The Steelers will still be alive in the playoff race if they beat the Browns on Monday night, but they’ll need some help. And that’s putting it as delicately as possible. The Steelers need to rally and improve, in addition to seeing several AFC rivals falter down the stretch. More to come on this at the end.
Let’s just beat the Browns first
The Steelers are coming off a terrible loss to the Chiefs last week. There is not a ton of analysis needed: the Chiefs are good and played well, and the Steelers, well… didn’t play well. But I’m not ready to call them bad. They can beat the Browns at home on Monday night, where they are 5-2-1 on the season. The Steelers’ faithful will be raucous in what could potentially be Ben Roethlisberger’s last game at Heinz Field.
Keys to the game
- Start fast. I feel like I am repeating myself every time a preview a Steelers game, but it’s because I still need to see them come out and build a lead. Even if it’s just a FG, the Steelers have to be productive on their first drive. At this point I would settle for a sustained drive that aids in the field position battle.
- Stop the run. This goes hand-in-hand with starting fast and building a lead, but the Steelers need desperately to contain Nick Chubb and Browns’ running game. Chubb ran for 126 yards and a touchdown last week at Lambeau. So why couldn’t the Browns pull out the victory? Well, you can never blame just one thing, but I think you could spell defeat “four Baker Mayfield interceptions” for that game. Stopping the run is not a given, however, as the Steelers rank dead last in the league in rushing yards allowed per game. For more detailed analysis check out my colleague’s article here.
- Start fast. Just in case a forgot to say it, the Steelers need to start fast. And no, this is not a typo. I do believe this offense has the weapons to put up points. Diontae Johnson, Najee Harris, Chase Claypool, and Pat Freiermuth all have the capabilities to dominate drives. I also want to see short, creative passes to alleviate some of the pressure on the offensive line. I think this game can be won handily if the Steelers can build an early lead against the Browns.
Key personnel updates
I’ve highlighted the importance of stopping Nick Chubb, and the Steelers could potentially be without the services of Chris Wormley and Joe Schobert. Both were added to the COVID reserve list, and are in jeopardy of missing the game against the Browns.
Further, LB Devin Bush is still in COVID protocols as well. Not having these three defensive players will be a big detriment to the unit as a whole. However, Steelers’ fans will always be reassured at the presence of Minkah Fitzpatrick, Joe Haden, and T.J. Watt.
Speaking of T.J. Watt, he is clinging to the lead for most sacks this season with 17.5. He remains just half a sack ahead of Bears’ standout Robert Quinn. There is nothing like a home game at Heinz Field for Watt to go off and add to his lead.
What’s at stake for the Steelers?
For lack of a better term? Everything. Everything is at stake; it all comes down to this. Pick your cliche. As mentioned at the top of the article, the Steelers need a lot more to help them get to playoffs even if they are victorious against the Browns.
The Dolphins, Raiders, Chargers, and Ravens all carry 8-7 records into Week 17. The Dolphins currently hold the last wild card spot based on tiebreakers. Thankfully for the Steelers, all of those teams have tough matchups. The Dolphins have to travel to Tennessee where the Titans are still fighting for the AFC’s top spot and to clinch the AFC South. Baltimore hosts the Rams and additionally will face the Steelers in Week 18, so the Steelers control their own destiny against the Ravens.
The Chargers host Denver, and even though they should be favored to win, they are missing a number of key players on the COVID reserve list. Last, the Raiders have to travel to Indianapolis to try and contain Jonathan Taylor and the Colts.
My point is that the Steelers (somehow) still have a chance to make the playoffs. And I know that they wouldn’t exactly strike fear into any opponent, but once a team is in the playoffs, you never know. That’s why they play the games. Any given Sunday, right? Thought I’d bookend this paragraph with a couple more cliches.
Alright, I’m going with the home team in this one. In the last home game of the season, the Steelers will take care of business against the Browns. I know optimism for Steelers fans has been hard to come by, but I think the fans may come to remember this game fondly if in fact, it is the last game at Heinz Field for Big Ben.
I think the defense comes up with some big turnovers early, and the Steelers actually score ten or so points in the first quarter. I like Watt to get two sacks and Freiermuth to catch a touchdown in the redzone. Diontae goes for about a hundred yards and a touchdown as well.
Steelers save their season with a 24-10 victory.
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