Two historic franchises are set to clash Sunday at Acrisure Stadium in the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers. The last time these two teams met was in 2021, which was a 27-17 win for the Packers at Lambeau Field.
But the last time the Packers traveled to Pittsburgh, they came up short, 31-28. In fact, Green Bay has not won a game in Pittsburgh since Dec. 6, 1970. They are 0-5 in Pittsburgh since then. The Steelers will look to continue that run of success on Sunday.
To do that, it will come down to a handful of matchups, much like it usually does, especially with both teams missing some key starters entering the Week 10 game. To win, the Steelers will need to win some of those key matchups throughout the game, or at least in the weighty moments.
What might those matchups be? Glad you asked.
Below are my four matchups to watch in Sunday’s matchup on the North Shore.
Steelers OLB T.J. Watt vs. Packers RT Zach Tom
Nobody individually has really figured out a way to slow down Pittsburgh star outside linebacker T.J. Watt, but Green Bay right tackle Zach Tom will give it a go on Sunday.
Entering the Week 10 matchup on the road, Tom is one of the better pass protectors in the NFL. In 500 snaps this season, Tom grades out at a 79.6 overall from Pro Football Focus, including a 75.7 as a pass blocker. In eight games, Tom has allowed 17 pressures but just one sack. According to ESPN’s analytics, Tom has a 92% pass-block win rate on the season with 161 wins in 175 plays. That’s 10th-best in the NFL.
He’ll have his hands full against Watt. Currently, Watt is second in the NFL in sacks with 9.5. He has a pass-rush win rate of 15% on the season, which is 19th in the NFL. Watt grades out as the fourth-best EDGE defender in football currently at 91.2 overall, which includes a pass rush grade of 88.8 from PFF.
Watt is also tied for sixth in pressures in the NFL with 39 on the season, according to PFF. He’s a game-wrecker.
In earlier matchups against game-wreckers like Watt, Tom has struggled. He allowed four pressures and a sack in Week Eight against Minnesota’s Danielle Hunter. In Week Five against Las Vegas’ Maxx Crosby, Tom allowed four pressures, and in Week Four against Detroit’s Aidan Hutchinson, Tom allowed a season-high six pressures.
Steelers WR George Pickens vs. Packers CB Carrington Valentine
George Pickens has been the center of attention the last week or so — for all the wrong reasons. He has a chance to put that all behind him Sunday in an advantageous matchup against the Packers, who will likely be without standout cornerback Jaire Alexander. That means rookie Carrington Valentine, a seventh-round pick out of Kentucky, will see a lot of Pickens.
Valentine is coming off his best game of the season against the Rams, grading out at an 84.9 from PFF. On the season though, Valentine holds a grade of 64.0, including a 65.3 in coverage. He’s allowed nine receptions on 21 targets for 156 yards, but he has to allow a touchdown and has two pass breakups on the season.
Pickens, on the other hand, is looking to break out again. In the last two games he has just three catches for 21 yards and a score, including a two-catch, minus-one-yard performance in Week Nine against the Titans, leading to the negative attention. But he can put that all behind him against the Packers’ secondary, which is short-handed.
Chances are, quarterback Kenny Pickett and the Steelers will be trying to get him the ball early and often. It could be a huge Pickens day, especially with an advantageous matchup.
Packers NT Kenny Clark vs. Steelers C Mason Cole
This matchup has the potential to be a significant game-changer — in a negative way — for the Steelers.
Though Packers nose tackle Kenny Clark enters the matchup questionable with a shoulder injury, he remains one of the top defensive linemen in the NFL, regardless of his PFF grade. This season, Clark grades out at just a 56.7, including a 55.0 against the run and a 64.8 as a pass rusher. He has 18 total pressures and four sacks on the season.
He remains a force in the middle of the Packers’ defense, one that ties up blockers consistently and can completely change games overall.
Clark will be matched up with Steelers center Mason Cole quite a bit on Sunday, though he’ll slide all over the offensive line. It’ll be a big matchup for Cole, who has been a major concern for the Steelers in the run game and in pass protection.
Cole holds a career-low 48.9 grade from PFF and has allowed 16 pressures and two sacks on the season. He’s been a turnstile at times in pass protection, and while he’s flashed at times as a run blocker, he’s been far too inconsistent. In two of that last three weeks Cole has been better in wins over the Rams and the Titans, but he remains a weak link on the offensive line.
Expect the Packers to try and attack him, namely with Clark, searching for an opening.
Packers TE Luke Musgrave vs. Steelers LBs Elandon Roberts and Kwon Alexander
Quietly, rookie tight end Luke Musgrave has become one of the better pass-catching weapons in the league at the position.
A second-round pick out of Oregon State in the 2023 NFL Draft, Musgrave has burst onto the scene as a dependable pass catcher for quarterback Jordan Love. Musgrave has 27 receptions for 249 yards and scored his first career touchdown last week against the Rams. He’s a matchup problem for defenses due to his size and speed, along with his great hands.
He’ll go against a depleted Steelers linebacker room that will be without top linebacker Cole Holcomb, who was lost for the season in Week Nine with a gruesome knee injury. Veteran Kwon Alexander will take on a larger role in sub-package football, and Elandon Roberts might need to be on the field at a greater clip with Holcomb out.
Neither is all that good in pass coverage, so it could be an area that the Packers try and exploit. Add in the fact that the Steelers are without Minkah Fitzpatrick, it will be hard for the Steelers to utilize three-safety looks with Damontae Kazee and Keanu Neal playing full-time.