Guess what? The Steelers have not won a damn game yet. In fact, they got their asses kicked far worse than the Seahawks last week. They got run over, passed by, and an offense led by Tarvaris Jackson outscored one led by Ben Roethlisberger by 10 points. They are a proud franchise that was in the Super Bowl as recently as last season, but they bleed just the same. Ask 1000 NFL fans in any city, including Seattle, which team will win on Sunday, and 99% of them will tell you the Steelers are locks to embarrass the Seahawks. Look a little closer, and there is reason to think the Seahawks may have what it takes to shock the NFL nation this weekend.
First, take a look at the key differences in the Steelers wins versus losses. Over the last three seasons, the Steelers have lost 16 times, including their SB loss to Green Bay in 2010. In those 16 losses, the Steelers:
Score 9.7 fewer points/game (16.4)
Surrender 8.4 more points/game (22.8)
Rush for under 100 yards (avg 97.5, 20 yards less than their wins)
Turn the ball over 2 times/game (0.6 more than their wins)
Give up 51 yards more on defense (309.4 yards versus 258.1)
Grab 2 turnovers (.4 less than their wins)
The Steelers are 14-10 (.583) during that time period when rushing for 105 yards or less, compared to 24-6 (.800) when they rush for more than that total. They are only 7-5 when 80% or more of their total yards are gained through the air. In other words, making them a reliant on the passing game makes them far more vulnerable. The Seahawks can make a name for themselves on defense by going in and stuffing the run. Pittsburgh has offensive line challenges, and the Seahawks defensive line may be the strength of the team.
Roethlisberger historically takes care of the ball pretty well. He threw only five interceptions last season, but had three in the first game this year. His interception percentage can climb into the 3.0%+ range during his less years, including a 23 pick, 4.9% INT season in 2006. Earl Thomas is a player who will be critical to the outcome of the game. He has multi-interception capability, and is a threat to return any ball he catches back for a score.
Stoning the Steelers running game early, and possibly even taking the lead on a special teams play, turnover, or surprising drive by the offense would push the Steelers further away from their comfort zone. Teams that beat the Steelers don’t dominate them. They play them to a standstill. The turnovers are almost the same (2.1 given, 2 taken). The yardage even favors Pittsburgh in those losses (321 yards for, 309 yards against). Seattle’s offense does not have to be special. It needs to limit turnovers, and be opportunistic. Any ability to establish a running game would a go long way, as it will limit the Steelers time of possession, and further reduce their ability to rely on the run.
A Seahawks victory is not a ridiculous notion. This defense has what it takes to force Pittsburgh away from their strengths on offense, and the players to create turnovers. A chided Seattle special teams could also be in position to take advantage of an older Steelers team. Funny things happen in the NFL when nobody is expecting a team to win. Seahawks fans may be the ones smiling on Sunday.