What’s at stake?
The final week of the NFL regular season is underway. The Browns are preparing to travel 130 miles east to face their bitter rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers. With the Steelers playoff hopes hanging by a thread, the Browns will once again need to play the role of “season spoiler.” To make the playoffs, the Steelers need to beat the Browns this week. Additionally, they need a loss from the New England Patriots against the Buffalo Bills, as well as a Miami Dolphins loss against the New York Jets. While the Steelers chances are slim, the easiest way to put an end to their playoff hopes is with a Browns win on Sunday.
The Buffalo Bills have had an understandably emotional week. It would be safe to assume the game on Sunday could serve as a galvanizing moment for their football team. Therefore, it may be difficult to count on the Patriots to spoil the Steelers season. The Miami Dolphins are in a tough situation this weekend as well. With starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and back up Teddy Bridgewater both injured and doubtful to play, the team will look to Skylar Thompson or Mike Glennon to lead under center on Sunday. Respectfully, they will certainly have their work cut out for them. Which means the future of the Pittsburgh Steelers season will likely hinge on the outcome of the Browns game.
The Steelers went into their bye week with a record of 2-6. Since then, the Steelers have flipped their season on its head, posting a 6-2 record the past eight weeks. Additionally, the Steelers have won their last two games in dramatic fashion. Both games saw final-minute comeback drives from the Steelers; and both final drives were capped off by Kenny Pickett touchdown passes. The Steelers are hot right now. Which means if the Browns could cool them off and end their season this Sunday, it would be a wonderful opportunity to end this year on a high note.
Offensive keys to victory
Offensively, the Browns will need to find the magic they played with in the second half of the Commanders game this past week. The pressure of playing that way rests on the shoulders of their quarterback Deshaun Watson. The Browns trailed the Commanders in the first half of the game until Watson came alive in the second half. Watson finished the game with a passer rating of 122.5 and three touchdown passes, all of which came in the second half. Watson’s favorite target was Amari Cooper who recorded three receptions for 105 yards and two touchdowns. And lastly, Nick Chubb set the tone with fourteen carries for 104 yards on the ground.
To cool off a team heating up in January, the Browns will need similar performances from the playmakers listed above. The Steelers defense is tough at every level, but the Browns were tested last week against the Commanders defense, a very respectable unit as well. Browns fans have become very familiar with TJ Watt over the last few seasons and are equally familiar with his ability to wreck a game. Watson will need to work on getting the ball out quicker than he has the past few weeks, while also trusting his arm talent to make plays. The Browns identity has been the run game, and if they can establish the rushing attack early the Steelers could be in for a long game.
Defensive keys to victory
Defensively, the Browns have been a different team in the second half of this season. Their defense is currently posting top five numbers in many categories including pass yards allowed, and defensive efficiency rating. It seems like the team may be getting the hang of Joe Woods’ system; but is it a little too late? Woods left media members with the following quote during his final press conference of the season “Hopefully I get to talk to you guys again.” It seems Woods may see the writing on the wall, and his remaining days in Cleveland may be coming to a close. Currently nothing is official, but the tone of final press conference felt ominous.
The defensive line played well against the Commanders. Myles Garrett and Chase Winovich found ways to impact the game and get after Carson Wentz. Both recorded sacks last week. The secondary also impacted the game. Denzel Ward recorded an interception and Grant Delpit recorded a pair of his own. The Steelers offense has not been a recipe for their success, but the Browns will want to find ways to have their star players make plays on defense. Kenny Pickett is still in his rookie season, so he is liable to make some mistakes. The Browns defense will need to continue to capitalize on any mistakes that are made.
Regardless of Sunday’s outcome the Browns will finish the season on the outside of the playoff picture for a second straight season. This season, like many others, has produced plenty of ups and downs. When the team isn’t competing for a Super Bowl, it feels like a disappointment. Especially when you have talent like Myles Garrett and Nick Chubb, in their prime, on the roster. One of the only ways to sweeten the bitter taste of disappointment left on this season is to extinguish the fiery playoff hopes of their biggest rival. Go Browns!
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