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 their Week 8 AFC North contest between the Steelers and Cleveland Browns.
My prediction is at the bottom.
THE STEELERS WILL WIN IF…
1. Dan Moore Plays The Best Game Of His Life
As we wrote about for our X-Factor. Moore gets the task of going against Myles Garrett this weekend. Garrett moves around but figures to see and test Moore quite a bit. Pittsburgh should and will give him help, but there will be times where Moore just has to win his matchup. Doesn’t need to look pretty, just needs to work. Even harder to do that on the road. He’ll probably be trying to cheat the snap count but has to be careful of not moving early and getting flagged for it. Moore doesn’t need to pitch a shutout, but he can’t let Garrett be a difference maker.
2. Steelers’ Offense Gets More Chunk Plays
And they’re capable of it. The Browns don’t hit a lot of 20+ yard plays. Passes, anyway. Pittsburgh has more explosive weapons in the pass game and a desire to throw vertically more often. Mike Tomlin said late this week this offense needs chunk plays and Chase Claypool and/or Diontae Johnson taking advantage of a cornerback group without Denzel Ward is important.
3. Secondary Playmakers Make Plays
Would’ve never guessed the Steelers’ defense would sit at just two interceptions through the first six games. And certainly wouldn’t have believed those two picks come from Terrell Edmunds and James Pierre. Not Minkah Fitzpatrick, not Joe Haden, not Cam Sutton. Those are the kind of guys who need to step up. This unit has had their chances, Fitzpatrick especially, and while he’s playing better than some outlets and numbers suggest, he needs to dominate Cleveland like he has in the past. In close games like this one figures to be, takeaways are often the difference.
THE STEELERS WILL LOSE IF…
1. Browns’ Backs Pick Their Lane (And Pick Pittsburgh Apart)
One of the top things I’m worried about. Cleveland runs a sound zone scheme, one reason why they have the league’s most effective run game. Pittsburgh’s run defense is much better equipped to stop man/gap schemes more than zone schemes. This system allows the back to make the read based on how the defense flows to it. Pittsburgh figures to play a lot of eight-man fronts but their D-line must be able to flow off the ball when gaps change. Or else Nick Chubb, D’Ernest Johnson, whoever they have back there will thrive behind a talented and healthier O-line.
2. Steelers’ Ground Game Stalls Out
The Browns have an underrated front seven and run defense, though they have some injuries up front. But it’s been a good unit throughout the year. Steelers’ fans are well-aware of the need for this offense to have a strong rushing attack. That won’t be easy to do against Cleveland. Fail and you’re in third and long against Myles Garrett. Which…good luck.
3. Empty Kills The Steelers (Yet Again)
Hello, old friend. Er, old enemy. Cleveland, primarily with Baker Mayfield, still runs the same Steeler-killer formations of the past. Come out in heavy sets, two tight ends and/or two running backs, to keep Pittsburgh in their base 3-4. Then go empty and spread the field horizontally, picking apart a zone defense with spacing concepts. Or against man, align #1 receivers inside as #3 and pick on linebackers. Happened in Week 17 last year and again in the Wild Card game. In those two games, Mayfield went 11/13 for 128 yards and seven first downs. They’re not big-plays but they’re the definition of efficiency and are death by a thousand papercuts way to lose.
Season Prediction Record