The Pittsburgh Steelers are visiting the Cleveland Browns in the regular season finale, but they are hoping that this will not be the final game of their campaign. They must win and get some help in the form of a Jets loss in order to secure a playoff berth in order to advance at 10-6 via tiebreakers.
But of course they can only control one half of that equation, and so here are some of the variables to look out for as they try to put away a team that after last week doesn’t seem to be such a sure thing anymore.
The lost time these two teams met it, it produced a big game from Antonio Brown, who has been no stranger to such games over the course of the past few years. But the way the Browns attempted to defend him made it an especially enticing matchup to go after.
There is also the consideration that Martavis Bryant has been ill. He is listed as questionable even though he is reportedly expected to play, but he has been slumping a bit of late, with no touchdowns or explosive plays in three games, and adding an illness in top of that may make him even less of a favored target.
Last week, the Ravens tried to limit the Steelers’ passing game by consistently dropping seven into coverage and often playing with a two-deep shell to take away the vertical routes, and as a result Pittsburgh ran the ball a lot to start the game.
While I do not expect the Browns to match that game plan, I would not be surprised if the Steelers again start out running the ball heavily, even though Cleveland did a good job of limiting DeAngelo Williams the last time these two teams played.
The fact remains that the Browns have given up more yards on the ground than any team in the league, averaging 135 yards allowed per game, at 4.6 yards per carry, which should certainly be enticing. They are the only team in the league to have relinquished more than 2000 yards on the ground entering the final game.
The offensive line will also be looking to get Williams to 1000 yards for the season, for which he needs 101, and they wouldn’t mind cracking the top 10 in total rushing yards either, for which they will need a strong showing today from the backfield.
Defensively, the pass rush was really able to get after Johnny Manziel the last time, but he will not be playing today. At the same time, he was also able to hurt the Steelers with his mobility, so that is a bit of a tradeoff.
Under center will be Austin Davis, who has a career passer rating of 84.8, throwing 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while losing four of six fumbles in nine career starts. The Steelers will be looking to force the 26-year-old into some mistakes that can create turnovers.