Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2, 1-2 ATS) at Green Bay Packers (2-1, 2-1), 4:25 p.m.
Implied Team Totals: Steelers 19.5, Packers 26
Spread/Total Movements: 7 to 6.5, 46 to 45.5
Weather: 68 degrees, 30% chance of rain, 5 mph
Steelers Injuries to Watch: WR Chase Claypool (hamstring, questionable), WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (rib, probable), WR Diontae Johnson (knee, probable), OLB T.J. Watt (groin, probable), OT Chukwuma Okorafor (concussion, out)
Packers Injuries to Watch: WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling (hamstring, out), CB Kevin King (concussion, doubtful), OL Elgton Jenkins (ankle, doubtful)
Brolley’s Steelers Stats and Trends
The Steelers are 3-7 ATS in their last 10 games.
Pittsburgh has opened the season with three straight unders.
Najee Harris’ fantasy production has improved in each of his first three games (5.9<19.1<28.2) and it culminated in a 14-catch performance with JuJu Smith-Schuster (ribs) and Diontae Johnson (knee) out of the lineup. He finished with 14/40 rushing and 14/102 receiving on a ridiculous 19 targets (33% share) while playing 95% of the snaps against the Bengals in Week 3. His 19 targets were the second most ever for a running back behind only Alvin Kamara’s 20 targets in Week 3 of 2018. The Steelers will continue to try to get Najee and their running game going, but they’re not going to have much success with Harris being hit at or behind the line of scrimmage at a league-high 70% rate. The Packers are giving up 3.9 YPC to RBs but they have given up 6.0/36.0/.7 receiving per game to the position.
Pittsburgh scored just 10 points against the Bengals even with Ben Roethlisberger attempting 58 passes (he averaged 5.5 YPA), and each of his five starting linemen were flagged for at least one penalty. The Packers have given up 20+ FP to the position through three weeks while Big Ben has yet to hit 16+ FP in a game this season.
Diontae Johnson (knee) is trending in the right direction to play this week. He saw a 31% target share with 12 targets in the first two weeks, which he turned into 14/141/1 receiving. He’s seen double-digit targets in 11 of his last 13 games, while the Packers have allowed the second-fewest targets (15.0) and catches (9.0) to WRs this season.
JuJu Smith-Schuster is expected to play after a rib injury knocked him out early last week. He owned a 22% target share in the first two games but his aDOT still sits at a miserable 4.4 yards to open the season. Slot CB Chandon Sullivan is giving up a generous 2.38 yards per slot coverage snaps this season.
Chase Claypool benefitted from an extremely negative gamescript and Diontae’s absence last week. He saw a career-high 15 targets but he turned them into a disappointing 9/96 receiving. Brandon Aiyuk managed 4/37/1 receiving on six targets in this matchup last week.
Pat Freiermuth finished with more targets (5 to 3), catches (3 to 0), and yards (22 to 0) than Eric Ebron, and the rookie scored his first NFL touchdown against the Bengals in Week 3. However, Ebron did lap Freiermuth in routes (38 to 21) in routes and Freiermutch played a season-low 36% of the snaps in the negative gamescript. The Packers are giving up the third-most FPG (19.9) to TEs this season.
Brolley’s Packers Stats and Trends
Green Bay is 5-2 ATS in its last seven games, and they’re 5-2 ATS in their last seven home games.
The Packers are 6-1 toward overs in their last seven games, including four straight overs at Lambeau Field.
Aaron Rodgers has bounced back from his dismal Week 1 performance with multiple TD passes the last two weeks while averaging 8.6 YPA. The Steelers could get T.J. Watt (groin) back in the lineup this week to help their pass rush while the Packers are hoping to get backup Elgton Jenkins back at left tackle. Pittsburgh had its NFL record of 75 straight games with a sack snapped last week against the Bengals, and Derek Carr (10.3 YPA) and Joe Burrow (9.6) have carved up this defense the last two weeks without Watt mostly out of the lineup.
Davante Adams dominated targets from Rodgers last week with 58%. He turned his 18 targets into 12/132 receiving and he scored his first touchdown of the season after scoring 18 times last season. The Steelers have allowed five WRs TDs so far, and Ja’Marr Chase posted 4/65/2 receiving in this matchup last week.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling picked up a hamstring injury late against the 49ers last week after posting 3/59/1 receiving. Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb would see their roles increased if he can’t play, and neither player has cracked 60+ yards total. The Steelers have given up long scores to Henry Ruggs and Ja’Marr Chase the last two weeks, and Rodgers just missed Lazard on a downfield target last week.
Robert Tonyan has seen just eight targets through three games, and he caught his only target for six yards. He spent a lot of time helping out Green Bay’s tackles in pass protection last week so his owners need David Bahktiari (ACL, PUP) back as soon as possible. The Steelers gave up 7/99/1 receiving to Darren Waller and Foster Moreau in Week 2.
Aaron Jones saw another 20+ touches in Week 3 with 19/82/1 rushing and 2/14 receiving while playing 73% of the snaps against the 49ers. A.J. Dillon has sat just 30% of the snaps in each game this season and he’s totaled 26 scrimmage yards in every game. Joe Mixon disappointed overall with just 10.4 FP last week, but he averaged 5.0 YPC on his way to 90 rushing yards.
