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Steelers Defense vs. DK Metcalf: Difficulty Level, Worries, Ways to Stop Him

The Pittsburgh Steelers have held their own against opposing No. 1 receivers this season.

It's still borderline unbelievable that the entire NFL managed to let a physical freak like DK Metcalf fall to the end of the second round in the 2019 NFL draft. 

Sure, Metcalf has some limitations. He's never going to be a guy that runs the full route tree at a high level. His game is taking the top off of defenses, and he does it arguably better than anyone in football right now. For a Pittsburgh Steelers defense that has had some struggles keeping the football in front of them in big spots, that's particularly concerning heading into the Sunday Night Football matchup. 

The thing about Metcalf's deep ball dominance that's so impressive is that Seattle really doesn't do anything exotic with him to scheme him open. More often than not, he just uses his God-given ability and wins down the field. 

He's a handful to press at the line of scrimmage because he's strong as an ox and fights well through contact. Then there's the straight-line speed aspect to where one false step from the corner or a bad jam, and it's pretty much over before he's ten yards down the field. Off coverage isn't much better because then you're just giving him a free runway to build up speed.

There's no real secret to where Metcalf is going to line up Sunday night: you'll find him on the left side of the field. The Ole Miss product lines up almost exclusively on that side, 79% of the time over the course of this season. They do move him inside, too. This is a way for Seattle to get their 6'4 superhuman matched up on opposing safeties, smaller slot corners or even linebackers. His first career touchdown was at Heinz Field back in 2019, scoring on a slot fade route while being defended by Terrell Edmunds.

Speaking of aligning solely on the left side, that's where James Pierre aligns for the Steelers' defense when they go into their nickel and dime sub-packages. 

Seattle lines up 11 personnel (3WR, 1 RB, 1 TE) sets about 60% of the time and that's where Pittsburgh will have to counter with more defensive backs on the field. Pierre has had a bit of a rocky start to his first year as a contributor in the steel city defense. He's been the primary defender on long touchdowns twice already in five weeks. Cincinnati's Ja'Marr Chase tallied a 34-yard score just before the half in week three and Denver's Courtland Sutton hauled in a 39-yard touchdown last week in the fourth quarter. 

It's not a matter of if the Seahawks take a shot deep to Metcalf, it's a matter of when. 10 of Metcalf's 38 targets so far during the season have come in the deep left portion of the field. He's caught six of those for 143 yards and one touchdown, the touchdown coming from Geno Smith last week against the LA Rams.

Keith Butler has a decision to make. They've been caught in some single-high coverages that don't allow much safety help over the top of Pierre and it's burned them twice already. It wouldn't be a bad idea to try to employ more two-high safety shells on Sunday until Seattle starts to gash them on the ground. Pierre does like to get up in press in order to use his length to disrupt the release of receivers. However, he's not only at a size disadvantage this week, but he's also at a major speed disadvantage. 

Pierre must make a conscious effort to stay on top of Metcalf no matter what, even if that means surrendering some catches underneath. If there is a weakness to Metcalf's game, it's that he's not really suited to running comebacks and routes of that nature that cause him to change direction quickly, so you can use that to your advantage.

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It should be noted that Metcalf is dealing with a foot injury and has missed some practice time again this week. With that being said, he was pretty effective last week playing through the pain, even scoring a touchdown on one of the best corners in the game, Jalen Ramsey. 

Without Russell Wilson, most aren't giving the Seahawks much of a fighting chance. The Steelers' defense as a whole should be good enough to limit this Seahawks offense. Still, a deep ball touchdown from Metcalf could be the difference-maker this weekend if the game is close. 

Keeping a lid on the back end and eliminating those splash plays will go a long way in terms of ensuring a victory at Heinz Field. Mike Tomlin will most assuredly take his chances with making Smith methodically move the football down the field. 

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