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The Rams (2-12) are on the road for the final time this season entering perhaps one of the most hostile environments in the NFL when they visit the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-4). The Christmas Eve noon kickoff at Heinz Field will mark the 24th all-time meeting between these two franchises with the Rams leading 15-6-2. Since arriving in St. Louis, the Rams have beat the Steelers once in three tries, a 33-21 victory at Pittsburgh back in 2003.
Looking at the Rams:
Since the Indianapolis Colts beat the Houston Texans on Thursday night, the Rams stay in contention to have the top pick next April at the 2012 NFL Draft. Just like the previous few months, the Rams can only play the role of the spoiler. The season has unfortunately become irrelevant to most local fans, but there is still a community that continues to support and hope to see one last competitive sixty-minute game this season.
The quarterback position should belong to Kellen Clemens for the rest of the season. Sam Bradford wants to play and will continue to lobby to play ‘in his own way’ according to head coach Steve Spagnuolo. The question is can the high left ankle sprain get worse? Neither Bradford nor the Rams choose to answer the question with a straight answer. Based off the cliché answer of ‘injuries happen all the time in the game’, then the question becomes will the current injury put Bradford in a position to get hurt in a more serious way? Facing the Pittsburgh Steelers aggressive blitz defense, the Rams are best off keeping the franchise player on the sideline.
The Rams continue to be thin in the secondary at mainly the cornerback position. Occasionally, safeties Quinton Mikell and Darian Stewart are seen lining up on receivers in the slot and wide out. The Rams maybe catch a break with a gimpy Ben Roethlisberger or a backup starting quarterback, but they will still have to deal with receivers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown plus tight end Heath Miller. Rams defensive ends Chris Long, a probable Pro Bowl player this season, and rookie Robert Quinn should be able to get after whoever takes the snaps.
Looking at the Steelers:
The historic Pittsburgh Steelers already have their playoff berth, which will be the franchise’s 27th all-time postseason appearance plus the eighth in the past decade. Since head coach Mike Tomlin took over for coach Bill Cowher, the Steelers have gone 53-24 plus have won a Super Bowl and two AFC Championships. As Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said on Wednesday, “I think they’re one of, if not the finest coached team in pro football.”
Similar, but not the same, the Steelers have a situation involving their starting quarterback and a high left ankle sprain. Ben Roethlisberger will probably start, but the Rams say they are preparing to see backups Charlie Batch or Dennis Dixon. Stopping either one of those guys is important as the Steelers have a very good passing game that averages 260.5 yards per game, which ranks high in the NFL, but their scheme is run first. Former Illinois Fighting Illini running back Rahsard Mendenhall is mainly used a power runner, but can bounce quickly to the outside and down field. Before their loss last week at San Francisco, the Steelers had rushed for 100-plus yards in four straight games.
As confirmed by many this week, the Steelers truly have playmakers at every level of their defense. This weekend, they get maybe their most ferocious back in outside linebacker James Harrison who apparently cannot stop hitting opponents helmet-to-helmet. The Steelers are not getting the results in turnovers and sacks that they usually get, but still lead the entire league in yards allowed.
Tom Ackerman (8-5): 20-6, PIT
Ron Jacober (8-5): 21-10, PIT
Scott Warmann (11-2): 23-13, PIT
Willie Springer (8-6): 27-6, PIT
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