The Breakdown: Steelers-Rams
The Steelers should win, but there are real warning signs on the Pittsburgh offense. The O-line played poorly against Jacksonville; tackle Marvel Smith was a turnstile (at least partly because of his bad back), and won't play Thursday, and Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked 20 times in his past five games. Big Ben appears to be holding the ball too long, Hines Ward had a couple of terrible drops, and the Rams' defensive strategy boils down to pressure, pressure, pressure. In Sunday's game, when Green Bay had three receivers on the field, St. Louis blitzed on nearly every single play and succeeded in confusing Brett Favre several times. You still have to start Roethlisberger and Ward. But this will be a high-risk, high-reward pressure game from defensive coordinator Jim Haslett's defense from the word go.
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Fantasy Up: The Rams have allowed just three rushing touchdowns and 93.8 yards rushing per game in their past five, but you still get Willie Parker in there. He's in the mix for his first yardage title, and someday he'll actually score a touchdown. ... Steven Jackson is like Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew; Frankensteined together in one ridiculous, linebacker-sized body, and could present some trouble for Pittsburgh. To my eyes, the Steelers' troubles against Taylor and MJD were less about scheme and more about execution; for instance, on the Jags' winning drive, they converted on a third-and-10 draw in their own territory that everyone in the stadium knew was coming. I don't think you'll see Jackson match Taylor's 147 yards, but the opportunity is there in a way you wouldn't have expected just a few weeks ago. Start him. ... Corner Ike Taylor has had a very solid season for the Steelers, but he hurt his knee in Week 15 and as of this writing was questionable. Bryant McFadden would start in his place; McFadden is a talented player for a nickel back, but Torry Holt gets a slight upgrade regardless. ... Do you start the Pittsburgh defense after two straight losses and against a potentially explosive offensive opponent? I think you do, though I have to admit, I had to ponder it for a while. ... I'd use Santonio Holmes in deeper leagues. He showed very good downfield separation versus the Jags, but Roethlisberger couldn't make throws to get him anything long. Against the Rams' risky pressure, Holmes will have a chance to break a big one.
Fantasy Down: Pittsburgh has had a ton of trouble getting pressure on quarterbacks in their past three games. Not only do they only have just one sack in that span, but opposing signal-callers have had way too much time. However, I don't trust the makeshift Rams O-line any further than I can throw it, so I'm still staying away from Marc Bulger. His two picks Week 15 weren't his fault (each was tipped by a receiver who should've caught the ball), but there's too much potential for confusion and blown assignments up and down this offensive line. ... Boy St. Louis tackle Alex Barron gets called for a lot of false-starts. Two more on Sunday. ... Isaac Bruce and Drew Bennett each made his presence felt against Green Bay. However, neither can be used this deep in your fantasy playoffs. They're just too inconsistent. ... I went on radio in Pittsburgh this past week and said Heath Miller was just a borderline fantasy starter at tight end, then Miller went out and scored his first touchdown since Week 10. But I still have Miller on the border. He gets only four targets a game, though when they're in the red zone, he'll likely as not convert. ... I'm the last person in the world who should double as the fashion police. But man, the Rams shouldn't wear white pants.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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