The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their seventh game of the 2018 regular season Sunday afternoon against the Cleveland Browns in what figures to be another exciting AFC North division game for both teams. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with their second home win of the 2018 season Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
No half-dozen pastries – The Steelers were lucky to get a tie against the Browns in the Week 1 meeting in Cleveland between the two teams due to the sheer fact that the offense turned the football over a whopping six times in that contest. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had three interceptions in that Week 1 game and while not all of them were on him, one definitely was, and he also fumbled twice. With a rookie quarterback in Baker Mayfield starting against them in this Week 1 rematch Sunday at Heinz field, merely not having the Steele offense turn the football over during the game might be all it takes to produce a win. I hate to use something as obvious as turnovers as a key to a game, but I would be silly not to this week based on what happened during the first meeting between these two teams.
No loads of Landry – The Browns wide receiver group looks a lot different since Week 1. In fact, of the five Cleveland wide receivers that dressed for that regular season opener against the Steelers. Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway, Josh Gordon, Rashard Higgins and Derrick Willies, only the first two will play Sunday against the Steelers. With Gordon now gone and Higgins and Willies both sidelined by injuries, the Browns will be forced to dress to undrafted rookies and the recently signed Breshad Perriman against the Steelers on Sunday. In short, the Steelers must make it a defensive focus to take away Landry on Sunday much in the same way that other teams try to take away Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown on a weekly basis. If Landry is held in check on Sunday, the Steelers should win the game.
The first 15 – The Steelers offense, as Roethlisberger stated this past week, needs to show on Sunday against the Browns it can start fast coming out of the team’s bye week. As I pointed out recently, you must go all the way back to 2008 to find the last time the Steelers offense scored a touchdown in the first quarter of a post-bye week game. The Steelers offense showed a few weeks ago against the Atlanta Falcons that they could score touchdowns quickly and even in their first two possessions. The Browns defense, however, is much better than Atlanta’s as they’ve allowed less than 3 points per game on average to be scored against the them so far this season in the first quarter of their previous seven games. Making the rookie quarterback Mayfield play from behind early could make him press more than he should and that could result in him turning the football over.
Run for Myles – As good as the Browns defense has been this season, that unit has allowed an average of 5.87 yards per rush to the right side of their defense through seven games. In short, opposing offenses have had success running at Browns defensive end Myles Garrett and even the Steelers showed that some in Week 1 with running back James Conner. The more the Steelers offense runs at Garrett on Sunday in Pittsburgh, the less he’ll be able to pass rush Roethlisberger. Sure, Garrett had a huge forced fumble late in the Week 1 game between the Browns and Steelers when he tackled Conner from behind, but let’s not forget that that was the single-worst snap that left tackle Alejandro Villanueva had in that contest. Regardless, Conner must hold onto the football in that situation.
Watch out for the Duke – The Browns trading away of Carlos Hyde a few weeks ago has left them with running backs Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson and that’s not an awful pair to have. While Chubb is likely to see the most playing time of the two running backs Sunday in Pittsburgh against the Steelers, Johnson should be the one who threaten the Steelers defense the most because of his versatility. In the previous seven games that Johnson has played against the Steelers he’s registered 20 catches for 201 yards and he hasn’t been used nearly enough in Cleveland’s passing game over the years. Browns offensive coordinator Todd Haley will likely try to get Johnson in a one-on-one matchup with a Steelers inside linebacker a few times on Sunday so defensive coordinator Keith Butler must be aware of that ahead of time and have a plan in place to defend against such. Johnson can big-play opposing defenses in a hurry as a pass catcher and as previously mentioned, Cleveland won’t have many experienced ones on the field Sunday.