The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing for the Cleveland Browns in the Wild Card round of the AFC Playoffs. It is the Steelers’ latest game after losing four of their last five games heading into the postseason.
When looking at the matchup between division foes, there are players who can be viewed as ‘X-Factors’.
What is an ‘X-Factor’?
I would describe an ‘X-Factor’ as a player who can truly alter the outcome of the game, single-handedly. Not just a plug and play type player, but a player who always has to be accounted for, no matter what.
As a clear-cut example of what an ‘X-Factor’ player would look like, think Troy Polamalu. Polamalu’s skill set made him a force to be reckoned with on every play. So, who are the ‘X-Factors’ for the Steelers’ playoff game vs. Cleveland?
Let’s take a look...
X-Factor: Ben Roethlisberger
Why: The obvious answer here is Roethlisberger. It always has been, and always will be as long as he is wearing No. 7 in the black and gold. However, it seems this season, especially the way the offense has played the final month of the season, it seems even more appropriate to have Roethlisberger be the X-Factor for the AFC North champions.
Roethlisberger has shown flashes of brilliance vs. the Colts, and moments of sheer incompetence vs. the Bengals. Either way, if the Steelers are going to do any damage in the playoffs, they need Roethlisberger at his best.
Sure, gun slinger Ben is fun, and back yard Ben is a joy to watch. But the true form of Ben fans need to see is a happy median of all those combined. The Steelers don’t need play-it-safe Ben, but a Roethlisberger who is willing to take educated chances and use his decade-plus of experience in the playoffs to help get his team over the hump against the Browns. If he can’t do that, the Steelers won’t win. Period.
X-Factor: Cam Heyward
Why: The Steelers were able to get to Baker Mayfield four times in a Week 17 without their two defensive captains playing. With the return of T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward to the lineup, both slowing down the Browns running game and putting pressure on the quarterback will be even more important in the postseason. Add in the fact Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio will not play in the game due to being on the Reserve/COVID-19 List, slowing down Heyward will be a big task for the Browns offense. Heyward either needs to have a really big day himself, or command so much attention that the other Steelers defenders come through in a big way.
Chris Pokorny, Editor, Dawgs By Nature
X-Factor: Jack Conklin
Why: Conklin was just named to the AP All-Pro team, but I remember back in Week 6, he couldn’t stop T.J. Watt at all, as Pro Football Focus highlights here. Watt was so good that game (as he often is) as getting a jump as the snap is happening, so Cleveland really needs to hope that Conklin finds some way to hold his own against Watt better; and then as a team, the Browns need to mix their snap count up or run the hurry up to prevent Watt from getting that first step every time.
Who do you think will be the Steelers’ X-Factor at Heinz Field in the playoffs? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for Browns in the AFC Playoffs.