PREGAME STRETCH: Green Bay at Pittsburgh

More backup QBs! More Skycam!! More Collinsworth!!! Sounds like a fun Sunday night


NBC, SUNDAY, 8:30 P.M., HEINZ FIELD, 68,400.

Announcers: Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth. Skycam and Collinsworth for back-to-back games? Yinzers are gonna be calling 9-1-1. We like skycam, for what it’s worth, (if you’re going to watch, you might as well see it the way the people playing see it), but we understand many do not. We’re not sure it needs to be a controversy, though. If you can switch between English and Spanish commentary with the SAP button, there has to be a way to let viewers decide which angle they like best and watch the game that way. Information courtesy www.the506.com

Weather – or not: Partly clouds, 30s. It appears the snow forecast earlier in the week for Sunday will not materialize (sorry deer hunters), meaning still no foul weather games for the Steelers. The temperatures, of course, are meaningless here with the Packers as the opponent. Information courtesy www.accuweather.com

Referee: Ed Hochuli. Although Hochuli has gotten a playoff game in each of the last four seasons, he’s no longer the elite white hat he once was. What he and his crew are, though, is over officious, averaging 15 penalties assessed and 138 penalty yards per game, both dramatically above league average. Of course, Hochuli loves to hear himself talk and piles on the misery amid the blizzard of flags with at least one long-winded penalty explanation per game. Information courtesy www.footballzebras.com, www.profootballreference.com and www.nflpenalties.com (it takes three, count ’em, three web sites to provide you with the best each week in officiating background information).

The last time: The Steelers won a 38-31 shootout at Lambeau in December of 2013 en route to an 8-8 season that started 0-4. That game featured two of the rarest plays you’ll ever see, a 13-yard Ben Roethlisberger touchdown RUN (after running for 14 TDs in his first seven years, he’s recorded just two in his last seven) and a 40-yard PICK SIX touchdown for Cortez Allen, the only score of his career. The Packers lead the all-time series 19-15 with the biggest win coming in Super Bowl XLV, 31-25, a game we believe will be remembered as the peak of pro football’s popularity.

The line: Pittsburgh -14/43.5. Smarts say: Our first reaction is that line is a total overreaction to Brett Hundley’s atrocious play against the Ravens, which he’s unlikely to repeat. Then again, Vegas wasn’t built on overreactions. That over/under had moved two full points upward as of Thursday or this week and might keep climbing after bettors flocked to the over following Pittsburgh’s first big offensive explosion of the season. The line, as set, would mean something like Steelers, 28-14. Information courtesy www.pregame.com

When the Steelers have the ball:

PIT offense, 8th passing, 19th rushing, 14th scoring (22.7 ppg), 4th sacks allowed (14)

GB defense, 18th passing, 11th rushing, 18th scoring (23.0 ppg), 20th sacks (21)

When the Packers have the ball:

GB offense, 23rd passing, 19th rushing, 20th scoring (20.4 ppg), 31st sacks allowed (36)

PIT defense, 3rd passing, 8th rushing, 2nd scoring (16.5 ppg), 2nd sacks (34)

So…: Like the Colts, the Packers are near the bottom of the league in sacks allowed. The Steelers tried to get pressure against the Colts early and unsuccessfully by bringing four rushers only (this is something that would help tremendously when playing the Patriots so it makes sense to try and execute it before that game, even if it doesn’t provide immediate results). It was not until they gave in and started blitzing in the third quarter that they rattled Jacoby Brissett and changed the game. Keep an eye out Sunday for how many rushers Pittsburgh sends. Information courtesy www.nfl.com

Key matchups: Packers QB Brett Hundley vs. Steelers secondary

Why: If you haven’t seen Hundley play, let us prepare you for it. For about three or four plays, he’ll look like a young Ben Roethlisberger and you’ll be thinking, “This guy is a stud, why do people think he’s bad?” Then, he’ll make a throw into triple coverage or directly to the defense and you’ll be like, “Oh OK, nevermind, got it.” That said, if Hundley can eliminate the negative plays and accentuate the positive, he could be trouble if the Steelers come in sleepwalking. On the flip side, if he does provide a couple of gifts to the Pittsburgh DBs, they need to catch them.

