After the first round beatdown in Week 6 (38-7), the Browns got their revenge (sort of) last week in a Week 17 playoff-clinching win.
There was no Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday, as Mason Rudolph got his own revenge shot against the Browns on Sunday. Rudolph wasn’t terrible, but he definitely was a step down from Ben.
I expected more from the Browns during the game, as everything was lining up for them to have a comfortable win. Despite the cozy early lead, the Browns failed to put away the Steelers, and Mason Rudloph nearly led the Steelers back to a comeback victory.
This weekend, the Pittsburgh Steelers are 6 point favorites against the Cleveland Browns, according to the DraftKings PA Online Sportsbook. Can the Steelers cover the spread?
Steelers vs Browns preview
The Browns will be without Kevin Stefanski this week. Missing your head coach for a game may be the biggest loss a team can have. In addition to Stefanski, the Browns will be without Pro Bowl guard, Joe Bitonio. They’ll also be without defensive end Olivier Vernon.
(Billy Mays Voice) But wait, that’s not all! Early Tuesday morning, Jedrick Wills and Rashard Higgins were cited for drag racing. On paper, given the news to this point, the Steelers appear to have some substantial advantages. The Browns are having college program-like issues as the biggest game of their franchise of the past 25 years looms.
Offensively, we expect the Steelers will fall back to the only scheme the Steelers have any faith in. A quick passing attack is the likely play, and probably the best play for the Steelers in this matchup.
The Browns have a formidable pass rush and a questionable secondary, so this approach is the most advantageous for the Steelers. With a rushing attack that has struggled mightily over the back half of the year, the Steelers know what they have to do, and establishing the run isn’t the answer.
Defensively, the focus will have to be on stopping the run, and forcing Baker to beat them, clearly. It’s been the plan since their first meeting, and they’ve given up only 17 points per game over those two games, with plenty of starters resting.
A week ago, the Steelers did a poor job slowing the run, as the Browns went for 192 yards at a 6.2 YPC average. Despite this, the Browns were so bad managing the game down the stretch, the Steelers still almost won. The plan should be the base plan for teams with bad quarterbacks under pressure.
That plan is to simply focus on stopping the run, putting the offense in long down and distances, and blitzing heavy in such passing situations. It worked well enough last week (Browns were 6-14 on third and fourth down conversions). Hopefully, the Steelers can execute the plan a little more efficiently this week.
The Steelers should have both the emotional and motivational edges in this matchup. They nearly beat the Browns down a number of players last week. Now, they get their quarterback and leader back, the Browns will be without a Pro Bowl guard, a defensive end, possibly their tackle, and their head coach.
As for the game, I think the Steelers will go by their own book here, picking apart the Browns secondary, shifting slightly more towards play action over a heavy volume of quick passes. The absence of Olivier Vernon should give the Steelers a little more time to go deeper into the Browns’ secondary.
I think the Browns will run the ball fairly well, but a lack of creativity without their coach is going to force them into longer downs than they would hope for, against an opportunistic secondary.
I think this game will be close until late, at which point, the Browns will be forced into obvious passing situations. I think the wheels will fall off midway through the second half as the Steelers pull away down the stretch.