As we will do every Saturday to get you ready for the week’s game, our X Factor of the week. Sometimes it’s a player, unit, concept, or scheme. What will make or break the Pittsburgh Steelers as they square off against the Cleveland Browns in the regular season finale.
X Factor: Landry Jones
Has to be the pick, right? Jones will get the start in place of Ben Roethlisberger as the big-name starters will sit this one out. But Maurkice Pouncey and Le’Veon Bell aside, everyone else is expected to play, so this won’t be a 4th preseason game type of feel. Jones will still have Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and 80% of his offensive line. It’s on him to rise to the moment and make some plays.
Jones’ strength is firing the football deep downfield. And I hope the Steelers let him loose and rip a couple of bombs. Let your guys go make plays. If they force him to manage the game, make short, timing throws, it’s not going to end well. That’s his biggest issue, the intermediate crossing route. Slants, digs, that’s not where Jones plays his best football. But he’s got a live arm and surprising touch and accuracy downfield and outside the numbers.
To scale it back and look at square one, it starts with not making mistakes. To do so against a Browns’ defense would be comically bad. Not because this defense is without some defensive talent – there are legitimately good players on Cleveland. Myles Garrett at DE, Danny Shelton and Larry Ogunjobi clogging the middle, and the duo of linebackers Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey. But it’s a unit that does not make enough splash plays, as we highlighted in yesterday’s scouting report. 31 sacks and six interceptions, with only four of the latter coming from the secondary. If they walk away with a couple of picks, that’s bad news.
One thing you’ll for sure from the Browns’ defense are pressure packages. Gregg Williams is an aggressive coordinator and in the final game, with everything, but also nothing, on the line, the brink of a winless season, I can’t see him being a shrinking violet. Jones is going to have to work to identify the blitz, set the protection and if need be, throw hot when the Browns are sending more than what the Steelers are blocking.
If Jones were to hypothetically (knocks on every wooden object in my house) start or see heavy time a playoff game, yes, the season is over. But like so many backups we’ve rarely or haven’t seen this year, it’ll be a great opportunity to gauge where Jones is at in his career. If we can see him continue to make strides or if what he’s been is as good as it’s going to get.