Two 2-3 teams that entered the season with designs on a Super Bowl run will play in prime time Sunday night desperate to keep their playoff hopes alive.
It’s not exactly a must-win for either the Seahawks or Steelers, but neither can afford to lose much more ground in two of the NFL’s toughest divisions.
The Seahawks enter Week 6 already trailing Arizona (5-0) by three games in the NFC West, and the Steelers sit in last place in the AFC North, two games back of Baltimore (4-1).
The details for this week’s matchup:
Seahawks (2-3) at Steelers (2-3)
Time: 5:20 p.m.
Radio: 710 ESPN Seattle
Betting line: Steelers are favored by 5 points.
Series history: Seahawks lead the all-time series, 10-9; Seahawks won the last meeting, 28-26, at Heinz Field on Sept. 15, 2019.
Three things to know about the Steelers this week:
‘We needed that’
The Steelers opened the season with a surprising victory at Buffalo, then lost their next three games to fall to 1-3.
Questions abound about Pittsburgh’s offense under first-year coordinator Matt Canada last week.
“We’re gonna stick with what we’re doing,” Canada told reporters. “Obviously, that’s not the answer and that’s not the sexy answer but we believe we’re on the right track. We’ve gotta get some cohesion up front. We’re working to get that, and that’s not an excuse.”
The Steelers offense, dead last in the NFL in rushing and 28th in scoring, finally had a breakout, of sorts, in Sunday’s 27-19 victory over Denver at Heinz Field. That snapped Pittsburgh’s three-game losing skid.
“We didn’t care if it was pretty or if it was ugly,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said afterward. “We just wanted to win.”
The Broncos, trailing 24-6 earlier in the fourth quarter, had a chance to tie in the final minute, but Teddy Bridgewater’s fourth-down pass was intercepted by cornerback James Pierre in the end zone, clinching the win for the Steelers.
“We needed that,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “It was a big one.”
Big bounce back for Big Ben?
Roethlisberger, now 39, had one of the worst seasons statistically of his NFL career in 2020, and he reportedly entered this year determined to be in better shape.
The early results this season have been mixed. Roethlisberger is completing 63.6% of his passes with six TDs, four interceptions and two lost fumbles. He’s been sacked 11 times in five games, after getting sacked just 13 times in 15 regular-season games last year.
ESPN’s Mike Tannenbaum listed Roethlisberger near the bottom of his QB rankings earlier this month, writing: “Yeah, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger is No. 31 in my rankings. After a tremendous career (that should have ended in 2020), I think it’s over. He has 105 passes short of the sticks (through Week 4), tied with Mac Jones for the most in the NFL.”
Roethlisberger threw for 253 yards and two TDs against Denver, with one lost fumble. Chase Claypool had five catches for a career-high 130 yards, but the Steelers will be without receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who is out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury.
Rookie Najee Harris had the Steelers first 100-yard rushing game of the season, posting a career-best 122 yards on 23 carries against Denver.
“He’s getting better every week, but I think that’s a reasonable expectation,” Tomlin told reporters. “We’re talking about a guy who has some talent, but who is getting acclimated to the professional game. The learning experience is what it is. He’s a sharp guy and he’s learning quickly. So it’s reasonable to expect him to continue to put together increasingly better performances, particularly in the short term.”
Watt about us?
The Steelers have had to rely on their defense, which ranks 10th in the NFL in points allowed (22.4) and ninth in rushing yards allowed (100.4).
They also have one of the NFL’s elite edge rushers in T.J. Watt, who has five sacks and two forced fumbles in four games played since signing a $112 million contract last month that made him the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player.
Watt is one of three players (along with the Rams’ Aaron Donald the Cardinals’ Chandler Jones) to post at least 50 sacks and 15 forced fumbles since 2017.
Against Denver, the Steelers debuted a new dime package featuring their three best pass rushers — Watt, Alex Highsmith and Melvin Ingram — on the field at the same time. That helped the Steelers hold the Broncos to 2 for 12 on third downs.
For the record, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon has been a healthy inactive for all five games this season for the Steelers, after Seattle traded him to Pittsburgh at the end of training camp for a 2023 fifth-round pick.