The Pittsburgh Steelers are back in the playoffs again after a two-year absence from them and Sunday night they will get their postseason appearance underway with a home game against the Cleveland Browns, the team they played and lost to last Sunday on the road to close out the 2020 regular season. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with a home playoff win against the Browns to advance to a Divisional Round road game next weekend against the Buffalo Bills.
Don’t Get Chubb Clubbed Again – In Week17, Browns running back Nick Chubb only carried the football 14 times. Even so, eight of those 14 runs were successful against the Steelers with one going 47 yards for a touchdown on the Browns opening possession. Chubb finished with 108 yards and even managed to play less than 50 percent of all offensive snaps run on Sunday by the Browns offense. The Browns will be missing their starting left guard Joel Bitonio Sunday night their starting right tackle Jack Conklin, while he might play, has battled an illness this week. In short, the Browns offense will use two and three tight ends against the Steelers Sunday night right out of the chute and attempt to bludgeon the unit with Chubb. The Steelers defense missed several tackle attempts on Chubb and his backfield counterpart Kareem Hunt in Week 17 and that’s an area that defensive coordinator Keith Butler said he addressed this past week. Chubb is going to get his 4 yard runs throughout the game Sunday night and that’s fine. What is not fine, however, is Chubb going for 20 or more yards on runs. Shutting down the Browns running game Sunday night at Heinz Field should be the team’s top priority. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield must be forced to beat the Steelers with his arm and that includes him having to convert a lot of third and longs by throwing.
Frequently Chase The Rookie With Targets – Catch short and run long or catch long and run long, Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool can do it all if given enough opportunities. The Steelers top draft pick in 2020 had a strong game against the Browns to close out the regular season and that was even with Mason Rudolph at quarterback. The Browns will be without their top two cornerbacks again on Sunday against the Steelers as Denzel Ward and Kevin Johnson will both miss the Super Wild Card game with COVID-19 related issues. Claypool was one of the best rookies this season at gaining yards after the catch both on short and long receptions. He led the Steelers in deep receptions as a rookie and led the entire league in pass interference yardage drawn as well. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger must make a concerted effort to get the football to Claypool early and often Sunday night against the Browns.
Crash The Baker Dash – Mayfield did a great job in the Week 17 game against the Steelers and especially when the defense allowed him to get outside of the pocket. Not only did Mayfield make a few passes outside the pocket, he had two key scampers after breaking contain with one of them sealing the game on a third down. In total, Mayfield rushed for 44 yards against the Steelers on six carries with a long of 28, which came in the third quarter and led to the Browns second touchdown of the game. The Steelers failed at containing the Browns dash scheme, which includes plays with designed rollouts for Mayfield. In Week 17, the Steelers sat defensive tackle Cameron Heyward and outside linebacker T.J. Watt and they’ll obviously have both players back Sunday night at Heinz Field. Additionally, inside linebacker Robert Spillane will be back in some capacity Sunday night and that will help the Steelers defense as well. The Steelers contained, hit and harassed Mayfield in the team’s Week 6 home game against the Browns and that same defensive effort will be needed again Sunday night when it comes to containing the Browns third-year quarterback.
Weak Running Game Can End With Runs At Weaker End – The Browns won’t have defensive end Olivier Vernon against the Steelers Sunday night as he’s out with an Achilles injury he suffered last Sunday. Vernon had been good all season against the run along with fellow Browns defensive end Myles Garrett. The Browns will now turn to defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Porter Gustin to replace Vernon on their defensive line and neither are great when it comes to playing the run. The Steelers running game has not had much to write home about all season, but we did see a nice rate of successes last Sunday in Cleveland and especially coming from running back James Conner. The Steelers might once again dress backup tight end Kevin Rader Sunday night against the Browns and use him a dozen or so plays like they did in the Week 17 matchup. If the Steelers offense keeps it simple with counter and split zone runs with several aimed at Clayborn or Gustin whenever one or both are on the field, perhaps we will see our first 100 yards rushing game since Week 11. Some of Conner’s best games have come against the Browns so there’s that as well. The offense can’t continually rely on Roethlisberger to drop back 45 or more times a game. Some semblances of a running game must develop in the playoffs.
Best Start In Weeks – The Steelers haven’t scored a first quarter offensive touchdown since Week 10 against the Cincinnati Bengals. The offense also only has four first quarter touchdowns all season to boot to go along with five field goals, of which two came against the Bengals in Week 10. The Steelers must start jumping on opposing teams in the first quarter if they want to make a playoff run longer than Sunday night. At worst, the Steelers must lead the game at halftime by two scores. This Browns team is dangerous even without the key players they will be missing Sunday night. If the game remains close in the second half, the Browns will have the advantage because of Chubb still being a factor in it. In Week 6, the Steelers put the Chubless Browns away very early as they raced out to a 24-7 halftime lead. Jumping on the Browns like that Sunday night won’t be as easy, but still can be done, nonetheless.