As we’ve done in the past, the keys to the Pittsburgh Steelers winning (or losing) today’s game. Three things that need to happen for them to end up on the right side of the score and vice versa. My prediction is at the bottom.
The Steelers Will Win If…
1. Receivers win vertically, outside the numbers.
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is going to run a lot of Cover 1, plenty of aggressive “mug” looks, putting players in every gap on 3rd down. Easy response is to exploit the one-on-one matchups downfield and get the ball vertical. But receivers have to win off the line and make some tough, combative catches. Clearly, the Steelers have the tools to do so, led by Antonio Brown, but they still have to go out and make those plays. Can beat this defense in chunks, for sure.
2. Tyrod Taylor is contained.
And I don’t mean contained in the sense of “keep him from having a great game.” Like I wrote about in my X Factor post, the key is keeping him within the pocket. Not letting him break contain, make plays with his legs, and letting the pressure get home. That’s what happened in the 7 sack onslaught a year ago. They’ll need to show similar discipline today.
3. Limit special teams penalties.
A very obvious point you can make about any team for this opening weekend. But with some of the new rules, some players not getting many reps on a particular unit, the last thing you want is a dumb holding or block in the back to pin your offense back. Especially with the weather sounding horrendous. It’ll be a battle of field position. And in this bad weather environment, it may take a splash play on this unit – like Tyler Matakevich’s blocked punt last year – to win this one.
The Steelers Will Lose If…
1. They don’t have a good enough plan for Myles Garrett.
Garrett, most often lined up at RDE, will be battling Alejandro Villanueva today. But Villanueva shouldn’t take on the battle alone. It’s a little harder to give help to that side with the TE usually lining up on the right side, but it’s still workable.
Cut him on a screen or quick throw. Change up Villanueva’s pass set – he “jump sets,” an aggressive short pass set – more than anyone else on this team. Get the tight end to his side more than usual. Have the RB release that way for additional help.
And it’ll be a test for Villanueva and Ramon Foster, who practiced very little in the preseason, to get on the same page whenever Garrett does stunt or the Browns are bringing a blitz to that side. Chemistry is vital along the offensive line and though those two have obviously played together plenty, there’s a rust factor at play here. Especially on the road.
2. David Njoku gets loose down the seam.
The Steelers have historically down a lousy job of covering tight ends. That problem might intensify this year without Ryan Shazier. Yes, Terrell Edmunds is going to matchup on him but if Jon Bostic draws him? Reason to worry. Todd Haley is going to get his offense vertical and Njoku won down the seam in the preseason. A quiet year last season but that’s typical for rookie tight ends. Expect him to have a much different sophomore season.
3. Defense fails to plaster.
“Plaster” is the term when the play breaks down. When it goes from a structured, planned coverage goes to hell. Tyrod Taylor will break out of the pocket at least a couple times today. It’s up to the defense to stick to their man for longer than intended, and make a play. In a sloppy game like this with the rain and the wind, this game might come down to one big play. Odds are stronger for that chunk yardage than a team putting together a 12 play drive in a hurricane.