The Cleveland Browns‘ season is mathematically over. At 4-11 they have been eliminated from any type of postseason play for yet another season. The Pittsburgh Steelers see themselves as a potential sixth seed in the AFC Playoff picture, but that only happens with a victory over the Browns this Sunday and some help. On paper this is an easy victory, but there is more to the victory than just team records and statistics. There is one matchup that looms large over this game, and that is Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon going up against the Steelers’ secondary.
Over the past several seasons, this would be Gordon vs. Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor as Taylor would shadow the opponent’s top receiver regardless of where he lined up. However, as Taylor has aged, so has his skill set to matchup solely on the top receiver. In turn, players like William Gay, Cortez Allen and even Troy Polamalu will all be asked to share in the duty of containing Gordon.
Josh Gordon has become one of the elite wide receivers in the NFL with astounding statistics amongst a team that flat out is lacking talent on the offensive side of the football. Through 15 games, Gordon has 80 catches for 1,564 yards receiving and nine touchdowns to boot. Those numbers aren’t too shabby considering the next highest receiving total on the Browns team is Jordon Cameron with 848 receiving yards. Simply put, Josh Gordon is the lone threat on the Browns offense, and even with that known he is still making plays. In Gordon’s last meeting with the Steelers he torched Ike Taylor catching 14 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown. If the Steelers want to win and keep their chances of making the postseason a reality, they must keep Gordon in check.
The Steelers’ defense has been strong against the pass all season. They are 8th in the NFL this season against the pass only allowing 222 passing yards on average per game. However, with the Steelers’ top pass rusher, Jason Worilds, a big question mark for the game on Sunday Pittsburgh’s ability to get to the quarterback will be hindered. Not getting to the quarterback could leave the Pittsburgh defense vulnerable in having to cover Gordon for a much longer time than they normally would.
This matchup could decide the game as the Steelers’ defense has been known to give up the big play, and the Browns’ best big playmaker is Gordon. If the Steelers can slow down Gordon they will slow down the Browns and most likely leave Heinz Field victorious. If Gordon is able to have a big day, however, you can expect this game to be close and possibly come down to the wire. This key matchup will be worth watching on Sunday.