Steelers Game Day: Browns Preview

Steelers Game Day: Browns Preview

Steeler Nation doesn’t just reside in the surrounding areas of Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. It is a world-wide army that lives and dies with the NFL franchise that calls Pittsburgh it’s home. The six-time Super Bowl champions are a team that always strive for excellence, and their fans expect nothing less in return. This is the ultimate Steelers Game Day Guide that all followers of the black and gold come to find everything they need to know about the Pittsburgh Steelers and their upcoming opponent! Mike Drakulich (@PghSportsNation), who covers both Pitt football and the Steelers for NGSC Sports, brings you inside the huddle for both teams with a weekly game story, the Steelers offensive and defensive game plans for success, prediction, game day information, a detailed breakdown of each team, and an up to date team injury report. Heck, you’ll even know the weather at kickoff. The only thing you’re missing is a game uniform.

 

Steelers send JV squad to Cleveland in season finale

UPDATED: January 2nd

With the playoffs a week away and the AFC North title in hand, the Pittsburgh Steelers (12-3) will rest many of their starters instead of going all out for a possible #2 seed if Buffalo loses to Miami.

Though the team won’t be at full strength, don’t expect the Steelers to just lay down for the Cleveland Browns (10-5), who need a win to make the playoffs.

Mason Rudolph will play in place of Ben Roethlisberger and face the Browns and Myles Garrett, whom Rudolph shared an ugly incident with last season. James Conner isn’t expected to play much, if at all, but is pumped to see what his team can do despite the circumstances.

“Just play a complete game and be our best selves,” said Conner. “That is what we preach. We’ve got standards. It doesn’t matter who the QB is in there. I know Mason is going to give us some energy at the spot. I know he is fired up to play. We are fired up to play with him as well. Line do what they do, backs, ball placement, run hard, receivers got to make plays. That’s really all it comes down to, play making.”

Rudolph will be using this opportunity to show how much he has grown since last year, and perhaps show Steeler’s brass he can still be the man when and if Roethlisberger calls it a career.

“He comes to practice with the same mindset every day,” said Conner. “We measure our improvement in the work week and how we perform on game day. His approach to practice ever since I have seen him, he prepares like he is the starter. That is just how he works. Making plays. When we are in a practice setting, we see guys making plays. That is the time when we better ourselves. I have seen him be consistent with his approach to the work.”

Conner, along with the offensive line, and the rest of his running-mates, would like to solve the issues plaguing the Pittsburgh rushing attack, which has averaged an NFL worst 84.4 yards per game.

That is a mind blowing stat coming from the Steelers, a team once known for it’s bruising and dominant running games.

“We definitely need the running game,” said Conner. “It’s adversity, things that we deal with. It’s not a lack of effort, it’s none of that. Football is a humbling game. We’re not going to keep trying to search for answers and this and that. We are going to keep trying to play our football. That is what we are going to do this week. It’s always about the next opportunity. It is the journey you have up and down. I am familiar with adversity. I like it. I am looking forward to the next challenges and getting the running game going and more important winning.”

Rudolph will do his best to keep the passing game going, an area where the Browns can be had at defensively.

“I think I’m just motivated that I have this opportunity,” Rudolph said Friday. “All the guys that maybe have an increased role this week, Coach (Mike) Tomlin has talked about engineering victory. When you don’t have your leader on offense, being Ben (Roethlisberger), our Hall of Fame quarterback, as well as some other players it’s important, we know we have to bring the energy as a team.

“It’s very motivating in and of itself, ‘Hey, I have a chance to play this week,’ as well as some other guys.”

Speaking of motivation, will Rudolph be any more motivated to be a part of ending the Browns season with a win, especially after last year’s brawl he was involved in with Garrett, as mentioned earlier?

“I really could care less who the opponent is,” said Rudolph. “It’s big for me, regardless, because it’s an opportunity for myself (and) for a lot of other guys to showcase (and) prove ourselves to our teammates and our coaches. That’s what’s motivating me.”

Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner will work to put together a game plan that will play to Rudolph’s strengths.

“There’s some things you sit back every week and say, ‘Man, he is very comfortable in this concept in the pass. He’s very comfortable with this verbiage in and out of the huddle,’ ” Fichtner said of Rudolph. “It was easy to gravitate toward some of those things in this week’s prep.”

Roethlisberger is confident Rudolph will step up to the plate and deliver Sunday.

“He has gotten better every year in terms of understanding and knowing the offense, reads, throws,” Roethlisberger said. “He’s physically gifted, we know that. He’s smart. We know he can make all the throws and do things”

 

Steelers Game Plan for Success

Offense

  1. Play to win: Yes, the offense will be limited with many starters being rested, but open up the playbook and utilize every weapon available.
  2. Establish the run: Time for Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland to show their skills. How about QB Josh Dobbs gets a few designed runs…?
  3. Attack the middle: Cleveland will be severely hampered with LB’s Malcolm Smith and B.J. Goodson out.

