A reunion and more: What to know about Seahawks-Steelers

Dec 29, 2023, 9:24 AM

Seattle Seahawks Devin Bush...

Tyjae Spears is tackled by Devin Bush of the Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 24, 2023. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

(Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

This Sunday’s Seattle Seahawks game brings a reunion for one Seahawk and a chance for one half of the ball to prove themselves. Here’s what we learned in The Huddle:

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Familiarity has its advantages

Linebacker Devin Bush is expected to start in this game for an injured Jordyn Brooks, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect. The former first-round pick will face his former team in his new home stadium.

Bush is excited to face his former team, but it’s less about a form of revenge and more about the opportunity to contribute in a must-win scenario for Seattle.

“Honestly I just gotta say, you guys, just look at God work,” Bush said. “This whole year I’ve been knockin’ on the door, knockin’ on the door, and then lo-and-behold. I didn’t come here to play the Steelers, I didn’t sign here for that. For the opportunity to present itself, I couldn’t have scripted this… I’m always fired up for every game, but I think this one is more for me not because of the former team but because of the opportunity and the circumstances we’re in right now where everything is must-win. To go out there and perform and prove to my teammates I’m here for the team.”

Bush is expecting a physical Steelers team, and he should be. Pittsburgh is expected to start backup quarterback Mason Rudolph and, presumably, will turn to a run-heavy look. In Rudolph’s defense, he threw for 290 yards and a pair of impressive touchdowns in a win last week against the Bengals. But this game will also be about the Steelers trying to tap into their identity (more on that in a moment).

“That (physical style) is just the type of style they bring anywhere they go,” Bush said. “They got those two backs for a reason. So they’re gonna bring it, they’re gonna run the ball. And this is where this helps me out because I used to be in 907 with those guys for four years. So I’ve got a feel for it and an eye for what to look for and how they move.”

The Seattle Seahawks spent an entire offseason working to improve on what was a dreadful run defense in 2022. They saw real progress to start the season, but have since stumbled. While they’ve limited explosive plays over the past two wins, they’ve also allowed some key gains on the ground, including 162 yards from the Titans in Week 16. The next two contests bring an opportunity to prove themselves once again against stout rushing attacks.

Like lookin’ in a mirror

These two teams have more in common than you think. ESPN’s Brooke Pryor talked about similarities between Geno Smith and another quarterback’s journey, as well as an offensive still looking to define its identity.

First, Pryor said the expectation is that Rudolph starts, but in a twist, the door isn’t shut for regular starter Kenny Pickett’s return.

“The door is open for Kenny Pickett, and that’s why it’s been a bit of an interesting week in Pittsburgh,” Pryor said. “Mason Rudolph has gotten all the team reps with the ones, he’s gone through practice much in the same way he did last week, but Pickett has been a limited participant in practice. Based on what I know about Pickett and the way he tries to play through things… he does not like being on the sideline. But it seems like this is not a decision he gets to make; it’ll be up to the trainers and coaching staff. At this point I expect it to be Mason Rudolph, but I don’t think we’ll have any clarity until Friday afternoon or even pregame.”

Pryor sees parallels in what Rudolph hopes his career will turn into and Geno Smith’s career. Rudolph has gone from being the butt of jokes in 2019 to creating a bit of a quarterback controversy in Pittsburgh now.

Like in Seattle, and in any city with a struggling offense, there are also differing opinions on whether Rudolph or Pickett should be the starter. Pickett this season has just six touchdowns in 12 starts for an offense that’s averaging a fifth-worst 17.1 points per game. In his lone start this season, one that came in a win last week, Rudolph was 17-of-27 for 290 yards, two touchdowns (one of 66 yards and another of 86 yards, both to George Pickens).

But the reason for Pittsburgh’s offensive issues has been much bigger than quarterback play.

“The offense hasn’t established an identity,” Pryor said. “They want to be a run-first team and in the games that they win they are a run-first team. But the games that they’re losing and getting the doors blown off are games where they’re not running the ball effectively and they’re not commmiting to the run game. And the biggest differentiating factor to me is the sloppiness and lack of execution. That’s come up with penalties and errors in formation. They’re making these boneheaded mistakes — Tomlin calls it September mistakes in December — and that’s the thing that was really going wrong for them in these last three games before last week.”

That’ll presumably be part of the plan. Running back Najee Harris didn’t practice earlier this week with a knee injury, but Pryor indicated most of that is management of a lingering injury as opposed to something that would keep him out this week.

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