This weekend the Pittsburgh Steelers have yet another crucial game with playoff implications. As they continue to try to dig out of the hole they dug for themselves early on in the season, the Steelers will take on the Cleveland Browns who have had a very atypical season (for any team).
Cleveland started out 0-2 then won three straight games, two with Brian Hoyer under center. They then lost three games straight and looked like they would fall out again only to bounce back with a win against the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. They’re coming off of a blowout loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, however, while the Steelers are coming off the most impressive win of their season over the Detroit Lions. So, how can the Steelers take down this dangerous Browns team and stay alive?
The Browns have the defensive edge as they are boasting the fifth best defense in the NFL. If there is one thing that isn’t going to work against the Browns’ defense it’s running the ball. But then again, the Steelers haven’t had a run game in years, so there’s that. Cleveland’s defense is interesting because they don’t allow a lot of net yards, but they allow a lot of points. How? The Browns are perhaps the best in the league at giving up big plays, especially running. They’re also dreadful on third down, allowing opponents to convert on third down about 43 percent of the time. So for the Steelers, third-down conversions will be huge.
A huge key for the Steelers will be forcing turnovers, which is apparently something they’re not great at anymore. Luckily for them, Cleveland loves to throw the ball to the opposing team, so pressure on Jason Campbell will be vital. The Steelers need to tighten up their front seven in this game because if they take the run game away from Cleveland Campbell will be forced to throw the ball a lot. The Steelers want that, and the Browns are very well aware that they don’t.
Shutting down the long ball will be huge for the Steelers in this game. Covering down on the young star Josh Gordon is a necessity. While the Browns allow a lot of big plays, they also score almost solely off of plays outside the red zone that are for a gain of ten or more yards. The Steelers won’t have to worry if Cleveland gets in the red zone either, because chances are they’ll end up with a field goal as they are the worst team in scoring touchdowns in the red zone.
Overall, Pittsburgh is set up nicely to win this game. Ben Roethlisberger should have a normal day at work so long as the offensive line does its job. Ben could have another day scrambling to make plays, however, as the Browns’ pass-rush is far above average. The Browns’ secondary is their Achilles heel on defense, and Antonio Brown is definitely somebody you’re going to want on your fantasy team this weekend. I look for the Steelers’ wideouts and Big Ben to have huge days, and the secondary to come up big for the Steelers by forcing Campbell to make quick decisions, resulting in turnovers.
So, to summarize, the Steelers need to win the turnover battle, protect Big Ben, put pressure on Jason Campbell, convert on third-downs and shutout the Browns in the red zone.
SCORE PREDICTION: STEELERS 31 BROWNS 23