The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their sixteenth regular season game of 2021 at home on Monday night against the Cleveland Browns and they’ll enter that contest marked as the favorite. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game on Monday night in Pittsburgh to come away with their eighth win of the 2021 season to remain alive in the AFC playoff race through Week 17.
Snub Chubb – The Browns will most definitely be looking to run the football Monday night and against a Steelers defense that has had issues stopping ground attacks this season. In fact, the last time the Steelers defense held an opponent to under 100 yards rushing in a game was way back in Week 8 against the Browns. The Browns were missing a few key offensive members in that Week 8 contest so that’s important to note. The Steelers also figure to be down both starting linebackers Monday night in Joe Schobert and Devin Bush as both are still on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Defensive end Chris Wormley is also on that list. If the Steelers defense can manage a repeat performance of Week 8 on Monday night, that would go a long way in helping them win the game. Chubb can break off a big run on any given play and that just cannot happen Monday night.
Bend But Don’t Break – The Browns’ offense is bound to be able to move the football up and down the field against the Steelers’ defense on Monday night. If that happens, the Steelers’ defense must limit the Browns’ offense once they get inside the red zone. For the season, the Browns have a 61.36% red zone success rate and that’s 10th-best in the NFL. The Steelers defense, however, enters Monday night with the 4th-best red zone defense at 50.91%. The Steelers’ offense obviously isn’t expected to score a lot of points Monday night so limiting the Browns to 19 or fewer points in this contest will be a key to the game.
Catch Short, Run Really Long – It’s doubtful that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will throw deep down the field much against the Browns’ defense, a unit that figures to play a lot of two-high safeties on Monday night. Sure, Roethlisberger will take an occasional shot down the field, but he hasn’t been the best again this season when it comes to completing those 20-plus yarders. The Steelers’ offense will obviously need explosive plays Monday night and the best way to get those will likely come via quick slants to the likes of wide receiver Diontae Johnson. We’ve seen Johnson catch short and run long a few times in his first two seasons. In fact, Johnson had one such catch and run late in the Week 8 game against the Browns to help seal that win. The Steelers wide receivers need to register a lot of YAC Monday night to help power the team to a victory.
Four Or More On First – The Steelers’ offense has been pitiful on first downs this season. In fact, the Steelers’ offense has averaged just 4.1 yards on first and 10 plays so far this season and only the Houston Texans have averaged less. The Steelers’ offense has gained 4 or more yards on first and 10 plays just 174 times out of 399 chances this season. Just 77 out of 174 plays in the first half of games to boot. Staying ahead of the chains all night will make things a lot easier on Roethlisberger. Monday night at Heinz Field, the Steelers really need a strong game out of rookie running back Najee Harris and especially on first downs. Harris needs to start taking what is there on each and every run play instead of attempting to break a long run on every handoff. The Steelers’ play success rate Monday night on first downs will likely go a long way in determining the outcome of the game.
Baker Half A Dozen-Plus – Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield enters Week 17 having had his problems this season on 3rd down and longs. On third and 6 or longer this season, Mayfield has a completion percentage of just 49.2 and a QB rating of just 36.7, per Pro Football Reference. Mayfield has also been sacked eight times and he’s thrown five interceptions on third downs when six or more yards are needed. It’s simple, the Steelers’ defense must get Mayfield in as many third and 6 or longer situations as possible on Monday night and then get after him when given the opportunity to do so. Mayfield’s most likely to take a sack or turnover the football on third and longs.