Packers vs. Steelers: 5 things to watch and a prediction

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The Green Bay Packers (2-1) have a chance to win the team’s third game in a row when the Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2) arrive at Lambeau Field for a Week 4 showdown on Sunday afternoon.

These look like two teams heading in opposite directions. While the Packers rebounded from their Week 1 disaster with two primetime wins, the Steelers have now lost two straight – including last Sunday at home against the Cincinnati Bengals – since upsetting the Buffalo Bills on the road in the season opener.

Here are five things to watch and a prediction for Sunday’s showdown at Lambeau Field:

Encore! Encore!

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Rodgers played exceedingly well behind an offensive line with Yosh Nijman at left tackle last week in San Francisco. Can Nijman and the Packers offensive line survive another big test this week? The Steelers will return All-Pro edge rusher T.J. Watt from injury, and interior defensive lineman Cameron Hayward is still one of the best in the business. The Packers probably aren’t going to have Elgton Jenkins again this week. Without him against the 49ers, the Packers relentlessly chipped against Nick Bosa and often had a pair of offensive linemen with eyes on Arik Armstead. A similar plan might be required Sunday. The Steelers’ best chance of creating the upset is winning consistently at the line of scrimmage on defense.

Time to feast?

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

After three straight weeks of facing high-quality offensive lines, the Packers defense will get a chance to dig their teeth into one of the league’s worst on Sunday. The Steelers can’t run the football (32nd in rushing yards and yards per carry), and the only reason Ben Roethlisberger has avoided being sacked more than eight times is an ultra quick passing game that is averaging only 6.2 yards per attempt. This matchup is one the Packers should be expected to dominate, even with some big question marks along the defensive line. If the Packers can stop the run on early downs and get the Steelers into obvious passing situations, the sacks and quarterback hits could come in bunches.

Missing MVS?

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Not having Marquez Valdes-Scantling could create an interesting dynamic. How will the absence of his speed and vertical ability condense the offense? And how will the plan of the Steelers secondary change knowing the Packers’ top deep threat is out? Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds are a quality safety duo, and they should be able to play more aggressively knowing Valdes-Scantling won’t be in the lineup. The Packers will have to be creative in replacing the deep element of the passing game. Valdes-Scantling and his speed opened up a lot of things for others.

Haden vs. Davante

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams (17).

One of the best matchups on the field Sunday will happen when Steelers cornerback Joe Haden is lined up across All-Pro receiver Davante Adams. Haden was excellent against Stefon Diggs and the Bills in Week 1, missed Week 2 with a groin injury and then gave up a touchdown pass to rookie Ja’Marr Chase in Week 3. The Steelers need a big-time effort from Haden on Sunday. Haden won’t trail him, and the Packers will keep Adams on the move and slide him into the slot to create open looks, but there will be points in the game when Haden is one-on-one on Adams in big spots. Who gets the better of the matchups could swing the game.

Special teams alert

Green Bay Packers special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton.

The Steelers have only scored five total touchdowns in three games this season, but one came via special teams. Pittsburgh blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown in Week 1, creating a huge play in the fourth quarter of the season-opening upset in Buffalo. Maurice Drayton’s crew can’t afford any slip-ups on Sunday. Remember, the long kickoff return from the 49ers was a massive turning-point play in Week 3. The Packers have been improved in many areas of special teams early on 2021, but expect the visitors to put pressure on the third phase on Sunday. A team desperate to score points like the Steelers can’t be handed anything easy.

Prediction: Packers 27, Steelers 17 (1-2)

The prediction part of the program has been a little…iffy, to say the least, to start the season. But we soldier on. I think the Packers are starting to find a groove on offense, and there’s a lot to like about the defense’s matchup against a struggling offense and an aging quarterback. The Steelers are never a push-over, but the guess here is that Mike Tomlin’s group doesn’t have the firepower on offense to keep up. Unless the Steelers run over the Packers at the line of scrimmage, I think the home team wins, maybe comfortably.

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