The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing for the Cleveland Browns in Week 17. It is the Steelers’ latest game after a three game losing streak and hopefully this game will be their thirteenth win of the 2020 regular season.
When looking at the matchup between conference 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 Week 17 game vs. Cleveland?
Let’s take a look...
X-Factor: Mason Rudolph
Why: This is a huge game for Mason Rudolph. Not just for the Steelers’ chances to keep the Browns out of the playoffs, but also for his future. People forget, but Rudolph will be in a contract year in 2021. This Week 17 game is essentially an audition for not just the Steelers, but all 32 NFL teams.
Will Rudolph show significant improvement? The fan base has already written off Rudolph as nothing more than a back up, but we also haven’t seen Rudolph’s response from the experience he has gained in 2019.
With no preseason, we, the fans, have no clue if Rudolph has improved. Has his pocket presence improved? With an increased understanding of the offense, has his ability to read the field improved?
We will find out a lot of answers on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, and I, for one, am excited to see what Rudolph can, or cannot, do vs. the Browns in Week 17. What poetic justice it would be if Rudolph can put a giant dagger into the Browns’ playoff hopes.
X-Factor: Alex Highsmith
Why: With T.J. Watt sitting this game out back in Pittsburgh, it’s going to be on the rookie from Charlotte to get the outside pass rush going. After a fantastic game of rushing the passer against the Indianapolis Colts in which Highsmith was constantly making Philip Rivers throw the ball slightly before he wanted to, being a nuisance to Baker Mayfield, even if he doesn’t get home all the time, will have Highsmith helping out the Steelers secondary. And if the Steelers are hoping to extend their regular-season streak of consecutive games with at least one sack, Highsmith is going to have to a role in this area. Add in the fact the Steelers only have three outside linebackers in this game, Highsmith should still be seeing a large chunk of playing time.
More importantly, it might be Highsmith’s ability to step up into the Steelers rushing defense which could help him both in this game and as the Steelers enter the postseason. Already showing he is a more-than-capable pass rusher and an excellent coverage outside linebacker, Highsmith has the opportunity against the quality running game of the Browns to show he is well balanced and can hold his own in rush defense.
Chris Pokorny (Editor, Dawgs by Nature)
X-Factor: Myles Garrett
Why: It has to be Myles Garrett. Although I don’t think there will be any major physical confrontation between him and Mason Rudolph, you have to imagine that there will be extra adrenaline in Garrett’s body all game after he feels Rudolph cost him games and reputation last year. And in the back of Rudolph’s mind, you can’t help but think that his subconscious will be very aware of Garrett — and maybe it’ll be a little too much to where he doesn’t see a linebacker or safety darting in front of what he thinks is an open receiver. It would be so embarrassing too for the Browns to be eliminated from the playoffs after needing one win against the Jets and a Steelers team resting some players heading into the final week — Rudolph getting to claim that honor of putting the nail in the coffin would probably feel like the pinnacle of his career to him.
Who do you think will be the Steelers’ X-Factor in Week 17 at FirstEnergy Stadium? 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 the AFC Playoffs.