The Steelers begin divisional play this week. A rivalry that may just be starting to get it’s true legs, between the Pittsburgh Steeles and Cleveland Browns, will be renewed Sunday. Both teams are looking to stay at the top of the AFC North divisional race.
Pittsburgh right now sits at 4-0 on the season and is looking to go 5-0 to start the 2020 season. The Browns, who finally have a winning record, sit at 4-1 on the season and are trying to prove that they are true contenders.
Here are 5 keys to the game that may just determine if they are able to do just that:
1.) Protect Big Ben
This is a major key for every game when you have a 38-year old quarterback.
It becomes an even bigger key when you are facing one of the top pass-rushers in the NFL. Myles Garrett is currently second in the league with six sacks. He is also rated as the top pass-rushed in the league to this point by Pro Football Focus:
Myles Garrett: the most dominant pass-rusher in football 💪 pic.twitter.com/3FYS76LY0N
— PFF (@PFF) October 12, 2020
The Browns will get Garrett opportunities to rush against the Steelers young lineman this week. Chukwuma Okorafor, Kevin Dotson, and potentially JC Hassenauer will need to be ready if their number is called Sunday.
2.) Force Bad Baker to Show Up
Baker Mayfield has two modes. He can get locked in and be very good as he was during the first half against the Colts in week 5. Mayfield can also be very bad as he was in the second half. Indianapolis held Mayfield to 2 of 9 passing in the second half and two interceptions.
Pittsburgh’s defense has the ability to be just as good as the Colts. They are going to be looking to put consistent pressure on Mayfield throughout the game and force him to make some mistakes. It will be up to the Steelers’ defensive backfield to capitalize on those mistakes and turn them into turnovers.
Going into this week’s game Mayfield is nursing a rib injury. The Steelers’ defense will be looking to get after Mayfield and hit him early and often. If they can make bad Baker show up it would be huge in terms of helping the Steelers secure a 5-0 start on the season.
3.) Win the Turnover Battle
Pittsburgh won the turnover battle in week 5 two to one. One of those turnovers came on a last-ditch effort by Carson Wentz and would have been better not to have been caught by Steven Nelson.
So far this season the Browns are second in the league with a plus-six turnover differential. They have 12 takeaways and only 6 turnovers on the season. Pittsburgh has a plus-three differential with 7 takeaways and 4 turnovers through their first four games.
As with many NFL games, this one could come down to the turnover battle. It will be important for both teams to win the turnover battle Sunday and the team that wins in this area very well may win the game itself.
4.) Establish the Run
Cleveland is the fourth-best defense against the run in 2020. They have given up only 87 yards per game this season. We all know that the Steelers aren’t going to abandon the run so a big part of this game will be establishing some kind of run game.
Perhaps the Steelers will continue to use the jet-sweep and bring speed into the run game. Focusing on between the tackles running, though, may not be a great game plan.
Establish the run, but keep the focus on the short passing game. The game plan should be much like it was in week 5 against the Eagles.
5.) Focus on 2020
There is sure to be plenty of bad blood on the field Sunday. There has been plenty of talk about Myles Garrett’s helmet swing at Mason Rudolph, but this year is different.
The Browns are 4-1 on the season and are trying to prove that they are actual contenders. Pittsburgh, who spent the 2019 season playing with back-up quarterbacks, are trying to show that they are back to form.
This week’s game is a huge game in terms of the AFC North division. This isn’t about 2019 and it isn’t about Rudolph and Garrett, this game is all about 2020 and whether or not the Steelers are true contenders in the AFC North.