to prepare for. You've got to be able to know where he's at all times. We know he's a heck of a great player."
And of course for those big plays to happen, Smith will need time to operate, which brings us to…
2. T.J. Watt and Pittsburgh's pass rush vs. Geno Smith and Seattle's pass protection.
The Steelers have long been known as one of the NFLs' most blitz-happy teams, hence the "Blitzburgh" nickname, and as a result they've led the NFL in sacks for four straight seasons. Pittsburgh hasn't brought as much pressure this year, and ranks in the bottom half of the league with 10 sacks, but the Steelers still have the personnel and the know-how to dial pressure when they want to. And considering Pittsburgh will be facing a quarterback in Geno Smith who is making his first start in four years, Smith is expecting to see more pressure than the Steelers have shown on tape so far this year, meaning the Seahawks will need to be able to pick up those blitzes to keep their quarterback upright and allow the offense to function.
"Am I expecting pressure? Probably so, early on," Smith said. "They are going to want to test me, I'm pretty sure. That's something I'll be expecting, and I'll be ready for it."
Yet even if the Steelers don't bring extra pressure, the Seahawks will have their hands full when it comes to pass protection due to the presence of T.J. Watt, a two-time first-team All-Pro who had 13 or more sacks in each of the past three seasons, and who has 5.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and 10 quarterback hits so far this year.
"T.J. Watt is a great player, phenomenal player, and he's great at forcing turnovers," Smith said. "He's a strong guy that's technically sound, he's a smart player so they have him all over the field, and he's guy that we will definitely be paying attention to."
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3. Steelers RB Najee Harris vs. Seattle's run & pass defense.
The Steelers used their first-round pick on running back Najee Harris, and so far the move has paid off for their offense. While the Steelers have had some issues on offense as a new-look line comes together, the play of Harris has been one of the bright spots, with him not only leading the team in rushing with 307 yards and two touchdowns, but also in receptions with 28 for 198 yards.
Harris already has both a 100-yard rushing and 100-yard receiving game on his resume, and the Seahawks know they can't let him take over the game if they're going to have success on defense.
"He's definitely a challenge," linebacker Bobby Wagner said, "He's fun to watch on film. I like his footwork. When he reads the holes, when he sees it, he hits it. I think he stiff armed somebody out of bounds in the Raiders game. Definitely somebody you've got to get a body on, and somebody that you've got to be conscious of. He's also really, really active in the passing game. They like to get him out, he rarely stays in when there's a pass. He's somebody that can do it all, somebody we have to account for. It'll be a good challenge for us."
The Seahawks and the Steelers will meet on Saturday in Pittsburgh at Acrisure Stadium for their first preseason game of the 2022 season.. Take a look back at photos from the past games between the two teams.