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Packers preparing for Steelers' physical, four-quarter style

Strong finishes have pushed Pittsburgh past its shortcomings to get above .500

Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin
Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin

GREEN BAY – The Pittsburgh Steelers couldn't care less about style points.

The only style that matters to them is the hard-nosed way they play for 60 minutes, and it's paid off for them in four comeback victories in the fourth quarter this season.

"They've made plays when it mattered most," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said of the Packers' opponent this week and its 5-3 record. "Some of those big plays are led by a lot of turnovers they create."

That turnover margin is one of the only good-looking statistics the Steelers have, but it's one of the most meaningful. They've generated 16 takeaways and are plus-8 on the season, one shy of the Bengals' and Chargers' league-leading plus-9.

The rest of their numbers? In eight games, they've been outgained by almost 800 yards, outscored by 30 points, possessed the ball nearly 40 minutes less than their opponents, and the list goes on.

Their fourth-quarter play has been borderline dominant at times, though. Not only have the Steelers trailed in four of their five victories, but in rallying to beat the Browns, Ravens, Rams and Titans, they've outscored those opponents a collective 42-0 in the final period.

"They wear people out for sure," center Josh Myers said. "I think our whole O-line knows we're in for a four-quarter battle, and it's going to be a rough one all the way to the end."

That defensive front, led by edge rushers T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, plus the veteran who's recently returned from injury, Cam Heyward, on the interior, sets the tone for their entire team and for the turnovers upon which they thrive.

Watt (9½ sacks) and Highsmith (4½) have combined for 14 of the defense's 26 sacks, plus two of the Steelers' eight interceptions. Both have multiple forced fumbles as well. Joining Heyward on the interior are veteran Larry Ogunjobi, former Packer Montravius Adams, and rookie Keeanu Benton, a draft pick from Wisconsin.

"Their front is a problem," LaFleur said. "They're big, athletic and just create a lot of issues.

"They pride themselves on physicality and it shows up all over the tape."

Regardless of personnel, that style has been a hallmark of Mike Tomlin's team throughout the head coach's 17-year tenure. He has yet to post a losing record and has qualified for the playoffs 10 times.

Much of that was with a future Hall of Fame QB in Ben Roethlisberger running the offense, but now the Steelers are still transitioning to second-year pro Kenny Pickett under center.

"He's the model of consistency in this league," LaFleur said of Tomlin.

Their successful M.O. has been to wear down opposing offenses to the point they struggle to function well late in games, and then have that momentum turn to their own offense to get the late scores they need.

Pickett doesn't have a lot of jump-off-the-page statistics, either, except one: He owns a 108.2 passer rating in the fourth quarter, following a 75.3 rating in the first three quarters of games.

So how do the Packers counter? Protect the football for one. Plus, they'll need the appropriate finishing kick of their own, which they've shown in all three of their victories this season.

Green Bay has a fourth-quarter comeback win (over New Orleans in Week 3) and a strong closeout (last week vs. the Rams) on its resume. But those were both at home.

The Packers haven't summoned what's required at crunch time on the road despite significant opportunities at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Denver. The execution on both sides of the ball to finish off the Rams and end the four-game losing streak last week certainly provides a confidence boost, but now it must travel.

"We've just gotta be pros, gotta be grown men," guard Elgton Jenkins said of getting it done on the road. "When you get that bad taste out of your mouth after a losing streak, everybody's just pumped up, hyped to be able to go play another game."