The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their twelfth regular season game of 2019 at home on Sunday afternoon against the Cleveland Browns with a chance to get to two games over .500 for the first time this season. Below are seven key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with their seventh win of 2019 against the Browns.
Let go of 18 – The Steelers are currently on a streak of 18 games in which they’ve turned the football over at least once. That’s a crazy bad streak that needs to come to an end on Sunday at Heinz Field against the Browns if the team hopes to have a shot at coming away with a win. The Steelers defense played well enough to win in the first meeting against the Browns a few weeks ago and that was even with quarterback Mason Rudolph throwing four interceptions during the contest. The Steelers severely need to win the turnover battle on Sunday by two or more so the offense and return teams better break that 18-game steak at Heinz Field.
Snell what the running game can do early and often – The Steelers offense must continue to run the football just like the unit did last Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals and perhaps even better. Last week we saw rookie running back Benny Snell Jr. post nearly a 50 percent successful run rate against the Bengals defense and on Sunday he’ll get a chance to do the same against a less than average Browns run defense. The Browns won’t have defensive end Myles Garrett for this rematch so the Steelers offense should run right at his replacement Chad Thomas. In addition to Snell, the Steelers should make sure to get newcomer running back Kerrith Whyte Jr. a few more carries this weekend if possible. Whyte is the lighting to Snell’s thunder and if used properly, the two running backs might just be able to crack 150 total rushing yards against the Browns defense. The Steelers must run the ball effectively to win this game.
Don’t let Chubb keep it 100 – Browns running back Nick Chubb has had a great season to date as he’s averaged right at 122 total yards from scrimmage per game. In the last meeting against the Browns the Steelers defense limited Chubb to 92 total yards from scrimmage and that was an acceptable effort. If the defense can repeat that under-100 performance Sunday at Heinz Field the Steelers should be very much in the game barring their offense turning the football over a few times. Chubb can take over a game in a hurry along with fellow Browns running back Kareem Hunt so limiting his production should once again be the goal of the Steelers defense. If Chubb hits his 122-yard total yards from scrimmage average on Sunday it will likely result in a Steelers loss.
This Bud’s for McCray – The Browns are likely to start Justin McCray at left tackle Sunday against the Steelers with regular starter Greg Robinson ruled out for the contest with a concussion. McCray starting at left tackle on Sunday should be viewed as an early Christmas present for Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree, who failed to register a quarterback sack, hit or hurry against Robinson a few weeks ago when the two teams met on Thursday night in Cleveland. McCray, who has started just two games this season, has only logged one start at left tackle and that effort didn’t go well for him against the New England Patriots. Honestly, McCray is really a guard attempting to play tackle so Dupree should be able to win more than a few times on Sunday at Heinz Field. A key strip sack Sunday by Dupree might just be the difference in the game.
Brakes On Baker Breaking – Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield did great job of breaking containment from the pocket the last time Cleveland played the Steelers and the few plays he made down the field when able to avoid a very nice pass rush made a huge difference in the outcome. The Steelers defense should be able to rush Mayfield with the same sort of success as in Week 11. This time, however, the rush needs to finish Mayfield inside the pocket or at least make him get rid of the football earlier than he might want to and especially on third downs. If Mayfield is allowed to extend half a dozen plays on Sunday at Heinz Field, there’s a good chance that half of those result in explosive plays and maybe even a touchdown or two.
YAC it up – The Steelers offense might feature a conservative passing game on Sunday so that might mean a lot of short passes. The offense could use quite a bit of yards after the catch on Sunday against the Browns. In his previous start, quarterback Devlin Hodges threw for just 132 yards in the Steelers 24-17 win over the Los Angeles Chargers and right at 100 of those yards were gained after the catch. The lone touchdown pass that Hodges threw in that game was a 1-yard connection to running back James Conner and he ran the other 25 yards with it for the score. Steelers wide receivers James Washington and Diontae Johnson are likely going to be the two players with the best chance at breaking off a long run after a reception and if that happens a few times, it could be the difference in the game.
Don’t be dumb – The nonsense that happened at the end of the Week 11 Thursday night game between the Steelers and Browns needs to be put to bed by the home team come kickoff of the Sunday afternoon rematch. Stupid retaliatory-like penalties could be costly for the Steelers in this rematch and especially if one winds up wiping out a big play. The greatest revenge the Steelers can have on Sunday against the Browns is beating them in the rematch in a very clean fashion. This game might be called very conservatively by the officials so one time slip up or act out of frustration could result in a 15-yard penalty. That Week 11 game is over and done with. Let the Browns be the stupid ones on Sunday if they want to.