Game Overview ::
By mike johnson >>
- Pittsburgh enters Week 7 off their bye with a 3-2 record. They welcome back Diontae Johnson to their lineup and have to be hoping between his return and a week to assess things they can open up their offense.
- The Rams have questions in their backfield and an offensive line that could combine to cause issues for them against a tough Pittsburgh pass rush.
- Pittsburgh ranks 30th in the league in scoring in large part due to their league-worst touchdown conversion rate on red zone possessions.
- This game on the surface has a modest game total but upon further inspection projects to be one of the highest scoring games on the main slate.
- The “upside” of this game will depend primarily on the offensive line of the Rams and whether or not the Steelers offense has used their bye week to evolve.
How Pittsburgh Will Try To Win ::
The Steelers offense has been disappointing, to say the least in 2023. After much fanfare and hype during the summer and training camp, Pittsburgh has failed to meet expectations and has looked like the same low-octane group that we saw last year. Who would have thought that those highlights in the preseason by the Steelers starting unit against backup defenses playing vanilla schemes wouldn’t have translated into regular season success? I digress. The Steelers have scored more than 15 offensive points exactly once in five games this season, which came in a Week 3 victory over the Raiders. They have only scored more than 10 offensive points twice in those five games.
There are two factors that potentially show light at the end of the tunnel for this Steelers offense. First, part of their issues likely have to do with their schedule to date. Their five games have featured three games against the top 3 teams in pass defense DVOA – the 49ers, Ravens, and Browns. Considering the struggles the Steelers have had generating a push in the running game with their offensive line for some time now and the lack of burst lead running back Najee Harris provides, it would make sense that this team would struggle offensively against stout pass defenses. Likewise, Pittsburgh has been playing without one of their top playmakers, wide receiver Diontae Johnson, since he went down with a hamstring injury during their Week 1 loss to the 49ers. Johnson is a great route-runner and technician who is especially good in the short areas of the field. He is, by far, the best “separator” of the Steelers wide receivers. His presence is critical for this team as those short receptions may not look like much in the box score, but they relieve pressure on quarterback Kenny Pickett and put the Steelers in more advantageous down and distance situations. He helps them to convert in third down situations and also puts them in situations that are easier to convert – put simply, he extends drives and gives them more opportunities.
This week Pittsburgh faces a Rams defense that has had some good moments and not so good moments in the 2023 season. Los Angeles ranks sixth in PFF run defense grade and ninth in PFF pass rush grade, however, they rank 30th in PFF coverage grade. DVOA rankings have them 25th against the run and 22nd against the pass. The combination of those metrics tells me what I would have expected based on what I know about the team, that Aaron Donald and the Rams front can cause you problems if you let them, and they prey on weaker teams and those who are playing in disadvantaged, predictable situations. The secondary’s coverage is the biggest issue for the pass defense and is the reason for their low DVOA ranking, so protecting the quarterback will be important for Pittsburgh to exploit that weakness. That may be a tall task for the NFL’s 31st graded team in PFF pass blocking grades. There is no help on the way for the Steelers running game, which also ranks 31st in rushing offense DVOA, so the combination of an inefficient running game, pass protection concerns, and the return of Johnson as a short-area specialist all point to the Steelers going to a pass-heavy game plan that is focused primarily on getting the ball out quickly and finding holes in the Rams beatable secondary. The Rams play zone coverage at the sixth highest rate in the league so we should expect Johnson and his receiving counterparts to be peppered with quick hitters sitting down in zones as a method to move the ball.