On Sunday night, the Seattle Seahawks (2-3) will be without quarterback Russell Wilson for the first time since he was drafted in 2012 as they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-3). Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has also failed to finish his last two starts against the Seahawks (2015 and 2019) due to injuries. One of these teams will fall to 2-4 in a tough division.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, October 17, 2021 – 08:20 PM EDT at Heinz Field
The Steelers are a 4 point favorite at many of the top sportsbooks. Pittsburgh’s offense will look to continue its improvement against a struggling defense while dealing with the wild card potential that Geno Smith brings after an impressive showing off the bench against the Rams. Can Geno get it done as the prepared starter?
Seahawks: All Eyes on Geno Smith
Who could have predicted that the first major injury of Russell Wilson’s career would be on a non-scramble, on-time throw from the pocket in his 10th season? But once Wilson’s hand met Aaron Donald, his finger needed immediate surgery that will keep him out for at least the next month.
This is a huge opportunity for Geno Smith as the Seahawks are in the middle of playing three straight games in prime time. They will be home for New Orleans next Monday night after losing at home to the Rams last Thursday. Smith threw a touchdown in the fourth quarter and looked poise to lead a comeback, but that was quickly snuffed out after his receiver stumbled and Smith was intercepted.
It would not be unusual to see a backup play well when a team was not expecting to see him, then for that backup to flop the following week when he must start. Last week was Smith’s most eventful game since a 2017 start for the Giants against the Raiders.
He threw for 212 yards and a touchdown in that 24-17 loss. You have to go back to the 2014 season finale with the Jets to find the last time Smith started and finished a win in this league. That was also his career day when he threw for 358 yards, three touchdowns, and had a perfect 158.3 passer rating.
Things rarely go that well for Smith, which is why he is 12-19 as a starter and 4-14 when his team allows more than 20 points. With Wilson this year, the Seahawks have relied heavily on big plays. They have as many touchdowns from more than 60 yards out as they do inside the opponent 10.
But this year’s Seahawks have also faded in the second half of games and rank 26th in third-down conversion rate (34.7%). Seattle is also not very aggressive as its two attempts on fourth down rank 31st. Smith has two great receivers to throw to in DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, but the Steelers have done a respectable job of preventing top receiving weapons from taking over games this year.
They held Stefon Diggs, Davante Adams, Darren Waller, and Ja’Marr Chase in the tight range of 64-to-69 yards. The Steelers did however allow Denver’s Courtland Sutton to gain 120 yards and a touchdown on Sunday.
Steelers: Offensive Improvement Isn’t Spectacular, but Is It Real?
Pittsburgh’s defense has been far from dominant this season, but it is clearly the better defense in this matchup. The Seahawks are also surprisingly just two spots ahead of the 24th-ranked Steelers in yards per drive this season. Pittsburgh’s offense has been stuck in malaise since last December, but there have been signs of improvement in the last two weeks, especially in Sunday’s win over Denver where the Steelers scored a season-high 27 points.
It was only the third time in their last 38 games where the Steelers had at least three 75-yard touchdown drives. Ben Roethlisberger has started the last two games with a long touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson on the opening drive.
The entirely revamped offensive line is starting to jell better and open more rushing lanes for rookie back Najee Harris, who rushed for 122 yards on Sunday. It ended a streak of 11 straight games where the Steelers failed to rush for 90 yards, a streak so bad it tied a post-World War II record held by the 2002-03 Rams.
The Steelers just lost wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to a dislocated shoulder, but he was not having a great year. Johnson and Chase Claypool (team-high 341 yards) remain the leading receivers, and it could be a golden opportunity for tight end Pat Freiermuth as the Steelers look to replace JuJu’s targets.
While Roethlisberger still comes up ailing from hits, the fact is the line has done a better job of keeping him clean the last two weeks. He was pressured at least 10 times in each of the first three games, but that number has dropped to 11 combined against the Packers (seven) and Broncos (four). The Steelers still need to clean up their pre-snap penalties and dropped passes, but they are trending up on offense for a change.
The Seattle defense could certainly help this continue. While the Seahawks are not bleeding points like the Kansas City Chiefs, they are 31st in yards per drive allowed. Seattle can become the first team in NFL history to allow 450 yards of offense in five straight games.
The 2,254 yards allowed by Seattle are the seventh most through five games in NFL history. This happened last year too when the Seahawks allowed 2,356 yards through five games. They did not tighten up until the second half of the season. At least the Seahawks had 10 takeaways at this point a year ago. They only have five this season, but that’s still one more than the Pittsburgh defense.
Safety Jamal Adams is allowing 20.7 yards per completion according to Pro Football Reference, and the team just cut corners for Tre Flowers. The defense only has two interceptions and Darrell Taylor (4.0) is the only defender with more than one sack this year.
Unless T.J. Watt and company turn Geno into a turnover machine, this game should be competitive. Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin is 2-7 ATS in his last nine home games in prime time, but I am going to trust the Steelers to build on Sunday’s win and take care of business at home against a backup quarterback.
The Steelers winning by 1-13 points would be my favorite bet on the margin in this one, but for the spread and your NFL picks, I am going with Pittsburgh.
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