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Performance vs. Russell Wilson Means Steelers Must Worry About Matt Hasselbeck

Andrea Hangst@FBALL_AndreaFeatured Columnist IVDecember 4, 2015

Matt Hasselbeck's experience as a quarterback and his specific skill set could make things difficult for Pittsburgh's secondary when the Steelers face Indianapolis on Sunday night.
Matt Hasselbeck's experience as a quarterback and his specific skill set could make things difficult for Pittsburgh's secondary when the Steelers face Indianapolis on Sunday night.Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks offense isn't known for being a pass-first, big-play throwing kind of team. But the way the Pittsburgh Steelers secondary has performed this year, that's how they looked in Week 12. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson completed 21 of his 30 pass attempts, for 345 yards and five touchdowns, and averaged 11.5 yards per pass in the Steelers' 39-30 loss.

Because of this, the Steelers cannot overlook Indianapolis Colts quarterback Matt Hasselbeck on Sunday night. Hasselbeck, starting in place of Andrew Luck (lacerated kidney), is 4-0 this season, and he has completed 97 of his 150 pass attempts, for 1,023 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions. He's taken eight sacks and is averaging 6.8 yards per pass.

While Hasselbeck does not air the football out like Luck—or even like Wilson is willing to do—what he has done this year could be enough to give the Steelers fits in coverage. Pro Football Focus' metrics show Hasselbeck is the fifth-quickest thrower in the league. Combined with Hasselbeck's relatively short yards per attempt figure that means he's getting the football out quickly.

And with receiving targets like T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief possessing high-level speed and thus dangerous yards-after-catch abilities, the Steelers could again find themselves on their heels trying to defend the pass. 

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Hasselbeck noted on Thursday, that the Steelers often try to blitz quarterbacks and disguise coverages, via PennLive's Jacob Klinger. The former, though, can be neutralized by the use of the play-action pass, which could allow Hasselbeck to throw deeper than he typically does. And the latter he recognized are among the Steelers' biggest weaknesses.

According to Pro Football Focus Hasselbeck has employed play-action passing 24.2 percent of the time, with only eight quarterbacks doing so more often this year. He's not going to be afraid to break it out against the Steelers, not only to neutralize a pass rush that has been quite effective this season but also to take advantage of a defense that is giving up the 30th-most passing yards per game.

Weaknesses in Pittsburgh's secondary are ones that Hasselbeck can take advantage of, particularly via the use of the play-action pass.
Weaknesses in Pittsburgh's secondary are ones that Hasselbeck can take advantage of, particularly via the use of the play-action pass.Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

So unless the Steelers spent this week making successful adjustments to their pass coverage and secondary—including getting cornerback Brandon Boykin more involved—they could yet again be staring down another quarterback putting up over 300 passing yards against them on Sunday.

The good news is that the Indianapolis defense isn't as strong as Seattle's, ranking 27th against the pass. With the Steelers being a pass-heavy offense—and a highly capable one at that—they should be able to keep pace with whatever Hasselbeck metes out.

But that was also the situation against the Seahawks last week and yet Pittsburgh's offense came up short. Relying solely on the offense to bail out the whole team can work, but it doesn't work every time. It would be far better for the defense to play at a higher level instead.

Hasselbeck is not the NFL's most intimidating quarterback. But he does have the tools and skills to take advantage of what Pittsburgh's defense does worst. If the Steelers do not successfully adjust their approach to stopping the Colts passing game, he is going to do what Wilson did a week ago. And that's simply not a formula for a Steelers win.

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