The Pittsburgh Steelers have no choice, if they have any ambitions of reaching the postseason, but to win tonight’s game against the Cleveland Browns, which will now definitely be the final home game at Heinz Field in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s career after the Cincinnati Bengals secured the division yesterday.
Put simply, the Steelers will be mathematically eliminated tonight if they lose. Even if they win out, they might still not get in—in fact, they most likely won’t, since they would need the Indianapolis Colts to lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
So, what do they have to do to still have a chance on Sunday? It starts with stopping the Browns’ run game, but of course you already knew that, right? They actually did a surprisingly solid job limiting Nick Chubb in their first meeting—in fact, that’s the last time they held a team to under 100 rushing yards.
How can they do it again? Well, they’ll have to rely on the likes of Isaiahh Loudermilk and Montravius Adams, not to mention Robert Spillane, Ulysees Gilbert III, and Marcus Allen at linebackers. Chris Wormley, Devin Bush, and Joe Schobert are all on the Reserve/COVID-19 List.
The thing is, if they do stop the run, you have to think they can win. Baker Mayfield hasn’t been, let’s say, great this year, and the pass defense has actually done alright lately, bar the Chiefs and Chargers games. Mayfield only has 15 touchdowns to 11 interceptions this year, though four of the latter came just last week after coming off the COVID list himself with no practice time.
It is absolutely vital that they get some modicum of adequate play out of the inside linebacker position, and that’s a tough ask for guys like Gilbert and Allen who are special-teamers. But I think at this point there are those who would rather see them than Bush, anyway.
Offensively, it’s the passing game. It’s Roethlisberger’s last trip through Heinz Field. You know he’s going to try to go out with a bang, and you know his skill position players are going to do everything they can to make the plays to make them look good. That’s what Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool have been talking about this week.
The Steelers evidently did not get Kevin Dotson back this week. Kendrick Green may be a gametime decision, though one can easily argue that he should have been benched anyway. Either way, the offensive line won’t be going Najee Harris any favors, so don’t expect much in the way of a run game.
Perhaps the biggest unknown heading into the day is what the plan is at punter. Tomlin alluded to a ‘division of labor’ at the position, but that could easily just mean deciding whether to dress Pressley Harvin, who is coming back after a week tending to his father’s funeral, without practice time, or Corliss Waitman, who was signed last week. In theory, he could dress both, and, for example, have Harvin hold for Chris Boswell while Waitman handles the punts, though I wouldn’t bet on that.