The Pittsburgh Steelers will play host to the 2-7 Cleveland Browns Sunday at Heinz Field and below are seven key things that I believe they will need to do in the game in order to come away with another big AFC win.
Gets the runs going – The Browns have been horrible against the run this season and especially up the middle and to the left. Last week, running back DeAngelo Williams had 135 yards rushing on 20 carries up the middle and two the left of middle so expects the Steelers offense to repeat that against the Browns on Sunday.
Get after the rookie – As I’ve already mentioned several times this week, the Browns will have a rookie starting at left guard Sunday in the form of Cameron Erving. The Steelers should try to test the Florida State product several times during the game with twists and stunts in addition to doing all they can to get defensive end Cameron Heyward singled up one-on-one on him.
Misdirection awareness – remember the Steelers road loss to the Browns last season? In that game, the Cleveland offense ran a lot of misdirection and as a result had the Steelers defense off balance quite a bit during the game. If Johnny Manziel starts Sunday, I expect we’ll see some misdirection similar to what we saw last season, only probably not as much. Brian Hoyer only completed 8 passes in that game yet the Browns still managed to score 31 points.
See Johnny run – If Manziel does indeed start, the Steelers defense has to make sure to account for him in the running game as he’s certainly not afraid to tuck the football and run if his first read is not there for him or he feels the least little amount of pressure. In his limited playing time this season, Manziel has rushed for 73 yards on 14 carries. At least 12 of those were scrambles and he’s only dropped back 103 times so far this season.
Deep shots – Yes, the Browns defense has been great against the deep pass so far this season. However, they’ll be without cornerback Joe Haden and safety Donte Whitner on Sunday so wide receiver Martavis Bryant should get to see quite a bit of young cornerbacks Pierre Desir and Justin Gilbert in this game. Assuming Landry Jones starts, he needs to go after the young cornerbacks if he sees them singled up out wide on Bryant.
Beware of Benji – While tight end Gary Barnidge leads the Browns in receptions, wide receiver Travis Benjamin is only one catch behind. In addition to Benjamin already having 4 catches of 40 yards or more so far this season, he’s also returned five punts 20 or more yards. He’s a dangerous player with the ball in his hands out in space and 10 of his catches along with 3 of his 4 receiving touchdowns this season have come when Manziel has been under center.
Many happy returns – It’s time for special teams coach Danny Smith to get his return units on track. Last week, newcomer Jacoby Jones failed to practice with the team prior to making his Pittsburgh debut and it really showed. Antonio Brown wasn’t any better as he fumbled his lone punt return opportunity. With Landry Jones under center for the Steelers Sunday, the offense really could stand to have a few shorter fields to work on. In the Steelers first nine games, Smith’s units have failed to deliver any long returns and that needs to change Sunday against the Browns.