Packers vs. Steelers preview: Who has the advantage in Week 4?

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The Green Bay Packers (2-1) and Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2) are two proud and successful organizations heading in opposite directions to start the 2021 season.

The Packers bounced back from a 35-point loss in Week 1 with two straight wins, including last Sunday’s dramatic win in San Francisco. The Steelers upset the Buffalo Bills in Week 1 but have since lost two straight games, including a 14-point home loss to the rival Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday.

Football is a complicated game, but finding the reasons for winning individual matchups between teams is often a straightforward exercise. What wins games? Excellent quarterback play, winning the line of scrimmage, taking care of the football and taking it away, controlling the important situations and overcoming or taking advantage of the injury situation.

In our weekly preview series, Zach Kruse from Packers Wire and Curt Popejoy from Steelers Wire went deep into the matchup to determine who has the advantage at the five key factors for winning football games in the NFL.

QB play

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12).

Steelers Wire: Roethlisberger enters the game dealing with a pec injury suffered the week before. The Steelers didn’t list him on their injury report but at this point it is just a matter of pain management for the future Hall of Famer. The Steelers have plenty of problems on offense but the play of Roethlisberger isn’t the worst of them. If the offensive line can play better, Roethlisberger can still make all the throws, it’s just a matter of keeping him upright and healthy. Green Bay has the edge here.

Packers Wire: Aaron Rodgers has completed 75 percent of his passes and thrown six touchdown passes over his last two games, so he’s back to MVP form after the anomaly in Week 1. When he’s decisive from the pocket, there’s no one better. The Packers have done a terrific job of mixing in both the short passing game and well-timed shots down the field over the last two weeks, and Rodgers has flourished. While not as mobile as he once was, Rodgers can still extend plays in the pocket and make every single throw on the field. The Steelers have to find ways to make Rodgers hold the ball or it could be a long day.

Advantage: Packers

Line of scrimmage

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers Wire: Pittsburgh’s offensive line is a mess. Four new starters and guys in five new spots and this unit just hasn’t found much in the way of cohesion. The Steelers are dead last in running the football and that is a direct result of how badly this group has played. The defensive line is led by Cam Heyward who is playing some of his best football. However, without nose tackle Tyson Alualuthe other spots on the line are a revolving door of guys who are average at best. The Packers have a clear advantage here.

Packers Wire: The Packers are down two Pro Bowl offensive linemen (David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins), but assistant coach Adam Stenavich keeps developing the young guys and putting them in spots to succeed. The offensive line on Sunday will probably feature two rookies and two other players making their second career start, but they’ll be expected to play well for the second straight week. The defensive front is still a big question mark for the Packers, but Kenny Clark, Preston Smith and Rashan Gary provide the firepower. The Steelers’ best chance of winning this game is at the line of scrimmage. The defensive front must dominate an inexperienced Packers offensive line. It’s certainly possible, but I still think the Packers have the edge.

Advantage: Packers

Turnovers

(AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Steelers Wire: Pittsburgh has done a fair job taking care of the football this season with only three total turnovers. Those are all Ben Roethlisberger interceptions which is promising for the team’s backs and receivers holding onto the football. The problem is the defense has only forced a pair of turnovers which must change. I’ll give the Packers an edge here.

Packers Wire: The Packers were careless with the football in Week 1 (three turnovers), but they’ve been perfect each of the last two weeks. This is an offense and quarterback that cares a lot about avoiding turnovers. The Packers had only 11 last season. The defense is starting to take the ball away, too. After failing to get a takeaway in Week 1, the Packers have two in each of the last two games. This is a very hard team to beat when they win the turnover battle. The Steelers aren’t necessarily turnover prone (three giveaways in three games), but they aren’t taking the ball away at a high rate either (two takeaways). Roethlisberger is more likely to make the careless play.

Advantage: Packers

Situational

(AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

Steelers Wire: This has been an area of emphasis this season for the Steelers but it hasn’t come to fruition. Pittsburgh still hasn’t found ways to sustain drives on offense on those possession downs and by contract have struggled to make stops on defense on those same downs. The Packers get the nod here.

Packers Wire: The Packers remain a work in progress here. They rank in the bottom half of the NFL on third down (22nd on offense, 30th on defense) and it’s only marginally better in the red zone (15th on offense, 30th on defense). This was a team that was really good situationally last season, but every new team must blaze a new path. There’s a good chance the offense will figure it out; the quarterback is great, the scheme is good, and the skill positions have playmakers. The Steelers must win this battle on Sunday. Getting off the field on third down and scoring touchdowns in the red zone should be top priorities for the upset-minded visitors.

Advantage: Packers

Injury situation

(AP Photo/Scot Tucker)

Steelers Wire: The Steelers come into this game at near full health. Starting right tackle Chuks Okorafor is out with a concussion but there shouldn’t be a huge dropoff with Joe Haeg. I give the Steelers a slight edge here just because they are getting linebackers T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith along with wide receivers Diontae Johnson and JuJu Smith-Schuster back.

Packers Wire: The Packers are in rough shape entering this one. David Bakhtiari is on the PUP list, Za’Darius Smith had back surgery and is on IR, Marquez Valdes-Scantling is headed for IR, and Elgton Jenkins and Kevin King are expected to miss their second straight game. They’ll be without three of their best players, the offense’s top deep threat and a starter at cornerback. The Steelers are getting healthy.

Advantage: Steelers

Verdict: Advantage Packers

The breakdown here makes it clear: the Packers, as the home favorite, have a sizable advantage entering this matchup. This won’t be a cakewalk, and the Steelers could make the contest very interesting if they are dominating the line of scrimmage on defense or Roethlisberger finds a way to get hot as a passer. But the Packers have to like a lot of the matchups in this game. If the offensive line holds up and Joe Barry’s defense can contain a struggling offense, the Packers could win comfortably. The Steelers have lost each of the last two games by two scores. Our prediction can be found here.

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