I didn’t put together a typical Waldron Watch this week, as it honestly just didn’t feel right after the bizarre and deflating Thursday Night Football matchup that changed the course of the season for the Seattle Seahawks more than anybody expected. But while Seattle’s football fortunes may seem like they are waning by the minute, the team should feel fortunate that their next contest will come against a team that has similarly struggled this season. Traveling to Pittsburgh is intimidating even in a down year, but the Steel Curtain is porous, and Shane Waldron will have a real opportunity to showcase his skills and creativity as a playcaller. Indeed, this will be a big test for the first year coordinator, as he is going to be calling in plays to a QB not named Russell Wilson for the first time since Darrell Bevell teamed up with Tarvaris Jackson in 2011.
Is he up for the challenge? Given that Geno Smith performed reasonably well in his limited action against Los Angeles, there is some reason for optimism. But the team can’t rely simply on the surprise factor in this one, and will need to draw up a solid gameplan if they want to get back to .500 instead of falling to .250. So here are some keys I will be watching for in the game today.
Geno Smith when targeting DK Metcalf
Geno Smith is fortunate to step into an offense that features not one but two all-star wide receivers in Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf — two players that are essentially uncoverable when they are on. As you can see in the clip above, Geno found an instant connection with Metcalf. While the Steelers have Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds in their secondary — who both stand at 6’1’’ — their undersized (in this matchup) and under-performing (generally) corners in Joe Haden and James Pierre will have their hands full trying to cover the imposing DK. His talents on contested deep balls may come in handy, but even more so will be his ability to convert quick passes and easy completions into yards after the catch. Getting the ball out quickly and getting into a rhythm will be paramount if the team is going to keep Geno upright and keep the chains moving, which takes us to point #2...
The Offensive Line vs. the Pittsburgh Pass Rush
Per Michael Beck of Behind the Steel Curtain,
“I anticipate this to be the week where the pass rush goes off. Force Geno Smith to deliver in the pocket and just unleash the dogs on him. You can’t double team all the Steelers’ defenders so someone should have themselves a day. The Seahawks are so undermanned on offense the Steelers could possibly get away with double teaming both Metcalf and Lockett on possession type downs. This would mean Geno Smith would have to target secondary players whom he has likely had minimal time building chemistry with.”
Led by T.J. Watt — who has accounted for half of the team’s QB takedowns so far this season — the Steelers have tallied 10 sacks and 25 QB hits through five games. The Seahawks have allowed 13 sacks through five games, and have once again struggled to protect the passer. But the offensive line hasn’t always been terrible, and as Michael Beck noted above, the Steelers have yet to really “go off,” though they do have many talented players in their front seven, including Pro Football Focus’s top rated interior defensive lineman in Cameron Heyward. And this brings us to our final point...
The Passing Game vs one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL
Seahawks Offense vs. Steelers defense— Stan 'the boy' Taylor (@GoodGuyAtSports) October 17, 2021
The trenches? Advantage Pittsburgh.
The rest of the field? Advantage Seattle. pic.twitter.com/RYXdKOnLmF
While Seattle has struggled conclusively to contain opposing offenses (translation: been shredded repeatedly), the Steelers, themselves, are no strangers to getting torched through the air. According to PFF, Pittsburgh has the 6th rated defense against the run, but 24th against the pass. If there was ever a week to feature the Seahawks’ talented wideouts and go light on the run, this would be it. Minus Chris Carson and featuring Alex Collins, they will very likely need to keep the pressure on a Pittsburgh secondary that has struggled so far. This isn’t going to be a “control-the-clock/run-run-pass” gameplan today if they want to win, and it can’t just be entirely on DK Metcalf; Lockett, Everett, Dissly, and Swain will need to be making plays as well to give Smith a realistic chance to spread the ball around and look like a competent passer.
Putting together an aggresive script with a backup QB starting may seem like a tall order for a team that struggles to put together an aggressive script when they are starting a Hall of Fame signal caller, but with little left to lose in a season that is hanging by a thread, I look forward to seeing if Waldron can pull out all the stops and compile a gameplan that keeps pressure on an overmatched secondary. And if Sean McVay could do this with Jared Goff, Shane Waldron should be able to do so with Geno Smith.