When looking at the matchup between AFC North 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 18 game vs. the Browns?
Let’s take a look...
X-Factor: Najee Harris
Why: The Pittsburgh Steelers have been a dominant running team since the bye in Week 9. In fact, they’ve averaged 146 yards per game on the ground since their week off. For the Steelers, this is a critical element to success. Not suggesting the team couldn’t throw their way to victory, but straying from what works sounds outlandish at this point. This puts the onus on the Steelers’ offensive line and their stud running back, Najee Harris. If Harris has a good game, the Steelers tend to win; therefore, I’ll go with Harris for my X-Factor. Throw in the fact the Browns have struggled vs. the run this season and it is a game where you can see Harris going over the 100-yard mark for a second straight game.
X-Factor: Creative Run Defense
Why: Although I considered stating this another way by going with the defensive front, the linebackers, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, defensive assistant Brian Flores, or even head coach Mike Tomlin. The bottom line is— the Steelers need to have a similar yet different approach to their run defense as what they did in Week 17. Why do I classify it as “similar yet different”? Obviously the Cleveland Browns study the tape and if they see the Steelers in a 6–2 alignment they will look to do other things to exploit it. Because the Steelers should anticipate the Browns specifically changing into certain things if this defensive alignments is utilized, the Steelers need to change it up. This ultimately comes down to the chess match that Coach Tomlin spoke about in his press conference. Can the Steelers scheme a slightly different run defense that is just as effective as it was in previous weeks? Can the players come through within that scheme? To me, that will be the difference in this game.
Who would be your X-Factor for the Week 18 game Sunday? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!