The Seahawks are back on the road in Week 6, heading to Pittsburgh while looking to bounce back from last week's loss to the Rams. The Seahawks won in Pittsburgh in 2019, but both teams have undergone plenty of change since then, so to learn more about this week's opponent, we reached out Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Steelers beat writer with five questions about the Steelers:
Q: The Steelers broke a three-game losing streak with a solid win over Denver last week, and beat one of the NFL's best teams in Week 1. What do you make of this team that lost three straight in between a couple of good wins?
Batko: The Broncos victory was much-needed—maybe as close to a must-win as you can get in Week 5—but it was clear early on that Denver was the worst opponent the Steelers had faced so far this season. They certainly don't have the offensive firepower of Buffalo, Las Vegas, Cincinnati or Green Bay. So, the Steelers defense stepped up, for the most part, and facing Teddy Bridgewater was probably a pleasant reprieve from those first four quarterbacks. What was more impressive was the offense being able to get up off the mat against a unit that, statistically, was among the league's best. If nothing else, Ben Roethlisberger and Co. showed they can still get into a groove, producing 20 points as an offense for the first time in 2021.
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Q: Rookie running back Najee Harris has 100-yard rushing and receiving games this year, what has he meant to Pittsburgh's offense?
Batko: Najee Harris has been a beacon of hope in dark times for the Steelers. Many fans and media members were skeptical of using a first-round pick on a running back in this day and age, but Harris is showing why he was worth that investment, especially for a franchise that had gotten subpar production out of the backfield two years in a row. He's elusive, dangerous in the passing game and runs as hard as any Steelers rusher in recent memory. There aren't many running backs you can build an offense around with the way the game has evolved, but Harris looks to be one of them, and he rarely leaves the field.
Q: The Steelers have long been associated with defense, for a Seahawks fan who hasn't been playing close attention, what type of challenges does this version of Pittsburgh's defense present, beyond the obvious of All-Pro players like T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward and Minkah Fitzpatrick?
Batko: A pass-rush that has led the league in sacks four years in a row isn't generating pressure at that clip this season—not yet, at least. Part of that is due to losing unheralded outside linebacker Bud Dupree, but the Steelers also aren't blitzing as much as they have in years past, perhaps because they can't risk opposing quarterbacks dicing up their secondary if they don't get home in time. Still, expect them to dial up some different looks for Geno Smith, who will need to watch for inside linebacker Devin Bush coming through the B gap—he has a sack in two straight games—as well as the occasional slot corner blitz. Mike Hilton was especially adept at that, but he's now in Cincinnati, so they're trying to find another nickel defender who can bring those same instincts.
Q: What does the loss of receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to a shoulder injury mean for the Steelers offense?
Batko: The loss of JuJu Smith-Schuster is certainly another blow to an offense trying to find itself with a new coordinator, but production-wise, there's not much to replace. He hadn't been used as much or as efficiently as fellow wideouts Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson, though he was playing just about all of his snaps in the slot, so as much as the Steelers are trying to find a third receiver to step up, they also need that No. 3. to be an inside guy. Smith-Schuster was initially a big-play threat when he came into the league, but in recent years, he's found himself as a reliable possession receiver who took as much delight in plowing over defenders as he did running past them. Replacing that physicality in the room probably isn't possible, but Harris and Claypool can be short-yardage assets through the air, as well.
Q: What are a couple of the matchups you're most looking forward to seeing on Sunday?
Batko: DK Metcalf vs. the Steelers secondary is the most intriguing matchup to me. Henry Ruggs, Ja'Marr Chase and Courtland Sutton all have beaten the Steelers deep for touchdowns over the last four weeks, and Metcalf is another similar size/speed freak for them to deal with. But if they provide too much help over the top of Metcalf, then Geno Smith can get in a rhythm with the underneath stuff to Tyler Lockett. On the other side of the ball, Jamal Adams has to be accounted for, and Ben Roethlisberger is basically a sitting duck in the pocket at this point in his career. The Steelers did a great job neutralizing Von Miller last week, but Adams is a whole other kind of problem flying in from the secondary.
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.