The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their tenth regular season game of 2019 on the road Thursday night against the Cleveland Browns with a chance to get two games over .500. Below are seven key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with their sixth win of 2019 against the Browns.
Fast start and no false starts – The Steelers offense with quarterback Mason Rudolph at the helm hasn’t been very good at all at the start of games. If the offense isn’t going three and out on their first offensive possession of a game the drive is ending in a turnover. Thursday night in Cleveland against the browns is a perfect opportunity for the Steelers offense to get out of its slow start funk. A touchdown-producing opening drive would likely quiet an excited crowd down on what figures to be a cold night. At worst, the Steelers offense needs to put together a few first downs right off the bat to perhaps flip the field. Speaking of starts, the Steelers have had six false starts in their last three games with four of them being on the offense. Three of those four false starts on the offense ultimately stalled drives. These false starts are unforced errors and absolutely must come to an end Thursday night in Cleveland.
Must win on first and 10 – As I recently pointed out in a post, the Steelers offense hasn’t been very good at all on 1st and 10 platys since Rudolph took over at quarterback in Week 3. These high percentage of unsuccessful 1st and 10 plays easily sets up the Steelers fragile offense for stalled drives 4 yards or more on 1st and 10 is the goal and the Browns defense hasn’t been great at all this season on that down and distance to boot. Starting Thursday night in Cleveland we must see the Steelers offense turn in at least a 50 percent success rate on 1st and 10s. If the unit can’t achieve that number, it could result in the team leaving Cleveland with a division loss.
Shut down the two-headed running monster – Now that the Browns have running back Kareem Hunt back from his suspension, they are pairing him up in the same backfield with running back Nick Chubb. The Browns used the two together on over 40 percent of their total offensive plays against the Buffalo Bills last Sunday and it resulted in Chubb registering three of the team’s four explosive plays in the contest. The Browns will run inside and outside zone with one or two running backs on the field in addition to traditional power schemes. The Steelers defense has struggled at times against the run this year and especially outside zone runs. If the Steelers defense let the Browns get their running game going early, it will take a lot of pressure off quarterback Baker Mayfield. In short, if Browns run successfully early, they’re likely going to be running just as successful late in the second half and that will likely result in a Steelers loss.
Baker and a half a dozen or more – Putting the Browns offense in second or third and six or more throughout the Thursday night game should pay a few dividends for the Steelers defense. The Cleveland offensive line isn’t great at pass protecting overall and especially both of their tackles, Greg Robinson and Chris Hubbard. The Steelers defensive front has been ferocious this season and if that group has multiple opportunists to pin their collective ears back and get after Mayfield, several good things should happen. Mayfield has already been sacked 25 times this season and he’s thrown 12 total interceptions on top of that. Nine of his sacks and 6 of his interceptions have come on second or third down when 6 or more yards were needed.
Run, James, run – The Steelers should have running back James Conner back Thursday night after a two-game absence and he’ll be a sight for sore eyes if that’s indeed the case. While the Steelers running game hasn’t been consistent all season even when Conner has played, he is easily the team’s best running back. Conner must pick up where he left off at several weeks ago against the Miami Dolphins. He’ll face a Browns run defense Thursday night that has been exposed quite frequently this season and especially on 1st and 10 plays. The Browns have given up quite a few runs of 10 yards or longer to opposing running backs this season and Conner needs to have three of four such runs Thursday night against them. If the Steelers can’t post a successful run rate Thursday night against the Browns defense, one must wonder if the team will ever be able to run consistently well the remainder of the season.
Get Greedy – Browns rookie cornerback Greedy Williams hasn’t played all that much this season as he missed four games due to injury. That also means he hasn’t been tested too much and especially deep down the field. On five total deep pass targets in his direction so far this season, Williams has allowed four catches for 101 yards. He might be tasked with mostly covering Steelers wide receivers Diontae Johnson and James Washington Thursday night with only one middle of the field deep safety playing behind him. A few man-coverage situations against Williams should be present Thursday night and Rudolph should look to go that way a few times. It’s been a few weeks since the Steelers offense has had a home run touchdown over the top so maybe they can hit one over the top of Williams’ head Thursday night in Cleveland. At worst, Williams should be targeted quite frequently Thursday night as he’s not known to be a great after-the-catch tackler in open space.
No Myles smiles – Browns defensive end Myles Garrett has 10 sacks so far this season and only two other players have more. Thursday night against the Browns he’ll be looking to add to the total with most of his rushes likely to come against Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. Garrett will also move inside occasionally in addition to flipping sides so Steelers right tackle Matt Feiler will also likely have to defend against him as well. Rudolph must help his tackles out some Thursday night by not staying dropped too deep in the pocket. He must step up when necessary to allow Villanueva and Feiler to both properly protect against inside counters from Garrett. The Browns twist and stunts that Garrett is involved in must be handled properly with the defending Steelers offensive linemen staying on the same level and working in concert to pass off rushers. A lot of smiles from Myles Thursday night could result in Browns fans smiling after the game.