The Pittsburgh Steelers are back on the field after getting a week off for their bye, a Week Seven respite that put on ice a two-game winning streak and which, frankly, was rather good to them given that each of their divisional opponents lost their games in the interim. They entered the week in third place in the AFC North and exited in first place.
This is their first opportunity to build on that lead now, hosting the Cleveland Browns, who have lost their past two games and three of the last four, with a 2-4-1 record overall so far this year. That 1 at the end, of course, came against the Steelers in the opener.
Both sides feel as though they left a lot on the table in that first matchup and view this as a game of unfinished business, determined to win this one almost as a late demonstration of the fact that they should have won the first time.
Not that the game itself needs any greater implications, and with that in mind, these are some of the things that I will be paying attention to.
Right tackle Marcus Gilbert is the only player of significance that figures to miss this game, dealing with a minor injury that has second-year Matt Feiler back in the starting lineup. While they defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when he started in Week Three, I still felt that his performance, particularly in run blocking, left something to be desired, so I want to see what sort of ground he will have made up in his second start at tackle after spending the offseason working at guard.
Safety Morgan Burnett appears to be returning to full health. How will he be utilized on the field, if at all? My guess is that he will be given the dimebacker job, which would put Cameron Sutton out of work again, as he had been running there in Burnett’s absence.
The running game had a lot of success in the season opener, at least for the first three quarters, in James Conner’s first start. The young running back has matured through his experiences since then, and his blockers have become more attuned to him, so I would look for him to put in a more confident and complete performance today.
Another hopeful departure from the first game to this one is the second-season resurgence of Ben Roethlisberger, who has a tendency in recent years to play better as the year progresses. The season opener was his worst game, but he has been more consistent and accurate since then.
With the Browns dealing with a number of injuries at wide receiver, the running game behind Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson should play a prominent role early. The defensive front seven will have to set a tone from the start.