After a statement win against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday Night Football last week, the Green Bay Packers will look to build on that success as the Pittsburgh Steelers come to town, and get to 3-1 for the season. Sunday will mark Aaron Rodgers’ first appearance against the Steelers at Lambeau Field, a team he has never beaten in the regulae season. That could well change this week, as the Packers enter this game as the favourites, but this game will not be without its challenges against a Steelers team who will give everything they have to avoid three consecutive losses.
Here are three things to watch as the Packers take on the Steelers:
Offensive line facing another tough test
The Packers’ makeshift offensive line held up very well against one the of league’s top fronts in the San Francisco 49ers, but can they repeat the trick against a defensive line that might be even better?
The Steelers will have had tape on Yosh Nijman dissect and pick out his weaknesses, and they will have seen the Packers’ plan from the 49ers game, as they frequently chipped Nick Bosa with tight ends and aimed to get the ball out quickly.
With no element of surprise, and TJ Watt potentially returning, the Packers are set for another tough task up front.
How will the offense operate without MVS?
With Marquez Valdes-Scantling looking at a stint on short-term injured reserve, he will be out for at least three weeks and therefore will obviously miss the Steelers game. That’s a bigger deal than some will realise.
Of course, Aaron Rodgers has no shortage of targets to distribute the ball to, with Davante Adams, Robert Tonyan, Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Amari Rodgers… and did I mention Davante Adams? However, none of those targets bring the lightning speed element that MVS does, and the Packers offense could become more predictable without their best option for taking the top off the opposing defense.
With that in mind, the attack needs to once again run through Aaron Jones. Matt LaFleur did a superb job of staying disciplined against the 49ers and running the ball early and often, even when it only picked up modest gains, and the interior of the offensive line found success on combination blocks which opened holes for Jones to dart through.
Jones will need to be the straw that stirs the drink again this week, both on the ground and through the air.
Will the Steelers offense continue to implode?
For anyone still wondering why Brian Gutekunst drafted Jordan Love when Aaron Rodgers was still playing at a high level, this current Steelers team is a perfect example of why. They did not prepare for life after Big Ben, and now the chickens are coming home to roost.
Roethlisberger is a statue in the pocket and his arm looks shot. His poor play sunk the Steelers’ season on an otherwise uber-talented roster last season, and the team should really have cut bait with him when they had the chance. Instead, they signed up for one more year with Ben, mostly because they don’t have anyone behind him that they believe in.
Now, his limitations are on full display again, and to make things worse, the Steelers were essentially forced to spend their first-round draft pick on a running back in a desperate attempt to paper over the cracks of their fading star quarterback and stay relevant in the 2021 season.
Although Najee Harris was drafted towards the back end of the first round, his selection evoked memories of the New York Giants taking Saquon Barkley 2nd overall to help an ageing Eli Manning and the Jacksonville Jaguars drafting Leonard Fournette with the 4th overall pick to reduce Blake Bortles’ role in their offense.
The Steelers’ offense had become one dimensional towards the end of last year with no running game and no deep passing element to their offense. They hoped drafting Najee Harris would solve one of those issues, but behind an offensive line which has struggled, he has been hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on 70 percent of his runs, most in the NFL according to PFF.
He has however been a frequent target in the passing game, which is unsurprising given the current state of their QB’s arm. De’Vondre Campbell, who has impressed to a pleasantly surprising level since his arrival in Green Bay, will once again have an important role in preventing short catches rupturing into big gains.
Mark Oldacres is a sports writer from Birmingham, England and a Green Bay Packers fan. You can follow him on twitter at @Marko7LW.