The Seahawks host the Steelers on Sunday in a New Year's Eve matchup between two 8-7 teams that are fighting for playoff berths, the first meeting between the two teams in Seattle since a 2015 thriller won by the Seahawks. To help you get ready for this week's game, we reached out to Steelers.com writer Dale Lolley with five questions about Seattle's Week 17 opponent:
A lot of folks were writing the Steelers' season off after three straight losses, what was the key to them bouncing back with an impressive win over the Bengals last week to keep their playoff hopes alive?
Lolley: Mike Tomlin's steady hand at the controls. The Steelers never panic, and it starts with the head coach. Like Seattle's Pete Carroll, he's been through a lot of different scenarios in his years as a head coach and the message still resonates within the team.
Sounds like the Steelers are sticking with Mason Rudolph at QB this week? What did he bring to last week's game to help spark the offense?
Lolley: Rudolph really just ran the offense, took what was given to him and got the ball where it needed to go, which in this case was to George Pickens with the Bengals keying on tight end Pat Freiermuth, who had caught nine passes for 120 yards against them a month ago. He didn't try to play hero ball or do too much. He let the game come to him and played turnover-free football, which was what the Steelers were looking for against an opportunistic Cincinnati defense.
T.J. Watt is back to his game-wrecking self in 2023 after battling injuries last year, this is probably a very obvious question, but for those who don't watch Pittsburgh on a regular basis, just how significant is Watt to that defense?
Lolley: Don't believe the double-team rate numbers you see on some web sites regarding Watt. He's doubled on every passing play. And if he's not, look out. Watt's presence opens things up for others to make plays — when he's not making them himself — and the penalties he creates have a huge effect on things, as well. Last week against the Bengals, he drew a holding penalty and then a false start on Bengals RT Jonah Williams on back-to-back plays that led to an Alex Highsmith interception on third-and-19. That doesn't show up in the stat sheet, but he's the best defensive player in the NFL right now and affects the game in so many ways.
Aside from the obvious big names, what player or players could you see being a potential X-factor in this game?
Lolley: It will likely be Myles Jack and Mykal Walker manning the inside linebacker positions for the Steelers with Cole Holcomb, Kwon Alexander and Elandon Roberts all injured. Walker joined the Steelers in late October, while Jack, a Bellevue High School grad, had retired from football before the Steelers brought him back in late November. They'll have a stiff test in helping to stop Seattle's running back duo of Kenneth Walker III and Zach Charbonnet, both in the running game and passing game.
What matchup or matchups are you most looking forward to seeing play out on Sunday?
Lolley: Steelers cornerback Joey Porter Jr. against Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf. Porter has allowed 22 receptions on 47 passes targeted in his coverage this season according to Pro Football Reference, a completion percentage of 46.8 percent. He's also given up just one touchdown. And he's done that working against the opposing team's best wide receiver each game. Per NFL's Next Gen Stats, he was matched on Cincinnati's Tee Higgins on 32 of 40 pass routes run last week. Higgins was targeted twice, catching one pass for 15 yards. And Higgins finished with five receptions for 140 yards and a touchdown on eight targets. So, in those rare instances when Porter didn't have him locked up, the Bengals looked for Higgins. When Porter was on him, they didn't often throw his way. It's doubtful the Seahawks will ignore Metcalf like that if Porter is on him. But expect to see that matchup a lot.
The Seahawks and Steelers face off on Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023. Kickoff is set for 1:05 p.m. PT. Take a look back through history at the Seahawks' matchups against the Steelers.