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Know Your Enemy Part I: The Steelers, via the Pittsburgh Sports Depot

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Chris Gates, a Sports-talk show host, Pittsburgh Pirates reporter for Pittsburgh's 93-7 FM The Fan, Penguins reporter and Steelers writer from over at the Pittsburgh Sports Depot, reached out to me to do a little trading of scouting reports for this week's game, and he answered some of the questions I had about the Steelers and the matchup in Pittsburgh. Big thanks to Chris for taking the time to get back to me. 

DK: What is the mood like in Pittsburgh after a pretty dominating performance by the Ravens last week? Are people already starting to panic, or are they simply brushing it off as early-season jitters?

CG: Most fans are pretty calm and realize that one game doesn't define a team, especially when it's the Steelers and especially when it's Week 1. There are very few people suggesting Warren Sapp's comments on Inside the NFL are warranted, if you will (Check out our Steeler page if you missed those -- in a nutshell, "Steelers are old, slow, and it's over").

No one is panicking, but I will say that some are worried that the Super Bowl jinx could again be in effect. In the seasons directly after Super Bowl XL and XLIII the Steelers failed to make the playoffs. Starting off on such rough footing has us at least wondering if that curse could again be the case.

DK: What would you say is the Steelers biggest advantage over the Seahawks for this week's game? I.e., what is their biggest strength right now?

CG: That they got hammered by their arch rival, Baltimore. I know I'm not picking a specific area on the field or in-game strategy, which is probably what you are looking for, but literally nothing went right last week. Mike Tomlin said punter Daniel Sepulveda was the team's lone bright spot -- and the Steelers typically respond very well after bad losses.

DK: What are you worried about re: the Seahawks coming to town? Any specific players or weaknesses on the Steelers that you're concerned about? Any specific players or strengths of the Seahawks that you're nervous about?

CG: Well, Ray Rice ran all over the Steelers' defense and that was, in part, because of poor play along the defensive line and from the linebackers (you can blame the secondary for other problems, too).

The Steelers would really help themselves out by taking advantage of a weaker Seahawks offensive line and shut down Marshawn Lynch. Making Seattle one-dimensional and forcing Tavaris Jackson (to carry the Seahawks) is probably the game plan for Pittsburgh defensively.

DK: If you had to name a few 'keys' to the game for Pittsburgh, what would they be?

CG: As I stated before, shutting down the run game would be one of them. The Steelers defense prides itself on forcing offenses to be one dimensional by eliminating the run. They need to get back to that after letting Ray Rice scamper for 100-plus yards last week. I'd also say they need to establish their own running game, and a big part of that will be if rookie right tackle Marcus Gilbert can step up, as he'll be making his first NFL start.

The offensive line is probably the biggest key to the game for the Steelers. Gilbert is a rookie, guard Doug Legursky was completely run over last weekend by Haloti Ngata and Ben Roethlisberger was either being sacked or was forced into throwing bad passes and interceptions because of lack of protection. Pittsburgh has to improve along the offensive front and it has to come together quickly.

DK: What are fans' outlook for this season? Is it a 'do-or-die' year, with the age on the Steelers defense? Do fans believe the Super Bowl is a legitimate goal again?

CG: Super Bowl or bust. That's pretty much the outlook every year, but this year even more so. Of last year's 22 starters, 21 returned. That team made the Super Bowl, so you do the math.

The way the offense looked in the preseason, some even looked at the Steelers rather light regular season schedule and thought 16-0 was possible. Roethlisberger's stable of wideouts -- Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery -- are among the finest corps in the league. Rashard Mendenhall is one of the league's best backs. The defense, well, it's nearly exactly the same as last year's, which dominated.

On the way to Super Bowl XLIII Pittsburgh was crushed by Philadelphia. On the way to the Super Bowl last year the Patriots embarrassed the Steelers at home. And on the way to playing you guys in Super Bowl XL they had to win out, which they did. This team is used to a little bad luck and adversity.

Fans are confident, but last week knocked many down a peg. A dominant performance Sunday will ease everyone's minds a bit.

DK: Finally, prediction for the game on Sunday?

CG: Like I said earlier, the 35-7 loss to Baltimore is probably the worst thing that could have happened to Seattle. The coaches are mad, the players are mad and the fans are mad. It's gonna be hostile at Heinz Field and I expect the Steelers to be on top of their game.

Final score: 27-13, Steelers.

Thanks again to Chris for getting my questions answered, well done. Can't wait for Sunday.


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