The Steelers are somehow fighting for their playoff hopes, and here are four questions they must answer against the Browns.
The Steelers have scraped and clawed their way back from an abysmal start of the season to now somehow still be fighting for a playoff spot. It hasn’t been pretty by any means, but this team can still find its way into postseason play and keep Mike Tomlin’s streak of never having a losing season alive.
Cleveland still stands in their way, and it’s a Cleveland team that beat the Steelers pretty handily the last time they met. This is a very different Browns team though. Beyond the new quarterback, this team is once again eliminated from the playoffs despite all of the additions they made in the offseason. That said, they would certainly love to play spoiler to Pittsburgh’s playoff aspirations. Here are four questions the Steelers will have to answer against the Browns.
Can the Steelers force some Watson mistakes?
It hasn’t been the start that many Browns fans wanted out of Deshaun Watson. The entire season was built towards him finally returning, but he has looked rough, to say the least. His impact hasn’t been as great as many thought it would be, and he has looked extremely rusty since returning to the field.
The Steelers defense has also been a disappointing unit, but they need to show up this week. Watson has been prone to some turnovers and poor decisions early in his Cleveland career, and Pittsburgh has to capitalize. An interception or fumble will be key in this game going in favor of the Steelers.
Can Pickett keep up his play?
It hasn’t been perfect for Kenny Pickett, but his overall play is improving every week. Gone are the days of reckless abandon and high interception numbers, as he has been a more poised and conservative quarterback. This has kept the Steelers competitive in a lot of games, but it has also limited this passing game some.
Pickett has had some clutch drives in recent weeks, and he needs to keep that momentum going. Cleveland will be sending pressure early and often trying to rattle Pickett, but he has to stand strong. He needs to continue protecting the ball. As well, a strong day throwing would be beneficial, as the Browns will likely be eying the run early and often.
Can the Steelers limit Chubb?
Nick Chubb is arguably the best pure running back in this league. He has amassed nearly 1500 yards on the ground this season on only 290 carries and can beat you in a wide variety of ways. When the Steelers first met Cleveland, Chubb had over 100 yards on the ground and was a pivotal reason the Browns secured the win.
The Steelers run defense is still pretty abysmal, but Pittsburgh has to be ready to at least limit him. No, completely shutting him down isn’t likely, but finding a way to limit his impact will be huge. If he takes over on the ground and carves this defense up, it will easily end with the Browns winning. The Steelers have to be ready to combat one of the league’s best running backs.
Can the Steelers ground and pound continue?
While the running game has been far from great all season, the team has seemingly turned it into their crutch in recent weeks. Both Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren have seen their workload increase over the past few weeks as this offense looks to grind its way to victory on the ground. This was showcased against the Ravens, where both Harris and Warren had arguably their greatest season in their career.
The Browns defense has been one of the worst against the run, but they are likely keying in on stopping both Warren and Harris in this game. The Steelers, meanwhile, need to get their backs going, as relying only on their passing game likely won’t yield much. These backs both need to establish themselves and the offense needs to be able to move through them.
The Steelers are playing for their playoff life this week, and their game against the Browns won’t be an easy one. These questions are very similar for good reason. The key to this game will be clean quarterback play and the better rushing attack. Whichever team achieves that will likely walk away the winner.