Player on the spot: Ben Roethlisberger

Why: After showing Steelers fans and the rest of America a two-quarter snapshot of a quarterback who will win the Super Bowl again if he keeps playing that way, the pressure is squarely on #7 at home on national TV to do it again. We’ve said here all along that the only thing wrong with the Steelers offense was the quarterback wasn’t executing and you saw how quickly Pittsburgh hit high gear when he started.

Quick hits:

+ The Steelers lost Marcus Gilbert this week for four weeks for testing positive for performance enhancers. As a loyal and intelligent reader of this blog who lives in the real world, you already know and understand that about 85 percent of NFL players use PEDs (Mike Tomlin’s “business as usual” response to Gilbert questions at his press conference this week tells you all you need to know about that) and that includes EVERY SINGLE offensive lineman. So why does Gilbert get pinched while most others skate? Here’s our best guess: Gilbert is dealing with a hamstring injury and that injury is notoriously slow healing, taking as much as six months to completely heal. Under normal circumstances, players cycle their PED use in the offseason, when there’s less risk of random tests, and/or use masking agents to reduce the risk of testing positive if they are hit with a random test. But when you’re dealing with an in-season injury, there’s tremendous pressure to use a short cycle of PEDs to help with recovery, which they absolutely do help with recovery. But you’re also much more likely to be tested randomly in-season and we’re guessing that’s what happened with Gilbert, he gambled he could get through a short cycle and lost.

+ Gilbert’s replacement, Chris Hubbard, already has played well during the injury absence so there’s no a huge issue with quality of play. Depth now becomes the huge potential problem. Should someone else on the line go down, your remaining tackles are Matt Feiler, who was playing in the PSAC two years ago, and Jerald Hawkins, who has not played in an NFL game during his two plus years in the league. C/G B.J. Finney is a much more capable backup there.

+ The Steelers have dramatically improved their penalty situation from the early season when they were the most penalized team in the league for a few weeks. The 70 penalties called on them is now 11th in the league and the 583 yards is 16th. Conversely, opponents have actually been assessed 71 penalties for 645 yards. The net +62 on penalties is sixth in the league. Pittsburgh’s pre-snap penalty situation is just as bad as you’d expect, given the few recent high-profile plays where the team has simply been unable to line up correctly. The Steelers 24th pre-snap penalties is the 12th highest total in the league.

+ This could be a big weekend in deciding whether there will be any kind of race in the AFC North. Of course, a Steelers loss would tighten things up with Cincy and Baltimore getting cracks at the division leaders in succeeding weeks. But don’t rule out the reverse happening, a Pittsburgh win and a couple of upsets by Cleveland and Houston that would put a wrap on things before those division games are ever played.

+ Tony Romo was a train wreck Thursday on the Cowboys-Chargers game, obviously still emotionally invested in the Cowboys, unable to remember the Chargers moved to Los Angeles and then offering a bizarre defense of Jerry Jones (“he only wants what’s best for the NFL”). It was a good reminder that Romo is still just a rookie broadcaster with no formal training.

+ That said, now that we know what a high football IQ Romo has, we think it’s perfectly reasonable to assume part of Dak Prescott’s problems during his sophomore slump is that he doesn’t have access to that support.

The pick: The Packers, as an organization, and Brett Hundley, as a professional, took a lot of broadside shots over the past week. We are guessing they both will respond to that on national TV with a strong showing against Pittsburgh. Don’t be surprised if the Steelers trail this game at the half. But they are the better team and they have a Sunday night mojo that is impossible to deny, so … Steelers 31-25

Last week: Since we last spoke/wrote, we went 2-0 straight up and 1-1 against the spread (missing the Indy cover). That leaves us 6-4 straight up and 6-4 against the spread.


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