The Pittsburgh Steelers will open their 2018 regular season on the road Sunday against the Cleveland Browns in what figures to be a game that will include inclement weather from start to finish. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with a big AFC North win to start their 2018 regular season.
Conner must be strong – The Steelers won’t have running back Le’Veon Bell Sunday in Cleveland, but they will have second-year running back James Conner, who is coming off a great preseason and training camp. Conner hits the hole much quicker than Bell does and with Sunday’s game against the Browns expected to be a slop fest, that might play into the favor of the Steelers offenses as that unit enters the 2018 regular season with one of the best lines in the NFL. The better Conner runs on Sunday, the less that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger must throw in inclement weather conditions.
Big Al versus Myles – Browns defensive end Myles Garrett is primed to have a defensive MVP-type season in 2018 based on what we saw out of the 2017 first overall draft pick during the preseason. Sunday in Cleveland will be Garrett’s first opportunity to rush after Roethlisberger, which is something he’s been looking forward to doing since just moments after he was drafted. Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva will be charged most of Sunday with keeping Garrett away from Roethlisberger. The two faced off against each other in Week 17 of the 2017 regular season and Garrett registered a sack in that contest.
Tyrod containment – Browns quarterback Tyrod Taylor is currently one of the NFL’s most mobile quarterbacks entering the 2018 season. During the preseason, the Steelers defense didn’t do a great job of containing opposing quarterbacks when they used their legs and that will be something to look for on Sunday in Cleveland. Two seasons ago when the Steelers played Taylor when he was with the Buffalo Bills, their defense held the mobile quarterback to just 2 rushing yards on 3 running attempts. That defense, however, included a very athletic inside linebacker in Ryan Shazier, who is now sitting out the entire 2018 season with a spinal injury.
Greet the rookie tackle – The Browns will start rookie Desmond Harrison at left tackle Sunday against the Steelers after the undrafted free agent out of West Georgia won the job with a nice showing during training camp and the preseason. Harrison will likely see a lot of Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree and defensive lineman Cameron Heyward on Sunday and it’s important for those two to properly welcome the rookie to the NFL. Dupree really needs to get his 2018 season off to a strong start Sunday in Cleveland after having his fifth-year option for 2019 picked up earlier in the offseason. Strong preseason and all, Harrison is a far cry from the Browns former left tackle and future Hall of Famer, Joe Thomas.
No Gordon flashes – Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon might just have his snaps limited some on Sunday as he continues to overcome a hamstring injury. That said, he’s still going to see several targets his way and he’s already had a few nice performances against the Steelers in the five games he’s played in against them so far during his career. The Steelers just can’t let Gordon register explosive plays on Sunday, something he did twice in the last meeting between the two teams in Week 17 of the 2017 regular season. Gordon can have his 5 or 6 receptions on Sunday if none go for 20 or more yards or end with him standing in the end zone.