The Seattle Seahawks didn't open defense of their NFC West title much better.
A humbled Pittsburgh club will try to get on track and win its ninth straight home opener when it welcomes Seattle to Heinz Field this Sunday.
Taking the field in a meaningful game for the first time since a loss to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV, the Steelers were routed by the rival Baltimore Ravens, 35-7, in their 2011 regular-season opener. Pittsburgh's offense struggled mightily in the game, getting forced into seven turnovers while trailing by 14 points (21-7) at the half.
"We came into a tough place to play," said Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who had of the team's seven giveaways. "[The Ravens] got after it, and we didn't play so well. We turned the ball over, which is [mostly] my fault. But it's the first game of the year. The season's not won or lost [in Week 1], the division's not won or lost."
Pittsburgh now returns to Heinz Field in an effort to rebound. History says that could very well happen, as the club has won all four of its home openers under head coach Mike Tomlin, while Roethlisberger is 4-0 with 960 passing yards and a 110.7 quarterback rating in the four home lid-lifters he has started.
The Steelers have also won 23 of their last 28 games versus the NFC during the regular season.
While the stats seem to favor Pittsburgh, Tomlin's team should also be more focused after last weekend's defeat.
"That's just an example of the many ways you can be humbled," Pittsburgh's head coach said. "I think that's more of a catch phrase than anything else. I think the people that know and competed in this league understand that there is a fine line between drinking wine and squashing grapes. Obviously last weekend we were grape squashers."
The Seahawks were also left with empty drinking cups last Sunday, when they dropped a 33-17 decision to San Francisco. Seattle trailed by two points late in the divisional matchup before watching 49ers returner Ted Ginn Jr. take both a kickoff and a punt to the end zone to dash any comeback hopes.
Like Roethlisberger, Seattle quarterback Tarvaris Jackson also struggled in the turnover department. He was intercepted once and lost two fumbles in his Seahawks debut.
"It's a very disappointing first game for us," said Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, whose team was penalized 11 times. "It felt like we were right there to take this game over, and then it fell apart in the kicking game."
Seattle is opening with two straight on the road for the first time since 2004 and was without three starters last Sunday in wide receiver Sidney Rice (shoulder), guard Robert Gallery (knee) and linebacker David Hawthorne (knee). Both Gallery and Hawthorne returned to a full practice on Wednesday, while Rice was limited.
Seattle possesses an 8-7 edge in its all-time regular-season series with Pittsburgh, but suffered a 21-0 defeat to the Steelers at Heinz Field in the teams' most recent meeting, which took place in 2007. The Seahawks had recorded two straight non-postseason wins over Pittsburgh prior to that defeat, including a 29-10 decision at Three Rivers Stadium in 1999. That win is one of only two for Seattle in eight lifetime stops in the Steel City.
The most significant game between the teams occurred at Detroit's Ford Field in February of 2006, when Pittsburgh captured its fifth Lombardi Trophy with a 21-10 victory over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.
Tomlin won his only previous matchup with Seattle, while Carroll is 0-2 lifetime against the Steelers and will be going head-to-head against Tomlin for the first time. Both of Carroll's losses to Pittsburgh came as the head coach of New England in 1997, with the last of those setbacks occurring in that season's AFC Divisional Playoffs.
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL
Jackson didn't exactly silence critics who say he isn't a capable starting quarterback in the NFL, throwing for 197 yards on 21-of-37 passing in the opener. However, he was playing behind an offensive line that featured three players making their first career starts: rookies James Carpenter (left guard) and John Moffitt (right guard) and right tackle Breno Giacomini. This led to Jackson getting sacked five times, though he did throw a pair of touchdown passes. One was an eight-yarder to wide receiver Golden Tate, his lone catch of the game, while rookie Doug Baldwin raced one of his four receptions 55 yards for a score on a short slant. Wide receiver Mike Williams matched Baldwin's team-leading catch total, while tight end Zach Miller made just a pair of catches for 19 yards in the ex-Raider's Seattle debut. Miller was forced into a blocking role during the contest when fullback Michael Robinson was lost due to an ankle injury, and the latter won't play this weekend. Seattle signed Eddie Williams off Cleveland's practice squad to replace Robinson. Top running back Marshawn Lynch had 13 of Seattle's 22 rush attempts for 33 yards.
