by Mike Pelaia, For New Pittsburgh Courier
As the Steelers come off their 4th straight victory over the defending NFC Champion Los Angeles Rams, they need to make a quick turnaround and head to Cleveland to take on the Browns.
Cleveland has been a disappointment thus far this season, however, after beating the Bills this past Sunday, Nov. 10, they may have found a little life and some motivation to take down their intra-division rivals from Pittsburgh.
The game will feature two quarterbacks who are no strangers to each other from their Big 12 days at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph. This will be the first time these guys have faced off as pros but I expect a good, heated battle.
On offense, the team wants to get more touches from JuJu Smith-Schuster but I anticipate the Browns will double-team him, as most teams have this season, meaning Rudolph is going to need to distribute the ball downfield to both Diontae Johnson and James Washington. Washington is coming off the best game of his career where he just posted six receptions for 90 yards. Given he has a good, solid connection with Rudolph, I’m looking for him to put up similar numbers again this week and really become a go to guy for the young QB.
I’d like to see the use of Vance McDonald even more, especially in the red zone and on third down. McDonald should be Rudolph’s safety blanket and I look for more involvement out of him this week.
From Rudolph’s standpoint, he needs to get more comfortable in the pocket and read the defense faster. He’s taking too many hits, getting stuck in the pocket too frequently lately and has been the victim of two safeties over the past two weeks. While I recognize the Steelers offensive line had to contend with Aaron Donald this past week vs. the Rams, possibly one of the best defenders in the entire NFL, Rudolph needs to be more aware.
On Thursday, Nov. 14, he’ll have to face another monster in Myles Garrett for the Browns and if he continues to hold onto the ball too long, it could spell disaster.
In addition to getting the ball downfield, I maintain, as I have for weeks, the pass game needs to be set up by an effective rushing attack. One that controls the clock and moves the sticks, no matter who’s carrying the ball. It’s extremely important for a young quarterback. If the Steelers can’t gain four yards per carry at the least, the passing attack will suffer against the Browns.
But this game, like most this season, won’t be won by the offense. It’s this new-look defense that will need to step up again. I look for an all-out blitzkrieg on Mayfield. He talks a big game but he’s a turnover, mistake machine and this opportunistic defense led by Minkah Fitzpatrick will be ready to pounce.
Mayfield will be looking to distribute the ball to his two stud wideouts, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry but if the Steelers can get into the backfield as quickly as they have been, with guys like TJ Watt and Bud Dupree, Mayfield won’t have the time necessary to get it out to his playmakers.
I anticipate Watt will get a few more sacks this week and Mayfield won’t know what hit him.
The Browns will need to, and will try to, run the ball with Nick Chubb who has been a terror on defenses this year, amassing 919 yards already. To add to that threat, Kareem Hunt is back in the mix and is a playmaking thereat. I’m looking for the front line to plug the holes. Javon Hargrave and Cam Heyward have been impenetrable this season and if Chubb or Hunt get through, they will be hard pressed to get past Vince Williams and Devin Bush.
This defense is one of the best we’ve seen in Pittsburgh in years and they will gain at least five more sacks this week, generate at least two more turnovers and will shut the Browns offense down.
I look for the Steelers defense to set up their offense with short fields and easy scoring opportunities in this matchup, allowing the Steelers to extend their winning streak to five games. Prediction: Steelers 24, Browns 20.
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