To preview Sunday's matchup with the Steelers, I sat down with Jeff Hartman, editor over at Behind the Steel Curtain, to get a closer look at what Seattle should expect when Pittsburgh rolls into town. My questions in bold/italics, his replies follow.
1. Big Ben's been really banged up this year but still put up some pretty incredible numbers. How would you grade Ben's play this year? What are his biggest strengths and weaknesses right now?
Ben Roethlisberger is having a tremendous season, when he is on the field. If Roethlisberger hadn't gone down with a MCL sprain in Week 3, I am very comfortable saying he would be near the top of the list when it comes to NFL passers.
Roethlisberger's game continues to evolve, and as 2014 saw his intermediate passing accuracy improve, this year it is the deep pass. Roethlisberger has tremendous weapons, and is connecting on big plays down the field to Martavis Bryant and Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger has his weaknesses, and the most glaring in 2015 is a knack for throwing untimely interceptions. In his return against the Bengals a key Roethlisberger interception led to the Cincinnati game-winning touchdown. Another poor throw against Cleveland after an interception was masked by the fact the team dominated the Browns 30-9.
2. Everyone knows about Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, but what other offensive weapons do the Seahawks need to worry about?
There are two weapons opposing defenses should worry about, and it is all based on the amount of focus is put on the two players you mentioned above. Those players would be Heath Miller and DeAngelo Williams. Miller is still able to attack defenses down the seam, and knows exactly how to get open when Roethlisberger needs a key reception. Outside of Williams' running ability, he has shown a knack for getting open in the passing game for underneath routes which equate for big plays. Both of these players just add to the arsenal which Roethlisberger has at his disposal which opposing defenses have to account for.
3. The Steelers' defense has been underrated this year. How have they managed the transition from Dick LeBeau to Keith Butler, and who are the standouts on this group?
The transition from long-time coordinator LeBeau to Butler was a scary one for fans, but it has been smooth. Butler wasn't new to the Steelers, and had been the linebackers coach for over a decade, so he knowledge of the players on the defense made the transition easy. The biggest difference between the two coordinators, from the players, is how simple Butler makes the defense. Under LeBeau, it was rare for rookies to make a difference, but Butler has seen a host of rookies not just crack the lineup, but make plays. Rookie first round pick, Bud Dupree, already has 4 sacks to his name, something which rarely happened under LeBeau.
As for standouts, by far it is Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. A lot is talked about with the turnovers and sacks on this team, but those two players are how the Steelers' defense lives and dies.
4. How are the Steelers' special teams units performing this year?
Is there a grade below 'F' when it comes to return teams? The Steelers return teams have been non-existent, and a source of stress for fans, in 2015. The kicking units have been solid, and the kick coverage unit have been tremendous, but in terms of return production they are scraping the bottom of the barrel.
5. Who are the under-the-radar lesser-known Steelers players to keep an eye on this week?
The Steelers players who perform are typically the players everyone knows. The Steelers live and die by their superstars, but the lesser known players to watch reside on the defensive side of the football. Ross Cockrell and William Gay have done a tremendous job in the secondary and have been opportunistic with the football being thrown in their direction.
Huge thanks to Jeff for the scouting report, and make sure you head over to BTSC to check out my scouting report on the Seahawks this week.