Key Match-ups: Steelers-Rams

Neal Coolong examines the key match-ups in tonight's game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the St. Louis Rams.

The Coolong Archive
Week 15: v. Jaguars
Week 14: @ Patriots
Week 13: v. Bengals
Week 12: v. Dolphins
Week 11: @ Jets
Week 10: v. Browns
Week 9: v. Ravens
Week 8: @ Bengals
Week 7: @ Broncos
Week 6: Bye
Week 5: v. Seahawks
Week 4: @ Cardinals
Week 3: v. 49ers
Week 2: v. Bills
Week 1: @ Browns
Pittsburgh's front seven vs. RB Steven Jackson

The Rams are going to run Jackson for everything he's worth at the offense's right side to exploit the Steelers' injuries. Clark Haggans is listed as questionable with a knee injury, and DE Aaron Smith's replacement, Travis Kirschke, was beaten on last week against Jacksonville. With all due respect to Jaguars RB Fred Taylor – who set a Heinz Field opponent's rushing record with 147 yards – Jackson is a better back, and has run for 504 yards and three touchdowns in the Rams' last four games.

The Steelers got zero push on the line of scrimmage last week, one week after their secondary got torched in the passing game against New England. They gave up 221 rushing yards to the Jaguars, and didn't register a sack in either of those games. Pro Bowl LOLB James Harrison is getting into the backfield, but the Steelers defenders need to dominate the line of scrimmage as a whole and take Jackson out of the equation. He's a big-play threat, and has had carries of 37 yards or more in each of their last five games.

LT Max Starks vs. DE James Hall

Steelers usual LT Marvel Smith is out for Thursday's game, putting Starks on the fast turf at the Edward Jones Dome. Starks replaced an injured Smith against Miami at the Muck Bowl in Week 12 and fared well, but on a faster surface, Starks is more prone to get beat by speed rushers.

Hall isn't the greatest rushing end in football, but could have success taking Starks to the outside, while LB Will Witherspoon (seven sacks) blitzes, attacking the soft middle of the Steelers offensive line. Rams defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has used Witherspoon in this capacity, and if Hall can help occupy Starks and LG Alan Faneca, it could be another long game for the Steelers offensive line.

FS Tyrone Carter vs. QB Marc Bulger

Carter will start over Anthony Smith, whose recent habit of getting beat deep earned him a spot on the pine. That makes Carter's primary job pretty obvious – don't get beat deep. While the Greatest Show on Turf isn't as big of a threat as it was in St. Louis's Super Bowl days, Bulger and WRs Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce are plenty enough to try to test the Steelers secondary by keying off Carter.

Carter is starting his first game this season as the free safety. He started in place of SS Troy Polamalu four times with mixed results. He, like Smith, is aggressive against the run, and with the way Jackson is running, he will have to be wary of him, but probably even more of the play fake. Bulger's penchant to hit his tight ends down the seam. (Randy McMichael has 32 catches this season).

QB Ben Roethlisberger vs. Rams secondary

Roethlisberger is bound for Honolulu for the first time in his career, and he will likely have defenders draped all over him even when he boards the plane. He set the franchise record with his 29th touchdown pass last week, and goes up against a young and injury-depleted secondary on a fast track. He hasn't completed a pass longer than 32 yards since Week 10, but is likely to break out of that against a St. Louis defense sitting in the bottom third of the league, giving up over seven yards per pass attempt.

Third-year FS O.J. Atogwe is tied for second in the NFL with seven interceptions, but his teammates in the secondary, SS Corey Chavous, and CBs Fakhir Brown and Ron Bartell, aren't keeping opposing coaches awake at night. Atogwe is a good player, but looks to make the big play. Chavous is savvy, but lacks the physical ability to stick with any of the Steelers receivers in man coverage. Provided Roethlisberger has the time to throw, their secondary will struggle.

The Coolong Scorecard
Steelers Unit Rams
even Offensive line even
x Quarterback  
  Running backs x
  Wide receivers x
x Tight ends  
x Defensive line  
x Linebackers  
x Defensive backs  
  Special teams x

Neal Coolong is the author of Die Hard Steel and his match-ups column appears weekly at Steel City Insider.

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