Defense

  1. Unleash Alex Highsmith: This is a big game and an audition for next year. Time for the kid to introduce himself to Baker Mayfield.
  2. Pressure Mayfield: The Cleveland QB will pick you apart if you give him time. Keith Butler needs to design some creative blitzes that cater to the talent that will be in the game, that being players that are usually back-ups.

 

Prediction

With Ben Roethlisberger, James Conner, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Chris Boswell, Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Terrell Edmunds, T.J. Watt, and a few other top starters all likely sitting Sunday, the mission to defeat Cleveland will be tough.

The rest of the team, including head coach Mike Tomlin hasn’t gotten that memo just yet…

“It does not change our intentions, in terms of going to Cleveland this weekend,” Tomlin said. “Football is our game. Our job is winning. We intend to do our job. We intend to prepare with that mindset. And ultimately lead us to that destination. We’re not seeking comfort. We’re not grading ourselves on a curve.

This game is on the schedule, and so the guys that will be on the field will represent us in the standard that is the Pittsburgh Steelers will be the standard.”

Cleveland may show some nerves, especially with their season on the line. A win would vault the Browns into the playoffs, and more than likely, they’d be heading to Pittsburgh next weekend to face the Steelers in the AFC Wildcard Playoffs.

The Browns are also missing some key players, including CB Denzel Ward, LB Malcolm Smith, LB B.J. Goodson, S Karl Joseph, and S Andrew Sendejo defensively.

If Pittsburgh QB Mason Rudolph can exploit the deficiencies in the Browns defense, we could be headed to a crazy shootout that goes down to the wire.

A loss at home against the rival Steelers would be crushing to the Browns, especially after putting themselves in this position by losing to the lowly New York Jets last week 23-16.

“I feel the weight of it,” wide receiver Jarvis Landry said.

To boot, a COVID outbreak has kept the Browns facility from being open most of the week, but they were able to practice Friday. Despite the hurdles, Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski offers no excuses.

“We are where we need to be from a preparation standpoint,” said Stefanski. “We have not missed a beat in the Zoom meetings and the mental aspect of this. We got our work done Wednesday. We got some extra work done today. I am comfortable with where we are.”

Expect a hard fought game that will come down to the 4th quarter.

“Motivation and intentions and all of those things, that’s good water cooler fodder and I get it,” Tomlin said. “This is a scheduled game. Our business is to win. We’re going to prepare with that mindset. That will be unchanged in terms of how we approach it. I know what our mentality will be. I know what our intentions will be. We’ll go play football.”

All that aside, with so many playmakers missing from the Steelers defense, can Baker Mayfield work through the nerves and have just enough time in the pocket to lead his team to the playoffs for the first time since 2002? Guess who they played back then, and guess who they’d likely play next week if they did win? Would anybody really be that surprised if the Browns choked on a dawg bone thrown onto the field? Honestly, don’t be surprised if the Steelers pull this one off, but who in Pittsburgh wouldn’t smile at the thought of Cleveland visiting Heinz Field next weekend (with fans!!) and sending them back up the turnpike with their tails between their legs?

Well, stop dreaming, because Cleveland fans are in for a long a torturous day watching Mason Rudolph, of all players, close the door on their 2020 season and send the Browns to planning what draft pick they’ll select come late April. Pittsburgh stuns Cleveland and welcomes the Colts again next week…  Steelers 21 Browns 20

 

Game Day Information

Venue: FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland, OH.

Field: Kentucky Blue Grass

Game-time: Sunday, January 3rd, at 1:00 pm

TV: CBS (Local on KDKA-TV)

  • Announcers: Ian Eagle (play-by-play) Charles Davis (analyst) | Evan Washburn (reporter)

Local radio: Pittsburgh- 102.5 WDVE-FM & 970 WBGG-AM

  • Announcers: Bill Hillgrove (play-by-play) Tunch Ilkin (analyst) Craig Wolfley (analyst) | Missi Matthews (sideline)

Internet broadcast: Steelers Nation Radio (SNR) on Steelers.com

Weather at kickoff: 39 with a 20% chance of mixed rain and snow.  Winds out of the West at 9 mph.

