I have to be honest, this Week 1 matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns is just strange. Strange for a lot of reasons, but for all those, and likely more than I list, there is a general uneasiness about the upcoming AFC North battle.
That’s right, I said battle, because not many Steelers fans are ridiculously confident in their team — not after how the 2017 season ended.
But let’s not go there, considering it doesn’t have any bearing on the players preparing to hit the field this Sunday in Cleveland, OH.
The elephant in the room clearly is Le’Veon Bell’s absence. While the defense was the main talking point leading up to the regular season — don’t worry, we’ll get to them in a second — Bell choosing to actually miss a regular season game has dominated the news wire, and rightfully so.
James Conner takes over at running back, and although he had a tremendous preseason, it was just the preseason. The Steelers offense has been without Bell before, but this isn’t established NFL veteran DeAngelo Williams taking over at running back, but a very untested second year player in the backfield.
Will Bell’s absence impact Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster? It certainly will make life easier on the Browns’ defense, considering it is unlikely the Steelers have Conner doing everything Bell did on a regular basis in his first NFL start.
The offense has plenty to sort out, but the defense as a whole has plenty to prove. Will they be able to prove the 56 sacks from a year ago was no fluke, but just a sign of things to come? A healthy Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt certainly looked poised for a repeat against the Tennessee Titans in Week 3 of the preseason.
Then there are the defensive backs, mainly the safeties. Reports are Terrell Edmunds will make his regular season debut as a starter for Keith Butler’s defense, and his first start will be accompanied by Sean Davis’ first start at the free safety position. Not exactly a veteran tandem in regards to their defensive positions.
Even the coaching staff will have a lot to prove. Keith Butler’s defense and their inability to stop the big play and improve their tackling — something which was a talking point all preseason — will be on full display. Mike Tomlin being able to overcome the loss of one of his prized pupils, and to avoid another road pitfall to a sub-par team. Randy Fichtner getting his first shot to call plays at the NFL level, with his predecessor across the field and the man before him calling the game in the booth.
Such a strange atmosphere surrounding the Steelers at this point, and if there is a cure-all for this team right now it is a dominating performance. Sure, you can talk about how a win is a win, and you won’t find me arguing with this theory, but a truly dominant performance will send shock waves.
Think about James Conner rushing for over 4-yards per carry, with 120 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Think about how that would impact his own psyche, as well as the entire offensive line’s as Le’Veon Bell watches from afar.
Think about how the defense standing tall against Tyrod Taylor, Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry and company would help improve their confidence heading into Week 2.
Think about how a great game plan, while dealing with adversity, will boost the coaching staff’s trust of their players, and their philosophies, moving forward.
Some will suggest this is ‘just another game’, and that is fine, but this game can be so much more than that. It can be a statement game for the black-and-gold. The statement they can make is no distraction will derail this train. No one player is bigger than the team. And this coaching staff assembled is the right group of people to get the Steelers over the proverbial hump and back to the promised land.
Is it just the Browns? You might say that, but in my opinion this game is so much more than that.
Time for the Steelers to dominate.