Plain and simple the Steelers need this win to nail down the #2 seed in the AFC and get a first round bye in the playoffs. Below are what we deem to be 7 keys to the game for the Steelers to beat the Browns in week 17.
Pressure Colt – The last time the Steelers faced the Browns in week 6, the defense sacked Colt McCoy 5 times and registered multiple pressures. Both James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley should both be well rested after the Thursday night week 16 game back on the 23rd of December. Brett Keisel has been playing lights out as of late since returning from a hamstring problem and can really help Harrison with Browns left tackle Joe Thomas so Harrison can stunt inside and work on guard Eric Steinbach.
Hit Hillis Hard – It looks like the Browns all purpose running back Peyton Hillis might try to suit up on Sunday with a rib injury. The Steelers should be targeting that every time he touches the ball. Hillis is dangerous out of the backfield as well this season, registering 60 catches. Knock him out of the game and you put the pressure squarely on the shoulders of McCoy to beat you with his arm.
Wildcat Alert – With Hillis banged up, the Browns might try to revert back to some Wildcat offense using Joshua Cribbs. Cribbs was knocked out of the week 6 game by Harrison and that has to be in the back of his head still. Regardless, Cribbs can take over the game with his legs if you let him and I am sure the Steelers prepared for that this week. We shall see.
Manny Time – Emmanuel Sanders has really excelled the last several weeks and has become a big part of the 3 wide packages that the Steelers will often go to. The Browns likely will try to match rookie corner Joe Haden up on Mike Wallace most of the day, so that means Sanders could draw a nickel corner or safety some times in coverage. Sanders has shown he can get separation pretty easily and could be the go-to guy for Ben Roethlisberger Sunday, especially on 3rd downs.
Special Teams Get Back Special – Over the last few weeks the Steelers special teams unit has been less than spectacular. They have missed key players over the last few weeks and will likely be without both Jason Worilds and Mewelde Moore on Sunday as both are recovering from injuries. Cribbs can kill the Steelers in the return game as we have seen up close ourselves in games past. Jeremy Kapinos has not been overly consistent since being signed and Shaun Suisham is coming off a game in which he missed his first kick in a Steelers uniform. Hopefully special teams coach Al Everest gets things clicking again.
Run More Early & More Often – Rashard Mendenhall has had an excellent season and his yards per carry goes up between 16 and 25 carries. Mendenhall has only totaled 17 and 18 carries respectively over the last 2 weeks and could stand a little heavier work load before the playoffs begin. The offensive line also would prefer to run more, especially late in games. Should the Steelers get a substantial lead, Isaac Redman could use a heavy workload to finish out the game as well. The Browns are giving up 131.3 yards per game on the ground this season and can be run on if the Steelers stay committed to it.
Hurry Up, Hurry Up & See More Red – Roethlisberger admits to liking the hurry up offense quite a bit and the Steelers need to get more time using it before the playoffs. Using it can really catch opposing defenses on their heels and cause them to show their hands quicker. In addition to that the redzone offense is clicking along at a 44.44% success rate which is less than the league average of 52.86%. The Steelers need to do a better job of finishing with a TD inside the redzone instead of just getting 3 points. Often times it has been bad execution and penalties that have killed them. Scoring 3 in the playoffs will not get it done. It is time to score at will when that deep.
Steelers Browns Game Prediction – The Steelers should take care of business against a Browns team that has been thinned by the injury bug and looking forward to the offseason beginning. If the Steelers lose this game, something has gone terribly wrong. As long as no turnovers or major injuries strike, Steelers should run away with this one.
Final Score: Steelers 30 Browns 10