Vegas line: Cleveland -10.5

NFL StandingsNFL Scoreboard

 

Steelers vs Browns History

Series History: Began in 1950

Overall Record: 77-59-1

  • At home: 49-21
  • On the road: 28-38-1
  • Postseason: 2-0
  • Streak: Steelers won the last two games.
  • Last regular-season meeting: Steelers Win, 38-7 (Oct. 18, 2020)
  • Last postseason meeting: Steelers Win, 36-33 (Jan. 5, 2003)

 

 

Scouting the Pittsburgh Steelers

Overall record: 12-3 (1st in AFC North)

Last game: Steelers 28 Indianapolis 24

Head Coach: Mike Tomlin (13th Season with Steelers)

  • Overall regular-season record: 145-77-1
  • Playoff record: 8-7 (Qualified for playoffs 9 times)

Links:

2020 Pittsburgh Steelers Team Roster

Steelers Team/Individual Statistics

Pittsburgh Steelers 2020 Schedule 

 

Steelers Offense

Strengths: The variety of weapons that Ben Roethlisberger can utilize in the passing game.

Weaknesses: Offensive line has been disappointing with the rushing attack, especially in short-yardage situations.

Offensive Stats

  • Points per game: 26.3
  • Total yards per game: 330.7
  • Passing yards per game: 246.3
  • Rushing yards per game: 84.4

 

Starting Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger* | Back-up: Mason Rudolph

Ben Roethlisberger has thrown 33 touchdown passes and passed for 3,803 yards and 10 interceptions. He has only been sacked 13 times.

Starting Running Back: James Conner | Back-ups: Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland, Jr., and Jaylen Samuels

James Conner has rushed for 684 yards with six touchdowns and has 30 receptions for 190 yards. Benny Snell has 358 yards rushing with four touchdowns. Anthony McFarland, Jr. has been inserted into the rushing attack and has 96 yards. Ray-Ray McCloud has been used as an x-factor type weapon, gaining 65 yards on four carries, and has 18 catches for 80 yards.

Fullback: Derek Watt

Wide Receivers: Juju Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, James Washington, and Ray-Ray McCloud III

Juju Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and James Washington lead a talented group of wide receivers. Johnson has 85 receptions for 827 yards and seven touchdowns. Claypool is having a big rookie year with 57 catches for 772 yards and eight TDs. Claypool also has rushed for 22 yards and two more touchdowns. Smith-Schuster leads the team with 91 catches for 766 yards and eight touchdowns. James Washington (30-392-5) can line up anywhere and comes up with big catches when his number gets called.

Tight Ends: Eric Ebron* and Vance McDonald

Eric Ebron gives Big Ben a huge target across the middle and in the red zone. Ebron has become a Big Ben favorite and has 56 catches for 558 yards and five touchdowns. Vance McDonald has mainly been used for blocking.

Placekicker: Chris Boswell*

  • Extra Points: 34-38
  • 1-19 yards: 0-0
  • 20-29 yards: 5-5
  • 30-39 yards: 6-6
  • 40-49 yards: 7-8
  • 50+ yards: 1-1

*Injured/Out

 

Steelers Defense (Base 3-4)

Strengths: One of the top units in the NFL. They are fast and physical. Pittsburgh defends the run relatively well and they possess a relentless pass rush that puts constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks with a variety of blitzes. The splash play Steelers have recorded 52 sacks so far and 18 interceptions. They are 2nd in the the NFL allowing just 19.2 points per game.

Weaknesses: Sometimes have issues getting off the field on 3rd downs. Skilled backs catching passes out of the backfield.

Defensive Stats

  • Points per game allowed: 19.2
  • Total offense yards per game allowed: 302.3
  • Passing yards allowed: 196.3
  • Rushing yards allowed: 106.1
  • Sacks: 52
  • Interceptions: 18

 

Defensive Line:  Cam Heyward anchors the defensive line and is a yearly all-pro, with the vastly underappreciated Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu alongside him. Tuitt has ten sacks in 2020.

Linebackers: OLB T.J. Watt is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and formed a terrifying 1-2 punch with Bud Dupree on the opposing side before Dupree injured his ACL vs the Ravens. Watt has collected 15 sacks on the year, tops in the league. Alex Highsmith has stepped in for Dupree and is getting better each week. Inside LB Vince Williams is stout against the run, and leads the linebackers with 68 tackles. Hard-hitting Robert Spillane, who replaced star LB Devin Bush, who tore his ACL, won’t likely play until the playoffs with a knee injury. Avery Williamson, acquired via trade from the NY Jets, is the starter in place of Spillane.

Secondary: Free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick leads an impressive secondary with two good corners in Joe Haden and Steven Nelson. Strong safety Terrell Edmunds never gets the credit he deserves but is always around the ball. Fitzpatrick has 74 tackles and four interceptions to lead the team.

Mike Hilton is the most unheralded player on the defense, a do-everything player in Pittsburgh’s nickel package. Hilton has three sacks, three interceptions, and 50 tackles.

 

Steelers Special Teams

Punter: Jordan Berry

Kickoff Returner: Ray-Ray McCloud

Punt Returner: Ray-Ray McCloud

Scouting report: Ray-Ray McCloud is averaging 22.8 yards per kickoff return, and 10.5 yards per punt return.

