As we will do every week to get you ready for the upcoming game, our X Factor of the week. Sometimes it’s a player, unit, concept, or scheme. The key area to watch in Thursday’s matchup against the Cleveland Browns.
X Factor: Front Seven Rotation
The number one thing that should concern you about the Cleveland Browns’ offense? Their rushing attack.
The number one thing that should concern you about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense? Brilliant as it’s been, their run defense.
If Cleveland pulls off the W, it’ll because Nick Chubb carried them across the finish line. That means Pittsburgh has to stop the run, something they are capable of doing with their starters. The question is what happens late in the game.
You know. It’s a short week. It’s AFC North football. It’s the middle of November. Guys are exhausted, physically and mentally, and the Steelers’ depth isn’t in a great place right now. They’re managing without Stephon Tuitt but a strong rotation has been difficult to maintain. The outside linebackers look healthier now than earlier in the week, at least one of Anthony Chickillo and Ola Adeniyi should play, but it’s still not a particular strength on the team. Besides, the Steelers love to keep TJ Watt and Bud Dupree out there for every snap possible because hey, they’re some of the best pass rushers on a team that could fool around and wind up with 60 sacks this year.
Guys have to maintain the same focus, technique, and intensity at the end of games as they do at the beginning. That means coaches have to work extra hard on rotating guys earlier than usual and the backups who do see more time have to perform well.
This isn’t uncharted waters for this coaching staff. None of this “short week” stuff is. Mike Tomlin, Randy Fichtner, and Keith Butler have all been on this staff since at least 2007; Butler’s been here since 2003. That might be a longer tenure than any other trio of coaches/coordinators in the NFL. Reasonable to expect they’re going to come up with a good plan. Still, there have been some blips in the radar in terms of getting personnel on the field and when you’re doing it on the road, it’s a little bit tougher.
Rotate in along the defensive line and outside linebackers, keep guys fresh, and have them at their best late in the fourth quarter. That’s gotta be the goal. If it isn’t, either because they don’t rotate or the backups struggle, the Steelers might see their win streak come to an end.