The Steelers aren't the underdogs very often.
But that will be the case Sunday night. Considering the talent of the opponent, as well as the hostile environment, the Steelers are three-point underdogs at Carolina.
Here are three keys for the Steelers to beat the odds Sunday night.
1) Run, Steelers, Run: After toting the rock 21 times for 109 yards in Week 1, Le'Veon Bell had just 11 carries in last Thursday's 26-6 loss to the Ravens. LeGarrette Blount, brought in this past off-season to complement Bell, has just seven carries through the first two games of the season. The Steelers have had success running the ball this season when they've chosen to do so, averaging 4.8 yards per carry on just 47 attempts thus far. Playing against one of the better pass defenses in the NFL in Carolina, the Steelers should try to establish the run early and often.
2) Stop the run: The Panthers running game isn't very good. But that probably won't stop them from going after the Steelers rush defense. After surrendering an average of 5.0 yards per carry on 67 carries in the first two games of the season, Pittsburgh faces a Carolina rushing attack that has averaged just 3.1 yards per carry on 57 attempts. DeAngelo Williams, who gained 72 yards on 14 carries in Carolina's 20-14 Week 1 win over Tampa Bay, was out of action in Carolina's Week 2 win over the Lions and is questionable for Sunday's game with a thigh injury. With fellow running back Jonathan Stewart averaging just 2.4 yards per carry, the Steelers defense should finally put the clamp down on an opponent's running game.
It's time for one of the Steelers' defensive linemen to step up, in particular nose guard Steve McLendon. The best Steelers teams have always had strong play on the defensive line, and Pittsburgh will need a better effort from this group if this team wants to go places this season.
3) Put Pressure on Cam: As one of the NFL's most electrifying players, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton must be pressured by Pittsburgh if they expect to win Sunday. After sitting out Week 1 with a rib injury, Newton returned last Sunday and put together a solid outing in the team's win over Detroit. Newton completed 22 of his 34 attempts for 281 yards and a touchdown. Newton was harassed at times by the Lions' pass rush last week, sacking him four times and putting pressure on him on several other plays.
Most of Newton's completions were on short, intermediate routes, with tight end Greg Olson pacing the Panthers with six catches for 72 yards. Newton also has possession receivers Jason Avant and former Steeler Jerricho Cotchery, who has caught all eight passes thrown to him by Panthers quarterbacks. Still not 100 percent, look for Newton to continue to try to make plays in the pocket while utilizing his short passing attack. After recording just three sacks through two games, let's hope the Steelers can apply pressure on Newton that could lead to Pittsburgh's defense collecting their first turnover of the season. Here's hoping Dick LeBeau's famed blitz package can return to form and befuddle Newton, who will face Pittsburgh's defense for the first time Sunday night.