Pittsburgh is 4-1 vs. Cleveland in the last 5 games.
We all know what happened when Ben Roethlisberger went down with a knee injury for 4 games in September. The Steelers went 2-2, and the offense looked like a shell of itself. The only good news about his latest injury, is that Pittsburgh will play the 2-7 Cleveland Browns before heading to the BYE week.
But, since this is a “rivalry game”–even though Pittsburgh has won 4 of the last 5, 8-2 in the last 10, and are 27-6 versus Cleveland since the Browns franchise returned in 1999–this isn’t a guaranteed victory for the Black & Yellow. The Browns won the most recent meeting, 31-10 in First Energy Stadium last October. And, that was with Pro-Bowl QB Ben Roethlisberger at the helm.
With all that being said, this Sunday’s matchup in Heinz Field will be far more interesting than the win-loss records show. Here are a few keys to look forward to in this weekend’s game.
• Cleveland is last in the NFL against the rush. They give up 147.6 yards per game, and have allowed a league high 11 and 4 runs for over 20+ and 40+ yards, respectively.
The Steelers are 5th in the league in rushing, averaging 133.4 yards a game and a league high 13 runs over 20 yards. Although most of that was done with the now injured Le’Veon Bell, his replacement DeAngelo Williams, did significantly contribute to those numbers in the three games he started in the place of Bell this season. Williams is also coming off his best day as a Steeler, 170 yards, 2 touchdowns and 55 receiving yards against the Oakland Raiders. With Landry Jones making his second career start, you can expect to see more Williams.
• UPDATE (11/13/15): Johnny Manziel has been announced the starter for Sunday according to several sources. “Johnny Football” is completing only 51.8% of his passes for 561 yards and 4 touchdowns in the 3 games (2 starts) he’s appeared in, in 2015. His passer rating is 42.0.
Browns quarterback Josh McCown is expected to be back at the helm for Cleveland this week after missing last Thursday’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. McCown is completing 65% of his passes with a 95.2 passer rating on the season.
The Steelers give up 273 passing yards per game (7th worse in the NFL), and have allowed 30 plays of over 20+ yards, 11 plays over 40+ yards on the season. The Steelers D will need to step it up to avoid losing to another NFL bottom cellar dweller like Kansas City Chiefs.
• While Landry Jones is 0-1 as a starter (and threw 3 interceptions in that game versus the Chiefs), in relief of backup Michael Vick against the Arizona Cardinals and Roethlisberger against the Oakland Raiders, Jones played very well and helped Pittsburgh win those games against playoff caliber teams. Hopefully, he and offensive coordinator Todd Haley will be more prepared for his second start.
• Antonio Brown looks like the best wideout in the League again fresh off his career, and Steelers franchise record 17 receptions for 284 yard performance. But, only one of those catches came after Roethlisberger left the game with a foot injury. It happened to be the most important of the game, because it set up the game winning field goal.
However, Brown was missing in action for a majority of Roethlisberger’s last injury stint. His NFL record of 35 consecutive games with 5+ catches for 50+ yards was broken and he only went over 100 yards once. That was in the loss to Kansas City.
In order to beat Cleveland, Jones will have to hook up with Brown often versus a Cleveland secondary that gives up 254 yards a game. Brown doesn’t need to have half the production he had in his career record-breaking performance, just enough so the Cleveland secondary can’t load up the box to assist their weak run D.
• Steeler fans will want to pay close attention the Jets-Bills matchup on Thursday night. Each are in position to gain the final two AFC Wild Card spots Pittsburgh will need to win in order to make the postseason. If Buffalo wins, Pittsburgh, New York and Buffalo will have identical 5-4 records headed into Sunday.