(steelers.com) – Countdown to kickoff: Steelers at Rams

Pittsburgh will travel to St. Louis for a Week 3 kickoff against the Rams in the Edward Jones Dome.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1) vs. St. Louis (1-1)
Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015 | 1 p.m. | CBS
Edward Jones Dome

SERIES HISTORY:Rams lead, 15-7-2, regular season (Steelers lead, 1-0, postseason).

LAST MEETING:Steelers 27, Rams 0, Dec. 24, 2011, Heinz Field. RB John Clay, RB Rashard Mendenhall and RB Isaac Redman all rushed for touchdowns, the first time since the 2008 season that three different Steelers rushed for a touchdown in the same game. The defense registered three sacks, forced seven punts and allowed a season-low 68 net passing yards while posting the Steelers’ 29th shutout since 1960. Charlie Batch filled in at QB for Ben Roethlisberger and threw for 208 yards.

LAST WEEK: The Steelers improved to 1-1 with a 43-18 thumping of the 49ers at Heinz Field. The Rams fell to 1-1 with a 24-10 loss to the Redskins at FedEx Field.

WHEN THE RAMS HAVE THE BALL: Job One for the Steelers, as always, will be to stop the run. But this time that’s a task that will include identifying and dealing with WR Tavon Austin. Although he’s carried just eight times in two games, Austin leads St. Louis with 57 yards rushing (one TD). The Rams will deploy their most dynamic play-maker wide left or right, in the slot, in bunch formations and in the backfield, and they’ll motion Austin into and out of the backfield in an effort to create favorable matchups and get him the ball in open spaces. He can fly and he can influence plays even as a decoy on fake-wide receiver sweeps, as he did on what became a 40-yard touchdown pass at Washington.

QB Nick Foles has 48 career touchdown passes and 17 career interceptions (2-0 this season). Although not a runner, Foles has decent pocket mobility and will even roll out and throw on the run on occasion. He’s an intelligent, accurate passer but when he’s harassed, as he was almost constantly by Washington, he’s much less effective. Foles was hurried 14 times on 32 attempts by the Redskins. He threw for 297 yards and led a 12-play, 84-yard drive that produced the tying touchdown in the final minute of regulation in St. Louis’ season-opening overtime win over Seattle.

TE Jared Cook is a big target and a prominent component of the two-tight ends personnel group the Rams favor. He’s not Rob Gronkowski (New England) but he’s better than Vernon Davis (San Francisco) in the passing game. St. Louis starts a pair of rookies on the offensive line (LG Jamon Brown and RT Rob Havenstein) and has four players in spots they weren’t in a year ago (LT Greg Robinson played guard last year as a rookie and C Tim Barnes is a fourth-year pro and a first-year starter). The Rams have yet to get much of anything significant established with consistency on the ground (39-143-3.7 in two games). They got off to an agonizingly slow start at Washington (six punts, 72 total net yards in the first two quarters) and became the first team to be shut out in a first half by the Redskins since Oct. 2, 2011 (when it happened to the Rams).

WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL: The ability to deal with a Front Four that goes seven deep will go a long way toward dictating whether the visitors succeed or fail. DTs Aaron Donald (two-and-a-half sacks) and Michael Brockers and DEs Robert Quinn (two) and Chris Long (one) are all former No. 1 picks, as is reserve DT Nick Fairley (Detroit, 2011). They’re a handful, but the Washington offensive line nonetheless handled the strength of the St. Louis defense. The Redskins consistently got to the edge on the way to rushing for 182 yards and two TDs and averaging 4.9 yards per carry.

St. Louis plays its DBs four, five and six at a time and for the most part plays off the line of scrimmage. The Rams rely on zones to mask an absence of one-on-one coverage skills. Quinn (13) and LB Alec Ogletree (10) have excelled at forcing fumbles since 2013 and CB Janoris Jenkins has six TDs since 2012. St. Louis will blitz some but mostly it counts on the defensive linemen to get home in a hurry. Opposing QBs have been sacked a combined eight times through two games, but they’ve also completed 55 of 68 passes (80.9 percent) for two touchdowns and one interception.

The Rams crowded the line on running downs against the Redskins at times and weren’t opposed to run-blitzes. But they gradually wore out against a Washington offense that stopped short of going no-huddle but still pushed the tempo by getting plays in quickly, getting plays off quickly and getting the ball out quickly. After having closed from 17-0 down at halftime to within 17-10 in the third quarter, the Rams allowed a 12-play, 77-yard drive in 6:49 after giving up possession with 9:27 remaining at Washington.

SPECIAL-TEAMS HEADLINERS:K Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein hit a 52-yard field goal against the Redskins and has made 14 from 50-plus in his career. RB Benny Cunningham was fifth in the NFL in kickoff return average in 2014 (27.5 yards). Austin had a 75-yard punt return for a TD against Seattle (his third career TD on a punt return) and is the only player in NFL history with a punt return of at least 75 yards in each of his first three seasons. Steelers KJosh Scobee missed a PAT against San Francisco after missing field goal attempts of 44 and 46 yards in the season opener against New England.

THE X-FACTOR: The Steelers are averaging 458.5 yards and 32 points per game. And now they get RB Le’Veon Bell back from his two-game suspension. What will Bell’s addition mean to an offense that seemingly found its stride against the 49ers?

THEY SAID IT:“It’s really exciting getting him back. Honestly, I feel like Le’Veon’s the best running back in the NFL. When we’re getting pieces back to our team and an offense that’s already unstoppable and you’re just adding another great player to it, might as well just take out the popcorn and get ready for the show. Those guys are going to do some great things.” _ Steelers LB Ryan Shazier on Bell’s return.

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