As we’ve done in the past, the keys to the Pittsburgh Steelers winning (or losing) this week’s game. Three things that need to happen for them to end up on the right side of the score and vice versa for today’s game against the Cleveland Browns
My prediction is at the bottom.
The Steelers Will Win If…
1. Duck Gets To Fly
We know why Mason Rudolph was benched. Partially because you had the same confidence in him as you did that *one* group partner in school who never, ever showed up but largely because he started turn the ball over at an untenable frequency. The Steelers know their way to win is to keep the score down, play field position, and let the defense make plays. Adding turnovers into that equation doesn’t work into that plan.
Still, if the Steelers want to make the playoffs, the offense can’t play scared. No one goes from 6-5 in a hotly contested Wild Card battle against a harder-than-you-think remaining schedule (there are no “gimmies” the rest of the way) by taking the air out of the ball and coasting along. So Devlin Hodges has to be able to play to his strengths. His mobility, fearless attitude, and decent arm strength. There’s a line for Randy Fichtner to walk between aggressive and reckless, sure. But Hodges can’t have the same dink-and-dunk gameplan he did in his first start vs LA.
2. Mayfield Gets Contained
Bouncing off what I wrote as my X-Factor yesterday. One of the two biggest things that hurt the Steelers’ defense in the first matchup two weeks ago was letting Baker Mayfield leave and make plays outside the pocket. Easier said than done, you gotta be careful how you rush him, but letting him extend the play makes it hard on any secondary, even a talented one like Pittsburgh’s. But it’s crucial today.
3. There Aren’t Any Coverage Breakdowns
That was the other problem that hurt Pittsburgh two weeks ago. Mike Hilton blew a coverage that had a domino effect and ended in Odell Beckham Jr’s 43 yard catch to set up the Browns’ first touchdown. Jarvis Landry found himself wide open on the other first-half scoring drive. That’s Steelers beating Steelers.
High bar to set, I know, asking for perfection. But given the lackluster offense, they haven’t scored more than 27 points in a game all year and are 25th in PPG, that’s the standard.
The Steelers Will Lose If…
1. The O-line Struggles At The POA (When Run Blocking)
Pittsburgh’s ground game went nowhere against Cleveland earlier this year (16 carries, 58 yards). Having Benny Snell and Kerrith Whyte Jr. is a big boost but the line still has to block it up. They couldn’t get any movement before. BJ Finney has to do well against Larry Ogunjobi, who wrecked the Steelers’ run schemes too many times. Shaun Sarrett should consider reducing the splits between Ramon Foster and Alejandro Villanueva. That created problems with their 2nd level blocks and let LBs run free.
2. Receivers Can’t Make Plays Vertically
This offense, even if Hodges is the better option, won’t be a crisp machine. Their plays will come from chunks downfield, just as James Washington’s 79 yard score was *the* play of the game in beating Cincy. Don’t care who it is. Diontae Johnson, James Washington, Deon Cain. All three are capable of doing it. Someone’s gotta have that double-explosive moment.
3. Special Teams Isn’t Special
Pretty standard one that can apply to most games. But this, on paper, is shaping up to be a low-scoring battle. Steelers’ defense can hold the Browns’ offense in check while the Steelers’ offense does a good enough job slowing itself down. So like last Sunday, it’s all about field position and avoiding self-inflicted wounds. Jordan Berry and Chris Boswell have to continue to play well while Diontae Johnson must show plus ball security in the PR game. Browns have a couple good specialists too in Austin Seibert and Jamie “The Scottish Hammer” Gillan. Going to be rainy and windy at Heinz Field today so weather will play a significant factor.
Boz nails a 44 yard game-winner as time expires.