Steelers don’t know what to expect with so many changes for the Browns

Head coach Kevin Stefanski of the Cleveland Browns. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Head coach Kevin Stefanski of the Cleveland Browns. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

The Steelers don’t know what to expect against the Cleveland Browns. Here’s why preparation is key.

“If we were fully healthy or had our full team, there’s no chance your team beats us!” An exclamation that reflects a debate nearly every sports fan has had with someone else; the Pittsburgh Steelers are actually in a position to have some validity in the statement.

Anxiously waiting for Sunday night, the Steelers have to face the Cleveland Browns to open their 2020 playoff run, just seven days after playing them to close the regular season. The second of their two yearly face-offs, the Browns 24-22 win, returns them to the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

As Pittsburgh looks to redeem their two-point loss, they bring in a reinforcement of names that could quite possibly increase their chances in doing so. In the wake that Cleveland will be without some key contributors on and off the field, the odds stack up mightily against them, leaving the Steelers in a strange position.

Steelers ironically prepare for the unknown

One would think that a team you played two times per year (including seven days before meeting again in the playoffs) there would be immense clarity in how to prepare for the game. Ironically, the Steelers are in for a night where they will not be, despite it being against a very common opponent.

This key isn’t to excuse this but to acknowledge it. Pittsburgh beat Cleveland by 30 plus points in week six, then lost by two to end the year (granted different circumstances), and yet can’t pull much from either matchup in what Browns team they will see Sunday.

Led by QB Baker Mayfield and powered by the elite running back duo of Nick Chubb & Kareem Hunt, things are known and expected of what comes with each player. However, without head coach and play-caller Kevin Stefanski, how do the tendencies of their offense change? Or do they change much at all?

Reports tell Browns OC Alex Van Pelt plans to takeover playcalling duties in the absence of Stefanski, while special teams coordinator, Mike Priefer, will become the acting head coach.

"“My hope is there are not too many times where he’s yelling at his TV going, ‘What the heck are you doing?'” Van Pelt joked. “I have a good feel of Kevin and how he’s calling out throughout the course of the season. I want to stay true to his beliefs.”"

Primarily a position coach over a career that runs 15 plus years, Van Pelt had one other instance in his time in the NFL in which he held the role of play-caller. In 2009 as a member of the Buffalo Bills, they ranked 28th in points per game as an offense (16.1).

I’m not attempting to demean by this, but it’s the only example we are given. Being a close standby and the recommendation of Stefanski, can he replicate the offensive success? And how does Priefer respond in different moments? Also, the Browns have not been allowed to physically gather the whole week due to a COVID outbreak, which will also permit nearly ten players in total and two other coaches.

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If anything, the Steelers need to undoubtedly approach with a significant focus, preparing themselves for anything. The Browns may be shorthanded, but Pittsburgh doesn’t yet know what sort of team they will be facing.