By Daniel Benjamin
The Pittsburgh Steelers will host the Green Bay Packers at Heinz Field on Sunday night. The game marks the Steelers’ second of four straight games in prime time. The Steelers will face the Bengals in Cincinnati on Monday, Dec. 4 and then six days later host Baltimore for a Sunday night clash.
Pittsburgh (8-2) has won five straight and is coming off its most complete game of the season with their 40-17 victory over the Tennessee Titans.
Meanwhile, Green Bay is a little bit in disarray as the Packers have been hit by major injuries to several key players, particularly on the offensive side of the football. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers is among three starters on injured reserve, and the Packers’ top two running backs, Ty Montgomery and Aaron Jones, have also dealt with injuries this year.
Green Bay Packers’ Record: 5-5-0
Green Bay is 2-2 away from home this year and 1-2 in night games. They are 1-1 against AFC North opponents this year having defeated Cincinnati 27-24.
This is just the second meeting between the two franchises this decade and the 35th all-time. The Steelers have won four of the last five meetings, including the last meeting on Dec. 22, 2013. However, the Packers lead the all-time series 19-15.
Packers on offense:
Brett Hundley has been shaky at best under center. The third-year pro completed just 21 of 36 passes (58.3%) for 239 yards and had three interceptions against Baltimore last week. Overall, he has completed 60.8% of his passes, though he is averaging just 136.8 yards via the air to go along with two touchdowns and seven picks. Hundley does have the ability to pull the ball down and run with it when he has to.
Green Bay is averaging 13.4 points with Hundley under center, which is nearly 15 points less than when Rogers was directing the offense. With Hundley in the lineup, the Packers have become a lot more reliant on the ground game. And they have had mix results.
The Packers are producing 113.0 rushing yards a game in their last five games, which is 11.5 more than their season average. The Packers’ ground attack has managed two huge games, compiling 181 and 160 yards against New Orleans and Baltimore, respectively. Jones, the team’s leading rusher, is currently out with a sprained MCL while Montgomery missed this past week’s game with a rib injury and his status for the the Steelers’ game is uncertain.
If Montgomery is unable to go, rookie Jamaal Williams will likely get the bulk of the carries. Williams has managed 38 carries for 124 yards over the last two games. No matter who the running back is, the Packers like using him out of the backfield.
Wide receiver Davante Adams leads the team with 50 receptions. Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson are also big play receivers. Cobb tops the team in yards after catch and Nelson has six touchdowns, which ties for the team lead.
Packers on defense
Defensively, Green Bay has been so-so. The Packers put together a solid effort against the Ravens, holding them to 219 total yards offense. The defense also recorded six sacks and forced one turnover on Sunday.
Green Bay ranks 18th in total defense, giving up 23.0 points (18th) along with 340.1 yards a game (18th). The Packers also rank 15th against the pass (235.4) and 11th against the run (105.7). They have only held two opponents to under 20 points.
Right outside linebacker Nick Perry leads the team in sacks, compiling one-third of the team’s 21 sacks (seven), while left outside linebacker Clay Matthews has 3.5 sacks and defensive tackle Mike Daniels has 2.5.
The Packers have come up with 16 takeaways, which includes seven interceptions. Cornerback Damarious Randall tops the team with three interceptions and four pass defensed. Fellow cornerback HaHa Clinton-Dix also has four pass defensed and two interceptions.
Players to Watch: Davante Adams and Blake Martinez
Adams has replaced Nelson as the team’s No. 1 receiver and has 50 receptions for 620 yards and six touchdowns, leading the team in all three categories. He has developed a good repertoire with Hundley, garnering at least eight targets in four of the last five games, which includes three games of 10 balls thrown his way. The 24-year-old has reeled in 27 passes in the last five games and has been on the receiving end of Hundley’s touchdown passes. Adams has six receptions of 20 or more yards.
Martinez is the Packers’ defensive playmaker. The 23-year-old inside linebacker has racked up 84 tackles, which ranks fifth in the league, to go along with one sack and seven tackles for losses. He has posted five-games of 10 or more tackles.
Outlook: Steelers 30, Packers 13
Pittsburgh enters the Sunday night contest on a high note, though starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert’s suspension for PEDs tempers that excitement a little bit. The good news is that the Steelers will be well rested as they will have gone nine full days without games.
The Steelers defense should be able to get after Hundley, as he has been sacked 17 times and the Packers’ offensive line has permitted 36 total sacks. This could lead to excellent field possession for the Steelers offense. Against the Ravens, Hundley faced pressure on 18 of his drop backs, where he went 3-for-11 for a net of minus-18 yards and three turnovers, two interceptions and one fumble.
Pittsburgh has been very vulnerable to the big play through the air. The Steelers have allowed 26 pass plays of at least 20 yards and seven plays of 40 yards or longer. Nelson and Cobb, along with Adams, are capable of making big plays.