New series we’ll do each Sunday morning before kickoff. A prediction of what will happen if the Pittsburgh Steelers win, if they lose, and my final score prediction. My outlook on this afternoon’s game against the Cleveland Browns.
The Steelers Will Win If…
– The offensive line protects Landry Jones. And I suspect they will. Even without Ben Roethlisberger, most quarterbacks can look good and play well if the line gives him time. That’ll afford him the chance to air it out deep to Cobi Hamilton and Demarcus Ayers on the outside and Eli Rogers over the middle.
The pass protection has been tremendous this season and statistically, the second best in the league. That group will mostly be left intact tomorrow, the only exception being Maurkice Pouncey. But B.J. Finney has plenty of quality tape already.
That is the matchup to watch though on the line. Finney versus nose tackle Danny Shelton. He’s a handful.
– Keith Butler forces Robert Griffin III into mistakes. For the second straight season, the Steelers will be facing a different starting QB in each matchup. RGII has played the Steelers but only once, back during his rookie year in 2012.
This year, he’s faced teams that will vary their looks (Buffalo, Cincinnati) but neither offer the zone pressure quite like Pittsburgh. Buffalo is the closest thing and he struggled mightily, throwing for just 198 yards on 28 attempts and suffering five sacks. Hopefully Butler brings a harsh reminder of what it’s like.
Last year, he managed to torment Austin Davis to the tune of seven sacks. Hoping for the same. Good time to test out a couple of new pressures, too.
– Bud Dupree wins big. The Browns may try out Cameron Erving at right tackle. I guess he can’t be any worse than he was at center but man, I can’t imagine things being much better when he’s in space. Should be a big day for him, who I expect to play his normal compliment of snaps which lately, has been basically all of them.
If James Harrison and Anthony Chickillo are out/limited (Harrison is fine, just hope he gets rest), the team won’t have much of a choice. Should be a game he can take over and end the season on a high note. Just get ready to see stiffer competition the following week.
The Steelers Will Lose If…
– Landry Jones makes poor decisions. Has to show he can consistently be smart with the football. Make a profit. Get points out of every red zone opportunity. Preferablly seven but at least three, something he didn’t do against the New England Patriots.
The Browns’ secondary does have some playmakers in it. Joe Haden, even if he’s banged up. Tramon Williams is settling in at safety. And Briean Boddy-Calhoun has been a pleasant surprise. I’m sure they’ll be aggressive.
– The cornerbacks lose jump balls. Terrelle Pryor is an obvious mismatch and Corey Coleman has a great vertical to go up and get the football. And they can produce big plays that will jumpstart a struggling offense. Have to play with good technique and never take a play off against them. They’re always open because of the high physical talents they bring.
– Return game secures the football. I’m assuming Sammie Coates will be back on kick return duty but punt returns are a little more open. Eli Rogers would be a logical fill-in for Antonio Brown though you could argue Demarcus Ayers should get work too. Either way, the job will fall to young players who don’t have much – or in Ayers’ case, any – experience fielding punts.
The good news is the weather should be nice and the wind minimal, unusual conditions for January football in Pittsburgh. Still, the number one goal is ball security, and that begins with the approach. Being square to the ball, not focusing on the coverage, and securing the ball before looking to make a move.
I’m guessing the Browns will be doing a lot of punting so there will be lots of chances to succeed. And screw up. Big test coming.