The Steelers open the season on Sunday against the usual league cellar dweller, Cleveland Browns. Some suspect the Browns will be a slightly improved team, one who could even finish in third place in the AFC North this season. They will be led onto the field by rookie Quarterback Deshone Kizer, who will get his first taste of NFL regular season action against a very hard-hitting defense that Pittsburgh throws out on the field. But, bad news for the Browns…rookie phenom Myles Garrett won’t play at defensive end due to a high ankle sprain, suffered in practice earlier this week. Word is he’ll be out for 4 to 6 weeks.
The Steelers should win this game and they enter it as heavy favorites, but it’s possible they could lay an egg due to overconfidence.
Here are the keys to a Steeler victory:
- The Browns are inferior, period, but if the Steelers make costly mistakes, like multiple 15 yard penalties, turnovers in the red zone or in their own territory or allow special teams miscues, the Browns could remain in the game. The Black and Gold need to limit any of those costly errors.
- The Steelers could end the game early if they get in the head of rookie Deshone Kizer. If they blitz him early and often, force him into miscues and just hit him repeatedly, he’ll be running for his life and the game will be over by halftime.
- Big Ben needs to remain upright. They can’t allow Ben Roethlisberger to be hit often as his health is important for both this game but also the games that follow, obviously.
- The defense must contain Isaiah Crowell. He gashed them for 152 yards the last time these teams faced on New Year’s Day and he averaged 4.8 yards per carry last season. He must be held to under 4.0 yards per carry in this game.
Here are a few things to watch:
- Joe Haden-The ex-Brown and new Steeler starting CB will be on a mission in his first game against his former team. How will he play? Will he make an impact?
- Le’Veon Bell-Bell sat out all offseason and is officially back. Will he prove to be in game shape? How many carries will he be given and what will he do with those opportunities?
- Martavis Bryant-After being suspended for all of 2016, how will he play in his first regular season action in over a year?
- Sammie Coates-The former Steeler is now on the rival Browns roster; how will he get back at the Black and Gold? Will he show the flashes of talent he did early last season while in Pittsburgh?
The Steelers should come out on top, 31-9, but with the season just getting underway and everyone having Super Bowl aspirations, you never know who may be better than expected and while I don’t expect the Browns to be much more than a fifth preseason game for the Steelers, I do expect them to put up a fight out of the gates. How long they can hang around depends on the keys above.