Below are five things to keep your eyes on through the course of the game. I tried to stay away from the mainstream or obvious.
Brandon Browner on Hines Ward
I think Marcus Trufant will have a pretty good game. He matches up well on Mike Wallace with a two inch height difference and good speed to keep stride. Wallace isn’t a jumper anyway, he’s a fast deep threat, which Earl Thomas will help cover when needed. I can see Trufant getting burned for a couple big plays (as will probably happen every game), but overall should be efficient.
The guy I’ll have my eyes on is Browner. As you’ve seen, he is a tall DB. He was called on three penalties last week and seems to have an “I’m big, flag me” appeal to refs. Hines Ward, as we all know is a very… what’s a good word… fervent player. Passionate? Audacious, ardent, vehement? The guy is a footballer, he plays with heart, throws his body around, makes plays and enjoys the game.
To me, Browner is the cornerback equivalent of Hines Ward (except I actually like him). He has the fire of a warrior but makes some mental mistakes and takes penalties (given, it’s a very small sample size). He’s going to fight Ward, make him earn everything, and they’ll push each other around all game. Though Ward’s veteran savvy may edge Browner’s inexperience on occasion, it should be a fun matchup to watch, if, for nothing else, to see if Browner has improved between games.
Rashard Mendenhall vs. the Edges
I like the way our run defense is built- big bodies to plug the middle and fast linebackers to cover the edges. The Steelers are notorious for having a below-average offensive line, and Big Ben does a ton of work every game to keep the stats from reflecting the talent level. Unluckily for them, Willie Colon was placed on IR after an injury last week. This bodes well for the Hawks and containing Mendenhall, who has the size/ speed ratio to bulldoze defenders and run past others.
We didn’t get a good look at Pittsburgh’s run game in week one, because they fell behind early and nearly completely abandoned it. They’ll look to pound the ball this week, as they figure to take a quick lead and maintain control and T.O.P. I can see Mebane, Red, and Branch filling the middle, but I’m worried how quickly the linebackers can read a cut to the outside. I know they have the speed, but they need to use their instincts to read when gaps are filled and where the RB will bounce outside. I think they can and I think they will, and it will be something to watch throughout the game.
What worries me most is Roethlisberger’s scrambling ability.
Leon Washington’s Kickoff Returns
It’s no secret the Steelers are going to score. They may score a lot. With their defensive prowess against the Hawks offensive ineptness, it may be ugly. Leon Washington has a chance to make it easier on the offense. He doesn’t need to put the team on his shoulders as he did vs. San Diego last year, (though one or two return TD’s would be spectacular) but he does need to give the offense decent to good, and hopefully excellent, field position.
As I’ve said, this offense is not built to be explosive; it’s run-the-ball, dink-and-dump off, ball-control. They need every yard they can get from special teams returns. They cannot drive the ball 80-yards three times a game. They cannot start from their 10-15 yard line because Leon decided to be cute and run it out 5 yards deep in the end zone. He needs to run like a man possessed on Sunday, get the offense started in the 30s, take one to the house, but take a knee when he has to. I expect the Steelers to be kicking off more than four times this Sunday, and punting very little. Leon has to make every opportunity count.
James Carpenter and Robert Gallery
The obvious ‘what to watch’ is the O line. The two people I’ll have my eyes on in particular are Gallery and Carpenter. It’s Gallery’s first regular season game as a Seahawk and will be Carpenter’s first at right tackle. We all know the Pittsburgh defense will test the ability of this line, and will likely manhandle the youngsters.
My hope is that Gallery and Okung will allow Lynch and Forsett to break some big runs off the left side, and ease up the aggressive blitzes. In a perfect world, that would give Jackson more time from his blind side, allowing plays to develop, and receivers to get open. Will it happen? That remains to be seen, but Gallery’s presence as a run blocker will be beneficial. I’ll be watching how that impacgs the rest of the line’s play.
Carpenter’s return to right tackle will put Breno Giacomini on the bench, who in my opinion, is pretty solid tackle depth. Carp will have a tough time handling guys like Woodley and Farrior and I do not expect him to have a good game. What I’ll be looking for is improvement through the course of the game, and how the elite competition impacts his play. He’ll need to step up in the third and fourth quarters and learn from what he experiences in the first half.
Tarvaris Jackson’s Decision Making
Jackson’s listing should be no surprise, but specifically I’ll be watching his decision making. I want to see him get rid of the ball quickly (which he’ll have to do under constant pressure) and trust his receivers to make plays. Last week, on a post game interview, he said he trusted Baldwin to make a play and wanted to get him the ball between zones. Baldwin scored a touchdown. It seems that Sidney Rice will be inactive, so I’d like to see the Jackson- Baldwin chemistry in full force. Since he’ll be under siege all day, he’ll have to complete short, fast throws and I’d like to see Mike Williams get much more involved.
This is more on Pete and Bevell than T Jack, but I’d also like to see a fair amount screens. Screens relax the blitz, easy as that… though it never seems to be that easy.
The most important thing Jackson can do is not turn the ball over. This is nothing groundbreaking, nothing surprising, be he mustn’t throw picks, and mustn’t drop fumbles. Keep the ball in the offense’s hands! Feed it to your playmakers, trust your receivers! You know, fundamental quarterbacking.