The Pittsburgh Steelers will play the (0-10) Cleveland Browns on the road Sunday and will be attempting to break a four-game losing streak in the process. Below are seven things that I believe the team will need to do in order to come away with their fifth win of the season against a Browns team who would love nothing more to get their first win of the season against them.
Maximize Big Runs – The Browns defense has already allowed 36 runs of 10 yards or more so far this season and that’s the second-most allowed in the league entering Week 11. When running back Le’Veon Bell gets to the second level Sunday, he needs to maximize these long runs as the Steelers offense has only been able to muster 20 such runs all season. Only twice has the offense had runs 20 yards or longer so it would be great if Bell can add to that total on Sunday.
Watch Out For Misdirection – Remember the Steelers last loss to the Browns in Cleveland? In that game, quarterback Brian Hoyer completed just 8 of his 17 total pass attempts for 217 yards and a touchdown. The Browns offense used a lot of misdirection in that contest after establishing their outside zone running game early. The Steelers defense needs to read their keys and play close attention to the tight ends crossing to the opposite side of the field as they failed to do so back in that 2014 game.
Legal Picks – The Browns defense will likely play a lot of press-man coverage on early downs and if so, it will be a great opportunity for the Steelers offense to run legal pick plays in an effort to rub off defenders. We’ve seen them be successful at doing just that several weeks ago in their win over the New York Jets with Bell being the beneficiary of them a few times.
Run Outside The Guards – The Browns defense has had their problems against the run so far this season and especially when tested outside the guards. On 159 runs outside the guards so far this season, the Browns have allowed an average of 5.24 yards per carry as opposed to 3.94 yards per carry on runs up the middle and to right or left guard. This will be a perfect opportunity to run some pin and pull concepts in addition to some counters with guard David DeCastro leading the way.
Make Kessler Go Vertical – With heavy winds expected in this game, the Steelers defensive game plan should center around taking away the easy throws from Browns rookie quarterback Cody Kessler. They need to play their cornerbacks up in man-coverage as often as possible and especially on first downs. They can’t allow Kessler to have the easy throws underneath against zone coverage and especially early in the game so that he’s able to gain confidence and establish a rhythm. They must make him beat them deep down the field.
Middle Pass Rush Has To Provide Pressure – While I don’t expect the Steelers outside linebackers to have a lot of success on the edges as pass rushers, I do expect defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargrave to have success against Browns center Cameron Erving and left guard Spencer Drango. Whether it’s single gap rushes or stunts, Tuitt and Hargrave should be expected to win multiple times on Sunday. Some well-timed fire-x blitzes better get home in this game as the interior of the Browns offensive line just isn’t very impressive on tape. Tuitt is expected to move around against the Browns with Cameron Heyward now out for the season and he must have a big game.
Another Fast Start – Last Sunday the Steelers offense scored touchdowns on their first two possessions and that’s something we haven’t seen all season. The Browns have done a great job of keeping games close in the first half so far this season and it will be interesting to see how their offense can play when down 10-14 points early.