Pittsburgh's heavy turnover rate last weekend led to the defense being on the field for over 32 minutes while being forced to cover some short fields at times. However, the unit also let the Ravens score just three plays into the game and allowed a 100-yard rusher for the first time in 18 regular-season games. The Steelers' star-studded defense knows it can play better, and it did not force a turnover of its own at Baltimore while also recording just one sack, which came from linebacker LaMarr Woodley (3 tackles). Fellow linebackers Lawrence Timmons (12 tackles) and James Harrison (9 tackles) were the team's top two tacklers, while safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark added six stops each. The Polamalu-led secondary should play with an extra chip on its shoulder after allowing Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to throw three touchdown passes, but should have an easier time against Jackson.
WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL
There is no other way to describe the Steelers' offensive effort from last weekend other than awful. Roethlisberger (280 passing yards, 1 TD) was under fire all day, getting sacked four times while throwing three picks and fumbling twice. His first interception of the game ended his string of 173 consecutive passes without a pick. Pittsburgh's early deficit on Sunday also limited running back Rashard Mendenhall (45 rushing yards), who also fumbled, to just 12 carries and forced Roethlisberger to unleash 41 pass attempts. Eleven of his targets went to wide receiver Mike Wallace (8 receptions, 107 yards), who tied a career high in catches. Hines Ward (5 receptions) ended with 67 yards to leave him 66 shy of passing Don Maynard for 20th in NFL history in receiving yards, while tight end Heath Miller (3 receptions) had 42 yards and wideout Emmanuel Sanders had the team's lone touchdown catch. Pittsburgh lost tackle Willie Colon to a season-ending injury for a second straight season after he suffered a torn triceps muscle during the game that required surgery. Rookie Marcus Gilbert will take over his starting role at right tackle for this matchup.
Seattle actually outgained San Francisco by a 219-209 margin in total yards last Sunday, with the defense putting together a solid effort that was wasted by poor special teams. The Seahawks held running back Frank Gore to just 59 yards on 22 carries and quarterback Alex Smith passed for just 124 yards. One area that the Seahawks will look to improve is getting pressure, as Smith was not sacked once and did not commit a turnover. Safeties Kam Chancellor (9 tackles) and Earl Thomas (8 tackles) combined to lead Seattle in tackles, while linebacker Aaron Curry made five stops. Rookie K.J. Wright started at middle linebacker in Hawthorne's place and made five tackles as well. Cornerback Marcus Trufant (2 tackles) was able to deflect a pass, but could not pull in an interception. He and first-year starter Brandon Browner, a former CFL All-Star, figure to have their hands full with Wallace and Ward this weekend.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Seattle needs to get off to a fast start, both to get its offense on track and keep the Steelers' defense down. The Seahawks averaged 4.7 yards per carry on 11 second-half rushes against the 49ers and gained 182 of its 219 yards after halftime.
The Steelers need to attack the Seahawks' inexperienced offensive line, especially if Gallery misses a second straight game. Jackson struggled under pressure against a more inferior defense a week ago, so Harrison and company could have a field day in this one.
Does it need to be said? Seattle's special teamers need to wrap up Pittsburgh's returners. Plain and simple.
It's never easy to make a trip to Heinz Field, especially when all the way from the West Coast and coming off a disappointing loss. Factor in the embarrassment the Steelers suffered on the road a week ago, and this game has all the makings of a big rout for the home team. Pittsburgh is light years better than how it performed last week and Seattle is still meshing together a handful of new faces. One interesting battle to watch will be to see how Seattle offensive line coach Tom Cable handles the looks that Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is sure to throw his young charges' way. The edge will likely to go to LeBeau.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Steelers 35, Seahawks 16