It’s Week 11 and the Steelers play the Cleveland Browns in a divisional match up at 1 p.m. eastern in Cleveland. The Steelers are 4-5 and coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Dallas Cowboys and now must finish the season without their leader and arguably best player on defense, Cameron Heyward. The Browns are a hot mess, winless and down to their 3rd starting quarterback this year. I’m going to walk through a few scenarios that would lead to the Steelers returning to .500 on the season or the Browns getting their first win in 2016.
Why the Steelers will win: On offense, there isn’t a lot to discuss. Keep to a similar game plan and execute like they did against Dallas (minus the repeated failure to convert two-point attempts) and the Steelers will put up 30-plus points again this week. Ben Roethlisberger has found a lot of success over the years in the state of Ohio. Todd Haley should give Big Ben the reigns and let him run this offense. Ben needs to keep getting those “other guys” involved and that will create opportunities for Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Ladarius Green.
On defense, finding a way to minimize the loss of Heyward against both the run and the pass is not going to be easy, but they need to find a way. Isiah Crowell is a solid running back and you can be sure that Hue Jackson is looking for ways to expose the glaring weakness in the front seven of Pittsburgh’s defense. Keep an eye and a body on Terrelle Pryor. He’s big fast and strong and he’s hurt this defense before, albeit as a Raiders quarterback, but you get the point. The Steelers’ needs to be aware of where Pryor is all game and make sure he is covered. He will get his touches. The goal is to prevent him from turning them into points or big drive-extending plays.
Why the Browns will win: The offense once again fails to rise to the occasion against a lesser opponent. The Browns are not a good football team, but they are still an NFL franchise, they have yet to win a game this season and there is talent on the Brown’s roster. They would like nothing more than a victory at home against the team that has bullied them for years. The Steelers have this bad habit of letting bad teams hang around or beat them outright. If the offensive line doesn’t win the line of scrimmage and/or the skill players left their hands at home, this game will get ugly fast.
The “D” word. No not defense—discipline. Particularly on defense. With the absence of Heyward, this season-long problem will be that much harder to cover up. If the same lack of discipline that has shown it’s ugly head too many times this season shows up on Sunday, the Browns will take advantage. They won’t even have to work hard for it because penalties and players being out of position will give them plenty of opportunities to cash in on the Steelers’ mistakes. As a fan, it drives me crazy to see this happen so much this season. As a writer, I wish nothing more than the chance to write about it as positive instead of a negative. Unfortunately, the Steelers’ defense keeps making it quite obvious that there is a disconnect somewhere between the head coach’s office and the field come game day. I’m tired of kicking this dead horse. If the Steelers don’t turn this problem around, they will lose to the Browns and reduce their chances for a post-season run.
In conclusion, this game should be a win for the Steelers, but they will have to show up and play well. Yes, that’s an extremely obvious statement but to date, the entire team has only done that four times in nine games this season so it bears repeating. The Browns are starving for a win and they usually play tough against the Steelers. In order to head home with a win, all three facets of the Steelers’ game-plan need to be focused and ready. If not, they’ll hand the Browns their first win of the 2016 campaign.