Pittsburgh Steelers vs. St. Louis Rams Preview and Prediction

Two 1-1 teams whose outlook on the season could be defined by this game face off.

The Pittsburgh Steelers' visit to St. Louis in what could be the Swan Song season for NFL football in the Gateway to the West is a contrast in cultures.

 

While both teams come in at 1-1, the Steelers are a team of stars (Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, James Harrison, etc.) whereas the Rams are generally anonymous (Aaron Donald?).

 

But if this is the Steelers' last visit to St. Louis, one wonders what would have happened if the ownership group headed by St. Louis Blues owner Dave Checketts hadn't been foiled by political correctness when it was revealed Rush Limbaugh was part of the ownership group, leading to the eventual demise of Checketts' bid.

 

It's also worth noting how while Pittsburgh and St. Louis are common rivals in other sports, the schedule divide of the two conferences does not allow this for the Steelers and Rams. Meanwhile the Pirates and Cardinals have played each other regularly for more than a century, and even Duquesne and the University of St. Louis, not to mention Carnegie-Mellon and Washington, are conference rivals.

 

Then again, didn't the Steelers acquire Jerome Bettis from St. Louis? Didn't the Rams win at Pittsburgh in the Steelers' 1000th game as a franchise in 2003, a game most remembered by a should-have-been interception that went through rookie Troy Polamalu's hands and into wide receiver Dane Looker's, who then ran to the Steelers one-yard line in a 33-21 Rams victory?

 

And in 1969, all of St. Louis' major pro sports franchises were in the same division with Pittsburgh teams; baseball Cardinals and Pirates (National League East), Blues and Penguins (NHL West), and the football Cardinals and Steelers (NFL Century).

 

So, for perhaps the final time, let's sail down the Ohio to the Mississippi and analyze the game.

 

Pittsburgh at St. Louis

 

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)

TV Channel: CBS

Spread: Pittsburgh -1.5, O/U 48

 

Three things to watch

 

1. Return of the running backs

St. Louis drafted running back Todd Gurley with the tenth overall selection in the NFL Draft. He has yet to play a down for the Rams after tearing his ACL last November at the University of Georgia.

 

But he was not listed on the injury report this week, meaning Gurley may make his NFL debut against the Steelers.

 

Meanwhile Le'Veon Bell is set to return for the Steelers after a two-game suspension for illegal drug use.

 

The question here is how much either player will play. Rams head coach Jeff Fisher insists Gurley is not a 100 percent certainty to play, and with De'Angelo Williams leading the AFC in rushing it would seem like a crime to completely shelve the veteran.

 

2. If Kirk Cousins can complete 23-of-27 against the Rams, what can Ben Roethlisberger do?

Cousins's completion percentage last week also featured 207 yards passing, or a respectable 7.5 yards per pass average. While it would be unfair to totally judge all future quarterback accomplishments against this mark, it may show reports of the Rams becoming the next dominant defense in the NFL have been exaggerated.

The Steelers' defense isn't reminding anyone of the Steel Curtain, either. But Pittsburgh found a pass rush last week, sacking San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick five times, which must continue with the Steelers' somewhat suspect secondary.

 

St. Louis has protected quarterback Nick Foles rather well this year, allowing only three sacks. Are the Steelers ready to blitz their way to another title, or was last week an example of how running quarterbacks are often sacked more than drop back passers? This game could be the indication.

 

3. Could this be the game the Steelers miss Maurkice Pouncey?

Even if Washington was able to succeed against them, the Rams sacked Russell Wilson six times in the opener and have eight sacks on the season. Some believe Donald heads up the NFL's best defensive line, along with Chris Long, Robert Quinn and Michael Brockers. And when push came to shove, St. Louis stopped Marshawn Lynch on fourth down in overtime to secure the Rams' first victory of the season.

 

The center is the player who makes the blocking calls, so judge the level of Pittsburgh's Cody Wallace's play by this game. So far its gone well, as the Steelers have been able to run the ball and have protected Roethlisberger well, allowing only three sacks this season.

 

Final Analysis

 

It's important to note the Rams beat Seattle to begin the season, 34-31, while the Steelers lost to New England, 28-21. And those opponents were only a yard apart last season.

 

Steelers left inside linebacker Ryan Shazier won't play after suffering a shoulder injury while making 15 tackles in only his second NFL game. Last year's starter, Sean Spence, is listed next on the depth chart. 

 

Of course, Rams outside linebacker James Laurinaitis laid an egg against the Redskins. 

 

But even if the Rams defense is the best the Steelers have played this season, Pittsburgh's offense is the best St. Louis has played. One gets the feeling there will be plenty of Terrible Towels waving in the Edward James Dome, which was 15,000 tickets shy of a sellout on opening day. Take the Steelers' tendency to go for two points after a touchdown last week to be the difference, one way or the other.

 

Prediction: Pittsburgh 25, St. Louis 23

 

— Written by Marky Billson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. An experienced beat reporter and sports writer, Billson began contributing to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2000. He has covered the Steelers, Pitt Panthers, MLB and more during his career. Follow him on Twitter @MarkyBillson.

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