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Steelers vs. Packers: Breaking Down Pittsburgh's Game Plan

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 15: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks to throw a second quarter pass while playing the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field on December 15, 2013 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Curt PopejoyContributor IDecember 19, 2013

Week 16 of the NFL season features a matchup between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers in a clash with the playoffs on the line.

Both the Packers and the Steelers are coming off massive wins in games that they probably should have lost.

The Packers came back from a 26-3 deficit to beat the Dallas Cowboys, and the Steelers beat the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals handily, 30-20.

ARLINGTON, TX - FEBRUARY 06:  James Harrison #92 of the Pittsburgh Steelers is seen as he walks off the field after the Green Bay Packers defeated the Steelers 31-25 during Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium on February 6, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

History hasn't been kind to the Steelers in this matchup. The last time these two teams met, it was in Super Bowl XLV, in which the Packers came out on top, 31-25. It seems like a lifetime ago since that fateful day in 2011.

The 2013 incarnations of these two teams are very different in many aspects. However, there is one key feature of these teams that has remained constant—their quarterbacks.

Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger are among the best quarterbacks in the league. The status of Rodgers for Sunday's game is up in the air due to his continued recovery from injury, however, this preview will focus on a Packers team with Rodgers under center rather than backup quarterback Matt Flynn.

Let us take a look at the plan of attack for the Steelers to beat the Packers and keep their playoff hopes alive. 

Tale of the Tape
StatsSteelersPackers
Passing Yards11th7th
Rushing Yards31st7th
Passing Yards Allowed8th22nd
Rushing Yards Allowed19th25th
Sacks2842
Sacks Allowed4139
Turnover Ratio-4-3
NFL.com

 

When the Steelers are on offense

There are really two things to consider here. First, the Packers have allowed at least 400 yards of offense in three of the past four games. Second, the Steelers offense has shown that in a shootout, it is not afraid to chuck it down the field at will.

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 15: Antonio Brown #84 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates his first quarter punt return for a touchdown while playing he Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field on December 15, 2013 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Sha
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

If the Steelers want to move the football against the Packers, they must stick with what they do well. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel at this point. They have had great success running and throwing out of the 11-personnel, utilizing three wide receivers, one tight end, and one running back.

These packages allow the Steelers to put their best players on the field every down, as well as utilize the no-huddle. This rhythmic style of offense really plays into what Roethlisberger wants to do.

Here, we see how the Dallas Cowboys attacked the Packers defense with multiple skill players, and the Packers were caught with only a single deep safety.

NFL Game Rewind

At the snap, you see the Packers safety has set up too deep and then continues to retreat. This gives the Cowboys two voids in the Packers defense to attack. Quarterback Tony Romo chooses to go tight end Jason Witten but could have easily attacked the middle of the field with wide receiver Terrance Williams as well.

NFL Game Rewind

The Steelers can use this with a bunch formation, isolating wide receiver Antonio Brown at the top of the grouping. He will command the attention of the safety and/or outside linebacker on his side, leaving spots that Roethlisberger will be able to exploit.

 

When the Steelers are on defense

Assuming that the Packers will have Rodgers under center, the key will be to use whatever rust he might have as an advantage. Rodgers is a talented quarterback, but he's been sitting around for weeks, so timing will be an issue.

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 15:  Running back Eddie Lacy #27 of the Green Bay Packers runs with the ball as defensive end George Selvie #99 of the Dallas Cowboys defends during a game at AT&T Stadium on December 15, 2013 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom P
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Obviously, whether it's Flynn or Rodgers playing quarterback, the Steelers and their 19th ranked run defense are going to get a lot of running back Eddie Lacy. Lacy and Steelers rookie running back Le'Veon Bell are forever linked as they were selected within a dozen picks of one another.

Lacy has been the better back statistically and looks to be a terrific fit in the Packers offense. The Steelers are going to want to key on Lacy early in an attempt to dictate down and distance.

Well-timed run blitzes on early downs will push the Packers into 3rd-and-long situations, where they can key in on passes and have a much better shot of rushing the quarterback.

They will have to rush the quarterback with four in most cases, leaving seven deep to defend the pass. The Steelers secondary has had some problems against the pass in recent weeks and must do a better job with assignment football Sunday.

 


Predictions and Implications 

For the Steelers, there is no tomorrow. They must win, and along with that, teams like the Baltimore Ravens, the Miami Dolphins and the San Diego Chargers must lose. A tall order, but assuming the Dolphins lose the early game, there is still plenty to play for.

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 08: Antonio Brown #84 and Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers  celebrate their third quarter touchdown play against the Miami Dolphins at Heinz Field on December 8, 2013 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregor
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

This Steelers team played so well at home last Sunday. I am counting on that momentum carrying over to this Sunday's matchup. The Steelers are going to stroll into Green Bay and beat the Packers, keeping their playoff hopes alive and squashing the dreams of Packers fans everywhere.

This game is going to be a shootout, and in a shootout, the advantage goes to the better, more prepared quarterback—that's Roethlisberger.

 

All stats courtesy of NFL.com.

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