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Week 1-3 – Pace: 28.6 (17th)
Week 1-3 – Plays per game: 66.3 (19th)
Week 1-3 – Pass: 74.4% (2nd) | Run: 25.6% (31st)
Week 1-3 – Pace (seconds in between plays): 30.9 (28th)
Week 1-3 – Plays per game: 60.3 (27th)
Week 1-3 – Pass: 60.6% (18th) | Run: 39.4% (15th)
Even though Big Ben is out there moving like a pile of mashed potatoes, the Steelers have remained extremely pass-heavy under new OC Matt Canada. Through three games, Pittsburgh is throwing the ball at the third-highest rate above expectation (+8.1%) just behind Justin Herbert and the Chargers (+8.2%) and the GOAT and the Buccaneers (+10.6%). Keep in mind, those numbers are from neutral situations when the game is within a score in the 1st-3rd quarter. It’s the best barometer of an offense's true identity. So, it’s not like Pittsburgh is getting down and throwing to keep up. No, no. They’re just throwing a ton. Again. What makes the Steelers think this is the way they should run their offense at this stage of Big Ben’s career is confounding. I get that the Steelers run blocking isn’t great, but they are going to continue to get absolutely wrecked if they keep relying on Big Ben to drop back and pass 45-50 times per game. OC Matt Canada is reluctant to change, though, saying on Friday, "We're gonna stick with what we're doing.. that's not the sexy answer but we believe we're on the right track.” Good luck!
Huber’s Key Matchup Notes
Green Bay has actually improved the quality of its run defense this season. A big portion of that enhancement centers on ranking with the second-lowest missed tackle rate. The Packers are limiting opposing RBs to the 11th-fewest pure rushing FPG (10.0). However, they are supporting the fifth-most FPG to RBs through the air (14.1). That’s a big deal for Najee Harris. It has been odd watching Najee drop five-of-27 targets for a massive 19% drop rate. But Ben Roethlisberger is not going to stop checking down to Harris since… that’s just what the 39-year-old version of Big Ben does in what is hopefully his final NFL season.
For the Packers’ offense, Marquez Valdes-Scantling (hamstring) will miss Week 4. Pittsburgh has allowed the sixth-most slot FPG (27.3), so that could be a signal to take a cheap flier on Allen Lazard or Randall Cobb.
Dolan’s Vantage Points
If the Packers can get after Ben Roethlisberger, this could be yet another disastrous day for a QB who is looking about a decade past his prime.
And the numbers aren’t exactly good for that — per SIS, Green Bay is pressuring opposing QBs on 39% of dropbacks, 9th-most in the NFL. Roethlisberger is completing 68.9% of his passes for just 6.3 YPA when not pressured. But when he is pressured? 44.4% completion rate at 5.7 YPA with a QB rating of 47.3. In other words, we’re expecting a lot of checkdowns in this one. Ben is not a fantasy option.
Who is? Well, definitely RB Najee Harris, who had 19 targets last week… including a swing pass on 4th-and-10 that basically looked like Roethlisberger was outright giving up. The play was an active topic of discussion for the Steelers beats this week. Roethlisberger flat out apologized for the play (to whom, I’m not sure).
Ben Roethlisberger today on the failed 4th-and-10 pass to Najee Harris, now that he's had a chance to go back and look at it on film: "You know what, I forget everything now about that play, I'm sorry."— Brian Batko (@BrianBatko) September 29, 2021
Matt Canada's explanation about the worst fourth-and-10 call in recent memory: "We had guys in the end zone."— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) September 30, 2021
It’s like pulling teeth with Najee — he’s played 190 snaps (most among RBs) but has scored just 53.2 FP in PPR, an average of 0.28 fantasy points per snap. By comparison, Derrick Henry has scored 0.498 fantasy points per snap. At the same rate, Harris would have 94.6 FP… an average of 31.5 FPG, which would be about 2.0 FPG higher than Christian McCaffrey’s 2019. Of course, in this offense, efficiency isn’t going to happen. Volume will. Because of it, Najee is an RB1. And look — root canals aren’t pleasant. But they work. The pain will be gone in a couple days. Hopefully watching Najee is painful, but come Tuesday morning, the pain is gone and you have a victory.
At receiver, Diontae Johnson (knee) is expected back this week, and it doesn’t look like JuJu Smith-Schuster (ribs) is overly limited. This is music to Ben’s ears, because both guys operate in the short to intermediate area the way Picasso worked in paints.
I’ll let Scott Barrett tell us why Diontae — as frustrating as he is — is a no-brainer play in PPR formats. He’s a borderline WR1.
Diontae Johnson - Total Targets— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) September 20, 2021
+ Last 17 games w/ Big Ben
W14- benched for drops
W1- 10 (also injury)
W2- 12 (also injury)
10+ targets in 13 of 13
JuJu, meanwhile, could draw a tough matchup. He’s run close to 80% of his routes from the slot… where top CB Jaire Alexander is playing about 40% of the time for the Packers this year. It’s enough to knock him down to a WR3. If Chase Claypool (hamstring) does manage to play after catching a midweek downgrade and not practicing on Friday, Ben’s popgun arm has me relegating him to a volatile WR3.
If I’m taking a shot on a Packer secondary receiver with Marquez Valdes-Scantling (hamstring) out, it’s Allen Lazard. Not only did Rodgers just miss Lazard for a big play last week, but his snaps have been over 65% each week this year — Randall Cobb hasn’t cracked 33%. Lazard has also worked out of the slot quite a bit — 45.1% — and that’s where the Steelers are really gettable (of course, Adams will take advantage of that too).
Unfortunately, offensive line issues have been crippling for TE Robert Tonyan. LT David Bakhtiari and his replacement Elgton Jenkins are out, and last week Tonyan stayed in to chip and help with Nick Bosa. You had better believe he’ll stay in to help again in Week 4 against Pittsburgh – especially if T.J Watt is back as expected. Tonyan had just a single target last week.