For the Rams, a three-game winning streak to open the year was followed immediately by a three-game losing streak. They have won two games since against two of the league’s worst teams in the Falcons and Bengals. At 5-3, the Rams watch the division get further out of reach, as they sit 2.5 games back of the 49ers and 1.5 back of the Seahawks, with losses to both already this season.
The Steelers, on the other hand, saw starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger injured in Week 2, and began that season 1-4 in what looked to be a lost year. But, three straight wins over the Chargers, Dolphins and Colts have them right back in the thick of the playoff race. They are one game back of the Colts, with the tiebreaker in hand after last week’s win, and ahead of the 4-4 Raiders, thanks to a better AFC record.
That all sets up for a battle between the two teams on Sunday at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, with kickoff slated for 1:25 p.m. Pacific Time.
The Steelers defense has been better since trading for Minkah Fitzpatrick in Week 3. In their opening three games, they allowed an average of 442 yards and 28 points. In the five games since, those averages have dropped to 271 and 16.8 respectively. Accordingly, they have risen in Football Outsiders’ defensive efficiency ratings to fifth overall in DVOA.
The Rams have had a similar defensive surge in recent weeks, allowing just 10 points each to the Falcons and Bengals. L.A. of course, made the splashiest trade move of the season, sending multiple first-round picks to the Jacksonville Jaguars in exchange for shutdown corner Jalen Ramsey. In addition to Ramsey, the pass rushing combination of Dante Fowler, Clay Matthews and inside terror Aaron Donald have produced 17.5 sacks. Again, in a nice bit of similarity between the two teams, the Steelers have relied on the trio of Bud Dupree, T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward (18 sacks) to get after opposing passers.
That makes the offensive lines a focal point in Sunday’s matchup. Pittsburgh has been better at protecting the quarterback this year, giving up just eight sacks over the course of their eight games, while Los Angeles, still a top-10 unit, has given up 18.
Aside from the offensive line play, it would appear that the Rams have the advantage, simply due to the health of their team. The Steelers are starting backup Mason Rudolph and running back James Conner’s status is unknown due to a shoulder injury. The Rams, coming out of a bye week, have had time to give running back Todd Gurley some rest, along with Matthews, tackle Andrew Whitworth and wide receiver Brandin Cooks. That off week is a big part of the reason that CBS New York sports anchor Otis Livingston believes that L.A. will be able to pull this one out.
“They’re coming off a bye. I think they have what it takes to win this game,” said Livingston. “I just think the Rams are going to be able to come in there and get that offense going. And their defense is very stingy. I believe that the Rams are going to beat the Steelers on Sunday.”
Kick off between the Rams and Steelers is set for 1:25 p.m. Pacific time on Sunday.