The Cleveland Browns are traveling to Heinz Field to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday. The Browns are entering the game on a four game winning streak and are looking like a playoff contender. The Steelers are 4-0 with a rejuvenated Ben Roethlisberger and a good defense leading the charge. This will be a great, hard-hitting matchup which could have consequences for the AFC North title and playoff seeding down the line. Here are a few keys to the game for the Steelers if they want to come out with a W.
- Stop the Run
The Cleveland Browns have the best rushing attack in the NFL. Behind their two-headed monster of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, the Browns have averaged 188 yards per game (ypg) on the ground. Chubb will miss this week with a MCL injury, but Hunt is more than capable of taking the lead role.
The Browns win games by using the run to control time of possession, and to open up the passing game. The key for the Steelers will be to make the Browns one-dimensional. The Steelers allow only 64 ypg on the ground, which is second best in the league. If the Steelers can prevent Hunt from running all over them and force quarterback Baker Mayfield to make plays with his arm, the chances Pittsburgh wins the game sky rockets.
- Protect Ben
Cleveland’s front seven is a nasty group, and they are led by a Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) candidate in Myles Garrett. Last season, when Pittsburgh went to Cleveland, he and his teammates made quarterback Mason Rudolph have a nightmare of a game. If the Steelers offensive line cannot protect franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and allow Garrett and company to continuously put him on the ground, the Steelers will be in trouble.
Last week, Pittsburgh held their own against a great defensive front in Philadelphia, and now they have to do it again. The Steelers schemed around the Eagles front by using a short and quick passing attack, and they need to repeat that performance again this week if they want to have a good chance of securing a win.
- Do Not Abandon the Run
It will be difficult to run against this Cleveland front, as it is their strength. Cleveland has been hurt the most in the aerial attack this season, but the Steelers are at their best when they run the football. When lead back James Conner runs the football for 16 or more times a game, the Steelers have an impressive record of 8-0-1.
It will get difficult at times, but offensive coordinator Randy Fichner needs to stick with the run. In addition to the Steelers playing extremely well when Conner runs the football a lot, it will help tire out the Cleveland Browns defensive front. This could lead to Roethlisberger having a chance to take a “dagger” shot towards the end of the game.
- Fix Secondary Communication Issues
This Sunday, the Steelers will be facing the best wide receiver corps they will see all year. So far, the secondary has been a weakness for the team. While sometimes they just get burnt, most of the time their struggles are due to miscommunication and guys running open. That cannot happen this week, as Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry will make Keith Butler’s defense pay in a big way if that happens.
Cleveland’s “home run” potential is immense, and if Cleveland connects on a couple of them the Steelers will likely lose. The Steelers pass rush should be able to help the secondary out a bit, but at the end of the day if the Steelers keep missing assignments it is going to cost them big time.
- Do Not Lose the Turnover Battle
So far this season, the Browns are the second best team in turnover differential with a +6 differential. The Browns are deadly when they win the turnover battle because they are able to control the time of possession and grind teams down. The Steelers must prevent this. Pittsburgh has done well in protecting the football, but this is their biggest test yet. If they can protect the football and bait Baker Mayfield into a mistake they will have a good chance at coming out of the game with a W. If not, it will make defeating the Browns even harder.
These are my keys to the game for the Steelers this week as they take on the Browns this Sunday. The Browns are an uber talented team and will be hard to beat. This will be a great test for Pittsburgh to see if they are the real deal.
Game Prediction: Steelers win a tight won