Two teams looking to jump-start their seasons will battle it out on "Sunday Night Football" this week when the Seattle Seahawks travel east to face the Pittsburgh Steelers. These are two teams that, before the season, had high expectations of contending for a playoff spot and have each since dug themselves a deep hole after five weeks, sitting at 2-3 entering Week 6.
Seattle dropped a tough one last Thursday night at Lumen Field, falling 26-17 to the Los Angeles Rams. The Seahawks have lost six of their past 10 games at home with fans present. This loss was exacerbated by the middle finger injury to Russell Wilson in the third quarter after contacting Aaron Donald's helmet. Wilson tried to battle through it but did have to leave the game shortly after it occurred. The defense once again failed to hold up its end of the bargain in the second half as the coverage was picked apart by Matthew Stafford, Robert Woods, and the rest of the Rams' offense. The disappointing part of this was the inability to build off of a first-half performance that limited Los Angeles to just three points.
Pittsburgh picked up its second win last Sunday, defeating the Denver Broncos 27-19 at Heinz Field. Ben Roethlisberger went 15-of-25 for 253 yards and two touchdowns. Najee Harris went for 125 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries to provide some much-needed balance to this offense. Success on third down also was a key, as the Steelers converted seven of 12 opportunities in the game. The defense limited Teddy Bridgewater and the Broncos' offense to just six points over the first three quarters, the unit's best showing since Week 1 win at Buffalo. Pittsburgh limited Denver to just two third-down conversions out of 12 tries.
Sunday Night Football: Seattle (2-3) at Pittsburgh (2-3)
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 10 at 8:20 p.m. ET
Spread: Steelers -6
Three Things to Watch
1. Geno Smith vs. Steelers' defense
Smith will be making his first NFL start since 2017 when he was playing for the New York Giants. The first couple of possessions for Smith last week went just fine as he led the Seahawks to 10 points. Lumen Field had extra juice in the building as the fans chanted “Geno, Geno" and he injected some energy into the crowd with his play. Smith finished the game completing 10 of 17 attempts for 131 yards and a touchdown. He also threw an interception late that sealed the victory for the Rams. To be fair, it appeared that Tyler Lockett tripped while running his route, but the errant throw ended any hopes of a Seattle comeback.
On Sunday night, the goal for Smith will involve taking care of the football and getting rid of it quickly to protect the offensive line that will be under pressure all night long. He also must adjust to playing in an unfriendly environment, although Heinz Field doesn't have the same reputation as the Seahawks' home stadium. Pittsburgh's defense appears to be getting healthier than it has been since the start of the season and was in fine form for most of last week's game against Denver. The Steelers will no doubt look to pressure Smith early to rattle him in hopes of coming up with some turnovers. T.J. Watt will play a big part in this, and it seems that his new contract hasn't impacted his performance on the field since he already has five sacks and two forced fumbles this season.
2. Will the Steelers' offense build off the Denver game?
Offensive coordinator Matt Canada has a golden opportunity to stack additional momentum for the offense this week against a suspect Seahawks defense. Seattle is dead last in the NFL with 450.8 yards allowed per game. Thus, you can expect Canada to use Harris to set the tone with the run for a second straight 100-yard rushing effort.
Roethlisberger must make some adjustments in the passing game moving forward following the loss of JuJu Smith-Schuster to a season-ending shoulder injury. Big Ben still has Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool to throw to, who serve as the 1-2 punch similar to the Seahawks' duo of Lockett and DK Metcalf. Smith-Schuster's injury also provides an opportunity for someone like James Washington, Ray-Ray McCloud, or perhaps tight ends Eric Ebron and Pat Freiermuth to step up and take on a bigger role in the game plan. As long as the protection is there and Roethlisberger makes the right decisions, Pittsburgh's passing game should have success Sunday night against a Seattle secondary that is continuously underperforming. Expect more quick throws than deep drops from Roethlisberger because it typically makes life easier for the weak offensive line and the Seahawks haven't shown the capability to consistently defend against those types of pass routes.
3. What type of resilience will we see from the Seahawks this week?
Fans and national media types across the country who follow the Seahawks in any capacity are entering some unchartered waters. Sunday night will be the first time in 149 games that Wilson won't be the starting quarterback. But regardless of the circumstances, head coach Pete Carroll is under pressure to get this team back on track. Carroll is a victim of his previous success, as he has raised the expectations for this franchise to a very high level on an annual basis.
The bottom line is everyone will learn a lot about Carroll and his motivational skill set this week. The first few series of this game are going to show a lot about the mindset of this team. It will be vital for Seattle to start well in all three phases early on to keep the crowd out of the game. The Seahawks also need a fast start to give them that extra bit of confidence to help try and win the game late in the second half. If they fail to start fast, then all bets are off and this game could get ugly right away.
It would be a huge surprise if this game turned into a full-fledged high scoring affair like the Browns-Chargers game from last Sunday that had a combined 89 points. The Steelers have the superior defense, and you can expect they will leverage that as much as they can this week to keep the score of the game in the mid-20s. Roethlisberger will end up managing the offense well enough to avoid the catastrophic turnover that tends to cost teams a game. The Seahawks will make a few inspired plays early with Smith at quarterback. However, there are health concerns on offense with running back Chris Carson, who is still dealing with a neck injury, and Metcalf, who is battling a foot issue. Those question marks are the biggest reason why Seattle will lose once again this week. Pittsburgh improves to .500 on the season after grinding out a solid victory on Sunday night.