Steelers Fever – Steelers-Packers Pre-Game Analysis

Steelers-Packers Pre-Game Analysis

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

Saturday, August 11, 2007
By Eddie Griffin
Steelers Fever Columnist

After capping off Hall of Fame weekend with a win over New Orleans in Mike Tomlin’s head coaching debut, the home fans will get their first look at Tomlin and the team as the Steelers take on the Green Bay Packers tonight at 7:30.

Chukky OkobiIt was a dominant performance from the outset for the Steelers on both sides of the ball, as Pittsburgh outgained New Orleans 303-56 in the first half, on the way to a 413-214 edge in total yards.

Will it be more of the same this week, or will the Packers be able to come in and pull off the road win in their preseason opener?

Injury Report

Willie Parker is practicing again, but he’s still not going to play this weekend, and he may not play next weekend against the Redskins. That means Najeh Davenport will start at running back for the second game in a row. Left guard Alan Faneca will not play against the Packers either, after sustaining a shoulder injury against the Saints. His replacement will be Chris Kemoeatu. Center Chukky Okobi, who is locked in a tight battle with Sean Mahan for the starting spot, injured his back yesterday and is a question mark for the game.

Either way, expect Mahan to get the start this week, as he missed the Hall of Fame game due to a family emergency.

First-round pick Lawrence Timmons has still yet to practice as he deals with a nagging groin injury, but the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports some promising news on the Timmons front. Timmons found out this week through a second opinion that his injury is only an inflamed groin (which is bad enough!) and not something more serious. During his visit to Dr. William Meyers in Philadelphia, he also received an injection that will reduce the inflammation and make a quick return all the more possible. The injury has kept the linebacker from Florida State out nearly all of the offseason and preseason up to this point. But, finally, he might be able to start catching up, and be in a position to get into the lineup and contribute early.

Keys to Success

Stopping the run will be a key again this week. One of the question marks for the Packers coming into the season is their run game, due to the loss of Ahman Green to the Texans.

Green Bay will be using a number of backs in the game, and rookie Brandon Jackson, their second-round pick out of Nebraska, will be making his NFL debut. There’s a lot to prove and a lot to figure out with their rushing attack, so those guys are going to be running hard.

On the flip side, the Steelers will look to flourish on the ground again, even with Willie Parker out for the second straight preseason game. Pittsburgh gained 173 yards on the ground against the Saints, with rookies Carey Davis (68 yards) and Gary Russell (47 yards) doing most of the damage. There’s no shortage of guys to hand the ball to, along with Najeh Davenport, who will once again be filling in as the starter, and former Jets and 49ers running back Kevan Barlow, and they’ll all get their chances to shred the Packers’ D.

Also, we may see even less of Ben Roethlisberger this week, so it’ll be important for backups Charlie Batch and Brian St. Pierre to move the ball once he’s on the sidelines.

Position Battles

Okobi got the first real crack at making a claim for the starting center job against New Orleans with Mahan out, but this week, Mahan will have his chance.

Willie Colon will also get his chance at right tackle, as he will get the start over Max Starks. Coach Tomlin is planning on using Starks as a backup at left tackle vs. Green Bay. We’ll find out soon enough if that ‘demotion’ is a permanent thing.

Cedrick Wilson helped his bid to retain his job as a starter at split end with his performance against the Saints. He caught four passes for 99 yards, including Big Ben’s only two completions (for 73 yards, including a 55-yarder). Holmes, however, finally returned to action after missing the first week of practice, and also did well, catching three passes for 48 yards, including a touchdown from St. Pierre. Holmes may be the future for the Steelers at receiver, but that doesn’t mean Wilson is going to give up his spot quietly.

Meanwhile, a lot is still to be decided in the secondary. It’s still not known whether Ryan Clark or Anthony Smith will start at free safety this week, and Tomlin said in his press conference yesterday that wasn’t much of a priority, given they’ve been rotating regularly and the current worries with the offensive line.

Also, it’s a toss-up about whether or not Bryant McFadden or DeShea Townsend will start at right cornerback against the Packers. But, if you judge Mike Tomlin’s comments in his press conference yesterday, nothing’s settled with either corner spot, including Ike Taylor’s at left corner. “Bryant McFadden is a young guy who has starter skills; the other guys, Ike and Deshea, of course, have had solid camps. We’re just going to continue to watch that situation develop. When you have three guys capable of being starting corners, that’s a good problem. I think we have that, and it’ll continue to sort itself out.”

Talk about playing it close to the vest, eh?

What We’ll See

Well, one thing we won’t be seeing too much of, as expected, is much of the starters. They’ll all likely play as much as they did in the Hall of Fame game, minus the possible exceptions of the guys the staff needs to see the most of, like Colon, Mahan, and the rotation of Clark and Smith.

Expect to see a laundry list of running backs from both teams. Five backs (plus fullback Verron Haynes) carried the ball against New Orleans, and it seems like that many are vying for the starting job in Green Bay. With the starting quarterbacks both not seeing too much time, and there not being a lot to prove at the backup positions for either team, the running game should account for most of the plays.

If the makeshift O-line can hold up and give the runners as much room to run as it did against the Saints, then the Packers’ defense is going to have as much trouble as New Orleans did in stopping the run. And, while the passing game may not have to do much, one thing to keep in mind is that Green Bay’s pass defense is susceptible to getting burned on more than a few more occasions. And, considering there are a number of pass-catchers who are trying to prove themselves, that could mean nice numbers for the second week in a row.

Already having one week of live game action under their belt should help give the home team an advantage, and ultimately, another fine, balanced offensive performance from the offense will play a huge part in the Steelers moving to 2-0 on the preseason when it’s all said and done.

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