The Cleveland Browns will be without two of their top three safeties on Sunday. Here’s why the Steelers should be taking plenty of shots down the field.
The Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t been known for their ability to pass the ball down the field since Martavis Bryant was stretching defenses in 2014 and 2015. Since then, Ben Roethlisberger has gotten complacent with short and intermediate passes.
In fact, through the first quarter of the 2020 season, Roethlisberger is 22nd in the league in yards per attempt, and his intended air yards per attempt are even worse. However, it’s hard to complain about his performance this season.
Roethlisberger has thrown 10 touchdowns and just 1 interception in the Steelers first four games, and he is remarkably on pace to have the best passer rating of his NFL career at 110.4. The last time Big Ben even had a passer rating in the triple-digits was 2014, and he has only done it 3 times in his 16-year NFL career.
Though he has done an excellent job taking care of the ball so far this season, he may want to consider letting it fly against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
Why the Steelers should take shots early and often
The Browns will be without two for their three top safeties (three of their top four if you count Grant Delpit who is on IR). Safety Ronnie Harrison suffered a concussion last week in the win over the Indianapolis Colts, but he wasn’t able to clear protocol and log a practice this week.
Meanwhile, safety Karl Joseph pulled up lame with a hamstring injury and he missed the entire week of practice. Both players have officially been ruled out of Sunday’s game.
In addition to having backups manning the back-end of the secondary for Cleveland, the Steelers have a young, impressive receiver who can take the top off the defense. Chase Claypool was brilliant in just his fourth career NFL game – earning 7 catches, 110 yards, and 4 total touchdowns last week against the Eagles.
With JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington working underneath, Claypool found loads of success beyond 10 yards and made Philadelphia’s secondary pay. He could do much of the same this week for the Steelers if used correctly.
Though Cleveland has a respectable defense with a few star players, they can certainly be vulnerable down the middle of the field this week. It will be Pittsburgh’s responsibility to exploit this favorable matchup. Washington found terrific success in the Steelers second game against the Browns last year – catching 4 of 4 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown. There’s no reason to believe they can’t do the same against an even more banged-up Cleveland team.
Ultimately, it comes down to a decision by Ben Roethlisberger whether or not he wants to let the ball fly and potentially hurt his impressive completion percentage and touchdown to interception ratio. However, if he does, there’s a very good chance that the Steelers will come away with some big plays and a few scores over the middle.