The 5: Steelers to watch against the Seattle Seahawks

Every week, ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ regular-season games, Steel City Underground will analyze the depth chart, injury reports, and key matchups against their upcoming opponent in order to point out “The 5” – Steelers players to watch.

After a Week Five win over the Denver Broncos, the Pittsburgh Steelers rebounded to join several 2-3 teams as the sixth week of the 2021 NFL regular season gets underway. With a resurgence in offense, the Steelers were able to move the ball more effectively and take some pressure off of their defense.

Injuries are something that are likely to come into play for both Pittsburgh and Seattle this week. Saying that, here are key players in black and gold to keep an eye on when the game kicks off.

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James Washington

Number 13 has had few big-play opportunities this season behind JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, and Diontae Johnson. Although Washington was listed on the injury report as “limited” Wednesday, it appears the Steelers staff are working him back from a groin injury that kept him out last week.

With Smith-Schuster suffering a shoulder injury that will take some time to recover from, Pittsburgh will need Washington to step up and be a reliable target for Ben Roethlisberger.

“Lots of big opportunities for Ray-Ray [McCloud], for James. Cody [White] is going to get his shot I’m sure… I think (they are) excited for the opportunity.” – Ben Roethlisberger

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Chukwuma Okorafor

The young offensive lineman has been challenged, a lot, so far this season. He has had some ups and downs, but against the Broncos, Okorafor was tasked with limiting Von Miller‘s ability to be disruptive.

Okorafor only had aid in doing so in less than two-thirds of the Steelers’ offensive snaps in a game where the entire offensive line looked much more cohesive. Their play allowed Najee Harris to record his first career 100-yard rushing game (122 yards). They also only allowed one coverage sack.

Okorafor will be asked to keep improving, as will the remaining members of the Steelers’ offensive line. They do, however, look like they’re starting to gel as a unit.

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Joe Schobert

Preparations haven’t been modified for this game per Schobert, who joined the Steelers via trade just two months ago. His relationship with Devin Bush has been a process that has developed as Schobert picked up the Steelers’ defensive schemes. He has room to grow in coverage despite having his best NFL season in that area this year.

“There’s definitely plays in every game that I wish I could have back coverage wise… I still feel like I’m settling in in terms of understanding the whole defensive holistically, but I know my role and my responsibility on every play.” – Joe Schobert

Schobert is familiar with Geno Smith and, even though he admitted that the Pittsburgh coaching staff did not change their expectations for how the defense should execute and perform, it could give the inside linebackers an opportunity to take cues from his experience and familiarity with the Seahawks.

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Cameron Heyward

If there’s one guy on this season’s roster for the Steelers that other players respect from a leadership and attitude perspective, it’s Cam. Heyward has played aggressive football through five weeks and knows he’ll need to play strong again this Sunday night.

After Russell Wilson‘s injury last week, Smith was still able to keep Seattle’s offense on track.

“They’re not going to change up much,” Heyward said this week. “(Geno’s) able to extend the pocket a little bit more than your normal backups, but he has experience starting so this isn’t the first rodeo.”

Getting good pressure on Smith should help limit D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett from big plays by keeping Smith’s head on a swivel. Heyward understands that keeping the Seahawks offense from finding a strong rhythm will be key along the Steelers’ defensive front and looks to have a big game this week.

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Diontae Johnson

Johnson has had quite a different season thus far than he had in 2020. He has become a reliable receiver who efficiently runs routes and has routinely made key plays when the offense needed some momentum; especially when points were needed on the scoreboard.

Johnson has pulled in long touchdown passes early in the last two games, including a 50-yard strike against the Broncos. “He is understanding the game better, which I think is allowing him to play faster,” head coach Mike Tomlin said this week. “He’s finding his rhythm as a professional.”

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