As we’ve done in the past, the keys to the Pittsburgh Steelers winning (or losing) today’s game. Three things that need to happen for them to end up on the right side of the score and vice versa in this 2020 Week 17 regular season finale between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns.
My prediction is at the bottom.
The Steelers Will Win If…
1. Front Seven Slows Down The Run
Repeated myself throughout the week. Number one goal of playing the Browns is stopping the run. Pittsburgh did well in that mission the first meeting. But circumstances are different now. Cleveland has two key players that missed the Week 6 matchup – RB Nick Chubb and OG Wyatt Teller. And Pittsburgh’s without several key pieces they had in that game. It’s tough to imagine the likes of Henry Mondeaux and company controlling the line of scrimmage the way, say Cam Heyward can. Chubb could hit some big runs on inside zone schemes. DBs will have to make tackles in open grass or it’s going to be the story of the game.
2. Mason Rudolph Airs It Out
For Pittsburgh to pull off the upset, the offense will need to hit chunk plays. Similar in the way the offense erased a 17 point deficit last week by pushing the ball downfield with much more second half success. Rudolph won’t lead long, 10-12 play drives the way Roethlisberger is capable of doing. He’ll have to hit chunk plays and the Browns’ secondary is ripe for the picking. In past games and training camps, Rudolph has been hesitant to go deep unless he gets perfect looks and matchups. He’ll have to be more aggressive today. He’ll also need to show improved pocket presence against a fierce Browns’ rush.
3. Defense Doesn’t Fall For Any Trick Plays
Watch out for a Jarvis Landry pass. The Browns need a win to guarantee their postseason appearance since 20002 (when they lost to the Steelers). So they’ll pull out all the stops to walk away with a victory. Landry’s thrown the ball four times this year. All four have come between the opponent’s 30-45 yard line. That’s the area where they get aggressive. So this defense, especially if there are youngsters in the secondary (Justin Layne, Antoine Brooks, James Pierre) seeing significant action, they’ll have to be disciplined beyond their years.
The Steelers Will Lose If…
1. Backups Play Like…Backups
It’s no secret why the Steelers are double-digit dogs. Many of the team’s best players aren’t playing and others are likely to be limited. Instead of looking towards leaders like Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Heyward, Maurkice Pouncey, guys like JC Hassenauer, Mason Rudolph, and Ola Adeniyi will need to step up. Which guy is going to ascend his backup status? Can a Jordan Dangerfield force a fumble? Or Adeniyi set the edge against the run? Perhaps Deon Cain makes a big play downfield? Someone will have to step up or else Pittsburgh will lose.
2. Interior Line Fails To Control The Line Of Scrimmage
Cleveland has a tremendous front four. Myles Garrett rightfully gets all the attention but across the board, there’s talent. Sheldon Richardson, Larry Ogunjobi, and Oliver Vernon are all quality players. In particular, Ogunjobi can be a headache in the middle. Hassenauer better come to play because Ogunjobi is one of the strongest, most effective interior defensive linemen in football.
3. Pass Rush Shows Poor Rush Integrity
Another test for young players. Key to keep Baker Mayfield in the pocket. Can the backup defensive linemen and outside linebackers maintain that? Especially knowing these guys are playing more snaps than they’re used to, notably at OLB where there’s presumably only three available for tomorrow: Adeniyi, Jay Elliott, and Alex Highsmith. When players get tired, they’re most prone to mental and assignment mistakes. And it’s harder to do your job and chase Mayfield around the yard if you give him room to escape the pocket and roll out.
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