Going into Sunday night’s game between the 5-5 Green Bay Packers and the 8-2 Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, the Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas has the visiting team from Titletown as 14 point underdogs.
And based on NFL statistical information, the wise guys in Vegas may have the line just about right. It would be a huge upset if the Packers could topple the Steelers on the road.
First off, the Packers are reeling and the Steelers are surging.
The play of quarterback Brett Hundley was just dreadful against the Baltimore Ravens at Lambeau Field last Sunday, as the home crowd showered Hundley and the offense with boos on more than one occasion.
Hundley threw for 239 yards, but also tossed three picks without a touchdown pass, as the Packers were shut out by the Ravens 23-0. No. 7’s passer rating for the game was an abysmal 43.8.
And this performance came a week after Hundley had the best game of his NFL career against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, as he completed 72 percent of his passes and threw one TD pass without an interception and had a passer rating of 110.8.
So which Hundley will we see on Sunday night? That is a very interesting question. You know that head coach Mike McCarthy wants to see Hundley perform well in his hometown. But will he?
For the season, Hundley has definitely had his ups and downs since replacing an injured Aaron Rodgers in Week 6, after No. 12 suffered a broken collarbone. Overall this season, Hundley has thrown two TD passes versus seven interceptions for 940 yards. That adds up to a mediocre passer rating of 63.6.
It’s no wonder that the Packers are 1-3 in the games that Hundley has started at quarterback.
Contrast that to Rodgers, who led the Packers to a 4-1 record before he was injured against the Minnesota Vikings in the sixth game of the season. No. 12 had thrown 13 TD passes versus just three picks for 1,385 yards. The passer rating for Rodgers was a very robust 103.2.
Now I realize that it’s very difficult to replace a legend like Rodgers and even come close to his production, but there has to be a middle ground somewhere between the way Hundley has played and the way Rodgers plays. That is where the Packers need Hundley to be.
Have a passer rating of 83.5 or so. Throw at least as many TD passes as you throw interceptions. That will at least give the team a fighting chance to win, depending on how the defense and special teams performs.
So what are the odds that Hundley will do well on Sunday night against the Steelers on the road? Not good. The Steelers are ranked third in the NFL in passing defense. The opposing QBs have a passer rating of 74.2 when they face the Steelers. Plus, they have only allowed nine TD passes versus 12 interceptions.
Add to that, the Steelers are second in the NFL with 34 sacks. One of the pass rushers for the Steelers is rookie outside linebacker T.J. Watt, who the Packers could have drafted at pick No. 29 in the 2017 NFL draft. But the Packers decided to trade back instead. The Steelers then took Watt with pick No. 30.
Hundley has not shown much pocket presence as a passer, plus does not see open receivers at times and holds the ball too long. Those three variables have led to Hundley being sacked 17 times already this season in four-plus games.
As a whole, the defense of the Steelers is very good, as they are ranked fourth in the NFL in total defense. Besides defensing the pass well, Pittsburgh also plays the run tough, as they are ranked eighth (97.6 yards per game) in rushing defense. This is a key factor, as the Packers need to have some balance on offense and Jamaal Williams and company have to be productive against the Steel Curtain.
Getting back to McCarthy, going back to his hometown is going to be quite a sentimental experience for the head coach of the Packers. McCarthy is still having trouble dealing with the passing of his younger brother Joe, who died of a heart attack playing racquetball on January 21, 2015 at the age of 47. Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com wrote a very nice story about that emotional homecoming.
Can McCarthy get his team to play an exceptional game on Sunday night versus the Steelers as big underdogs, especially knowing that he wants to honor his brother Joe? Well, he’s been able to that in the past on a number of occasions, as Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote on Saturday.
Still, it’s going to be a very difficult test for the Packers to stay with the Steelers on Sunday night based on statistics.
The Steelers are ranked 10th in the NFL in total offense, as they average 357.5 yards per game. The Packers are ranked 18th in total defense and give up an average of 340.1 yards per game.
Add to that, the Packers will be dealing with the the Killer B’s…quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown.
Roethlisberger has had better seasons in the past, but he still can wing it with the best of them. For the season, Big Ben has thrown 16 TD passes versus 10 interceptions for 2,597 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 87.8.
Roethlisberger is always looking for a big play, as evidenced by his 33 completions of 20-plus yards or more and his 10 completions of 40-plus yards or more.
Big Ben has only been sacked 14 times and that doesn’t bode well for the Packers, who are 21st in the NFL with 21 sacks.
In addition to that, the Packers are ranked 18th in the NFL in passing defense and allowed opposing QBs to have a cumulative passer rating of 95.5. Opposing QBs have thrown 13 TD passes versus seven picks against Green Bay.
Roethlisberger loves to look for Brown in the passing game, which is evidenced by the 70 catches for 1,026 and yards and six scores by No. 84. The receptions and yards by Brown lead the NFL.
Besides trying to stop the passing game of the Steelers, the Packers also have to contain Bell in the running game. That will be a tough task. Bell leads the NFL with 886 yards rushing and also has five touchdowns.
Bell is also exceptional catching the football, as he has 49 receptions for 308 yards.
The Packers are better defending the run, as opposed to the pass, as they are 11th (105.7 yards per game) in the NFL in that category. But the defense will be missing a key cog, as defensive lineman Kenny Clark will be out, while outside linebacker Clay Matthews will also most likely be out.
The bottom line is the Packers will have a monumental task ahead of them in trying to win this game.
That being said, I believe the Packers will give a very spirited effort on Sunday night and will play the Steelers tough for the most part. If Hundley continues to play poorly, I don’t think McCarthy will hesitate to put in backup Joe Callahan.
McCarthy wants his team to play with pride and passion on national television in his hometown. I see that happening. Will that mean a victory? Probably not, but if I was betting this game, I would bet the under.