Another chapter will be added to the historic rivalry between the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
By the time Sunday rolls around, it will have been 378 days since the Steelers last beat the Cleveland Browns (Week 6 of the 2020 season) and 1,750 since the Steelers last won a playoff game.
Cleveland beat Pittsburgh in the Wild Card round of last year’s playoffs and they’re now looking to make it three straight against the Black and Yellow.
This would be a nice change of pace being that the Browns have been owned by the Steelers for the better part of the last two-plus decades. Now, the franchises are seemingly heading in opposite directions.
Entering Sunday, Pittsburgh is looking up to Cleveland in the AFC North standings, again, something we aren’t accustomed to seeing. The Browns are currently 4-3 after defeating the Denver Broncos on Thursday Night Football in Week 7. The Steelers are 3-3 and won two in a row before a Week 7 bye.
Both teams are behind the division-leading Bengals and second place Ravens, who are both 5-2.
This AFC North showdown will be huge in terms of standings for not only the division but also the conference. As of now, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that three, possibly all four AFC North teams could make the postseason, especially with a third wild card spot.
Beating a divisional rival with the pedigree of the Steelers is never easy, but the Browns can emerge victorious by following the blueprint of running the football, applying pressure to Ben Roethlisberger, and staying the course.
Cleveland boasts the NFL’s best rushing attack, leading the league with 170.4 yards per game. This is without Nick Chubb, who has missed the past two games with a calf injury, and Kareem Hunt, who is doing a bid on the IR with a calf injury of his own.
Pittsburgh allows 107.7 yards per game on the ground and in Week 6, gave up 101 to Alex Collins of the Seahawks. The Browns have one of the best offensive lines in football – who should be at full strength with the return of right tackle Jack Conklin – and one of the best running backs in Chubb. D’Ernest Johnson proved against the Broncos that he can step up and be successful within this offense.
The more the Browns can run the ball and maintain the time of possession battle, the more time the defense will have to rest on the sidelines, which leads to the second point of emphasis in order to win this game; apply pressure to Big Ben and push the offensive line backward.
Cleveland has 20 sacks on the year, tied for second-most in the NFL. Roethlisberger has been sacked 12 times thus far and that number could increase this Sunday. Cleveland’s pass rush has been one of the top units this year and will surely look to add to what they’ve done so far, led by Myles Garrett, who leads the league in sacks with 9.5.
Roethlisberger isn’t as mobile or nimble as he once was and has regressed under pressure over the last couple of years. Along with the 12 sacks, Roethlisberger has been knocked down 21 times while being hurried 22 times. The more Cleveland can collapse the pocket, the better their chances will be of pulling out a victory.
Entering the week, Big Ben ranks 26th in passing in terms of yards per game and the Browns give up 215.1 yards per game through the air. The Cleveland pressure is what will determine how well the Pittsburgh passing attack can be this Sunday, but also it will give the Cleveland secondary chances to make plays and get the ball back to the offense.
The Steelers offensive line is not the best, especially considering they rank 31st in rushing at 81.2 yards per game despite drafting running back Najee Harris with the 24th overall pick. Cleveland surrenders just 80.4 yards per game, ranking 5th in the NFL.
Finally, the Browns need to just stay the course and be patient. On paper, they have the better roster overall. The biggest question for the Browns will be who will be under center; Baker Mayfield or Case Keenum for a second straight week.
Regardless of who the signal-caller is, the Browns game plan shouldn’t change much. Nick Chubb will be back in the lineup and D’Ernest Johnson will fill the void left by Kareem Hunt. The better the run game, the better the play-action game, which if he plays, ultimately helps Mayfield.
The running game will also open up the short passes from play-action and the bootlegs, so guys like Jarvis Landry (if he is healthy enough to play) and all three of the tight ends can make an impact on this game.
Cleveland’s defense has been up and down and this Pittsburgh offense doesn’t pose the big-play threat some of the other teams had this season. Myles Garrett can have a huge impact on this game, which will also set up Jadeveon Clowney if he is able to play.
Run the football, apply pressure to Ben Roethlisberger and stay the course. Those are the three key ingredients for the Browns to emerge victorious for a fifth time this season.