 

 

Scouting the Cleveland Browns

Overall record: 10-5 (Tied 2nd in AFC North)

Last game: Jets 23 Browns 16

 

Head coach: Kevin Stefanski (1st season with Cleveland)

  • Overall regular-season record: 10-5 | 10-5 with Cleveland)
  • Playoff record: 0-0

2020 Cleveland Browns roster

Cleveland Team/Individual Statistics

 

Browns Offense

Strengths: Great rushing attack with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Baker Mayfield plays well when given time to throw.

Weaknesses: Pass blocking. Baker Mayfield is prone to bad throws and turnovers when under heavy pressure.

Offensive Stats

  • Points per game: 25.6
  • Total Offense per game: 370.3
  • Passing yards per game: 224.9
  • Rushing yards per game: 145.5

 

Starting Quarterback: Baker Mayfield | Back-up: Case Keenum

Baker Mayfield has thrown for 3,367 yards with 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He has been sacked 22 times. Mayfield has rushed for 121 yards.

Starting Running Back: Nick Chubb | Back-ups: Kareem Hunt and D’Ernest Johnson

Nick Chubb is a load rushing for 959 yards in just nine games. He has 11 touchdowns. Chubb also has 16 receptions for 150 yards. Kareem Hunt is a great compliment and has 804 rushing yards and six scores. He is adept out of the backfield with 37 catches for 300 yards and another five touchdowns.

Wide Receivers: Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones, KhaDarel Hodge, and Marvin Hall

Jarvis Landry leads the team with 67 receptions for 789 yards and three touchdowns. Rashard Higgins is 2nd on the team with 544 yards receiving off of 35 catches, four of which ended up in the endzone. Donovan Peoples-Jones has 13 catches for 293 yards and a pair of TD’s. KhaDarel Hodge and Marvin Hall are minimal contributors.

Tight Ends: Austin Hooper, Harrison Bryant, and David Njoku.

Austin Hooper is 2nd on the team with 42 receptions for 398 and three touchdowns. Harrison Bryant will miss the game. David Njoku has 17 receptions for 200 yards and two TD’s.

Placekicker: Cody Parkey

  • Extra Points: 40-44
  • 1-19 yards: 0-0
  • 20-29 yards: 4-4
  • 30-39 yards: 4-6
  • 40-49 yards: 10-11
  • 50+ yards: 0-0

*Injured/out

 

Browns Defense (Base 4-3) 

Strengths: Decent pass rush, with Myles Garrett leading the way.

Weaknesses: Secondary can be exploited. Linebackers are average.

Defensive Stats

  • Points per game allowed: 26.5
  • Total offense yards per game allowed: 356.1
  • Passing yards allowed: 243.5
  • Rushing yards allowed: 112.5
  • Sacks: 37
  • Interceptions: 10

 

Defensive Line: Myles Garrett leads the team with 12 sacks and has 44 tackles. DT Sheldon Richardson has 64 tackles and 4.5 sacks.

Linebackers: B.J. Goodson leads the team with 91 tackles but is out. Malcolm Smith is 2nd with 72 tackles and he will be out as well.

Secondary: Terrance Mitchell has 60 tackles. CB Denzel Ward has two interceptions but is out.

 

Browns Special Teams

Kickoff Returners: D’Ernest Johnson and Donovan Peoples-Jones

Punt Returner: Donovan Peoples-Jones

Scouting report: D’Ernest Johnson is averaging 24.4 yards per kickoff return. Donovan Peoples-Jones is averaging 21.1 yards per kickoff return and 4.6 yards per punt return.

 

Injury Report (1/2/21)

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Out: QB Ben Roethlisberger (NIR), C Maurkice Pouncey (NIR), K Chris Boswell (Groin), S Terrell Edmunds (Shoulder), LB T.J. Watt (NIR), DT Cameron Heyward (NIR)
  • Doubtful: None
  • Questionable: None

Cleveland Browns

  • Out: OL Nick Harris (Knee), CB Denzel Ward, TE Harrison Bryant, LB Malcolm Smith, LB B.J. Goodson, S Andrew Sendejo
  • Doubtful: None
  • Questionable: LB Todd Davis (Ankle), T Kendall Lamm (Illness), LB Sione Takitaki(Ankle), G Wyatt Teller (Ankle)

 

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Mike DrakulichYour source for Pittsburgh sports!
From Midland, "The Basketball Capital of Pennsylvania", located 35 miles NW of Pittsburgh along the Ohio River. This former steel town was home to storied athletes such as Dave Alston, Norm Van Lier, Simmie Hill, and the legendary 1965 Midland High School Basketball Team.

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