Welcome back, football. We missed you. As you’ll see us do the day of every game, the win and loss scenarios for the Pittsburgh Steelers season opener against the Cleveland Browns. What probably went right if the Steelers win, what went wrong if they lose.
The Steelers Will Win If…
– Their red zone offense does a 180 from last season. Especially on the road, the Steelers’ offense was underwhelming at finishing drives. With Martavis Bryant back and the team adding Vance McDonald almost specifically for that purpose, it should be much improved. Not finishing up drives is a good way to let the Browns hang around in the game. And they have an explosive enough offense to try and swing momentum to their side.
– Yac Yac Yac. The Browns’ defense is going to have to be aggressive. They know that, you know that, I know that. Simply don’t have enough talent, especially in the secondary, to consistently shut down the Steelers. Cleveland has some weapons (Jamie Collins, Christian Kirksey, Danny Shelton if he plays) but it’s not enough. Especially in the secondary. So they’re going to blitz and you’re going to see a lot of Cover 1, meaning Antonio Brown and company will have one-on-one matchups. If they can create space and/or make the first defender miss, look out, they’re doing some serious damage.
– They maintain rush lane integrity. Yes, the obvious (and true!) answer to stop any quarterback, especially a rookie, is pressure. But pressure and rush lane integrity go together like Mike & Ike, peanut butter and jelly, and me and my irrational man-crush on Danny Smith. Without one, you don’t have the other.
Too often last year, the Steelers were able to generate pressure but struggled to keep a lid on the pocket, creating escape lanes. Even slow-footed QBs like Tom Brady were able to exploit them. So a scrambling rookie like DeShone Kizer will welcome it. Whether it’s a blitz or four man pressure, the latter is tougher to do, there has to be integrity in their rushes. Containing the edges, not getting overloaded to one side, guys staying on their feet and not getting pushed past the junction point (where the rusher has to turn to meet the QB at his spot).
For a team that will play more man coverage, the front seven doesn’t have the luxury of the secondary bailing them out. Corner’s backs are turned and they’re going to be late to react to anytime Kizer takes off.
The Steelers Will Lose If…
– Special teams blunders show up. You know my thoughts already on the issues the team is having at kick returner. Hoping for the best, fearing the worst. But beyond that, anything unexpected could derail the team and get Cleveland back in the game. The Steelers have a new long snapper and other new pieces across the board. So who knows what could happen. Teams get upset because they kick their own butt. Bad special teams is often part of said butt-kicking.
– Poor defensive communication pre-snap. Written about it a lot and certainly will in the future anytime this team faces a Hue Jackson led offense. Especially one that has plenty of time to prepare and for 2017 at least, has little on tape. Compound that with injuries on the Steelers’ defense which limited the amount of time they’ve had to work together, most notably only getting a week of practice and no games with Mike Mitchell, it could be an issue. Steelers will have to be prepared for the pre-snap chaos the Browns are going to present. Create favorable matchups, create confusion, and get the Steelers outnumbered in the run game.
– They give up the big play. Kinda obvious but the Browns’ offense isn’t going to be able to string together long drives downfield. They’re a vertical attack that looks to get it in chunks and they have some weapons to do that. Corey Coleman had a good preseason. Kenny Britt didn’t but still has a size advantage and David Njoku was a superb athlete coming out of school. For a defense like Pittsburgh’s wanting to be more aggressive and gamble, they could get their first taste of those consequences.