The Steelers are on a short week, playing their first Thursday night game since last December’s awful game in Cleveland, the final loss they had of the 2009 season. Now things are a lot different, as they play a Panthers team that is 2-12, and the Steleers have already clinched a playoff spot, and are two wins or a Ravens loss away from clinching the North, and they should be also able to clinch the #2 seed in the AFC. With that, here’s our keys and prediction for the matchup with the Panthers.
1. Force Turnovers – Last week the Steelers were unable to get any turnovers from the Jets, this after the week before Mark Sanchez was a fumbling machine and also threw two picks. This week the team should be able to get to and force rookie QB Jimmy Clausen into some mistakes. The Steelers again need to make sure when they get the chance, to force mistakes, and also look for possibly RB Jonathan Stewart to cough up the ball like he did late against the Cardinals last week.
2. Put it Away Early – The Panthers are 2-12 for a reason, simply put, they are not very good. Allowing them to even be in this game by the start of the fourth quarter would be a letdown, this from a team that wants to be playing its best ball before the playoffs start. Carolina is going to be entering a cold, hostile environment, and a fast start should have them warming the bus early.
3. Keep Ben Upright – Same as last week, as the O-line did a solid job of not allowing Ben to have to scramble for his life, and though he was sacked three times, one was on a fumble after the ball got stripped. With Trai Essex back in at LT, the line seemed to play better on the last drive, and the Panthers don’t have much of a pass rush, putting up just 29 sacks, or 2.2 sacks per game. The O-line has taken a beating this season, and this is a game where they should easily contain the Panthers defense.
Prediction – There’s no question that this shouldn’t be much of a game, and that’s a good thing on a short week for the Steelers, who then will have plenty of time to get ready for the season finale against the right now 5-9 Browns in a game they may need to wrap up the division and the #2 seed. The Panthers have little to offer on offense, and they have given up points in bunches on the road, 85 in their last three road games. The Steelers should be able to put up 24-30 points, and their D should make Clausen eat dirt a more than a few times. Pittsburgh 28 Carolina 7