Who Should The Steelers Start Against The Browns?

From a record and playoff standpoint, there is nothing to be gained for the Pittsburgh Steelers in their final regular season game of the 2016 season. For the first time in three seasons, the Steelers could be going into the playoffs with their big offensive trio of Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown all healthy.

That’s why Mike Tomlin is saying that he will rest some of the starters. But while some people have said that it’s nothing more than a preseason game, it also holds opportunities. Imagine a scenario that Roethlisberger or Bell does go down injured – wouldn’t it be better to have Landry Jones or DeAngelo Williams come in with another victory under their belts? What if Mike Mitchell or Ross Cockrell suffer an injury? Wouldn’t you want rookies Artie Burns or Sean Davis to get more experience?

The Cleveland game isn’t just a chance to rest some key players.

It’s a chance for some key backups and squad players to gain confidence and experience – but only if the Steelers win.

This is the starting team, and back-ups that Mike Tomlin should employ for the game on Sunday.

QUARTERBACK: LANDRY JONES

There are a lot of things that are at stake at the quarterback position. Ben Roethlisberger gets hurt often, and has already expressed a desire to get a rest at this stage of the season. That would be the best thing for everybody. He should be scratched to avoid the temptation of putting him in later.

Jones is the clear cut backup to Roethlisberger. If anything happens to Big Ben in the playoffs, Jones will be called upon. It would be huge for his confidence to go into that scenario having lead the Steelers to another win. Plus, for Landry Jones, this is essentially an audition to be Ben’s backup for next season. Jones will be out of contract at the end of the year. His game-time exposure has obviously been limited because of Roethlisberger, but Jones has displayed some growth between his games last season and this season. If Jones can show poise and further development at home against the Browns, then he could earn another deal.

I would be tempted to get Zach Mettenberger some snaps though, to figure out what the Steelers have in the former Titans quarterback.

Scratch: Ben Roethlisberger

RUNNING-BACK: DEANGELO WILLIAMS

For the last two post-seasons, the Steelers have been forced to go without Le’Veon Bell. It’s had a damaging effect on their chances, and it could be argued that with Bell – they would have at least beaten the Ravens in 2014; and the Broncos last year.

Williams hasn’t played much since Bell returned this year, so getting him back up to speed should be a priority. That said, Williams was injured after Bell got hurt last year too. So Williams should be placed on a snap-count to minimise his risk of injury, and Fitzgerald Toussaint deserves some carries.

But Bell should be as far away from the field as possible.

Scratch: Le’Veon Bell

WIDE RECEIVERS: ELI ROGERS, DEMARCUS AYERS, COBI HAMILTON.

The Steelers cast of wide receivers have all had their moments this season and done well. Each of Eli Rogers, DeMarcus Ayers, and Cobi Hamilton have earned playing time – whether in a meaningless game or not. Each of the three should be rewarded with a start in this game.

Rogers could thrive in the WR1 role, which would help his confidence for when he’s making plays in the post-season. With Sammie Coates fighting to come back from a hamstring injury, he should be told to take the week off to rest it.

That leaves Darrius Heyward-Bey and Antonio Brown as the other two wide receivers to dress for this game. Brown isn’t as injury prone as Roethlisberger or Bell. And you can’t scratch everyone. Besides, Brown’s also ten yards short of breaking an NFL record for the most yards in a four season stretch. Dress him, get him the record, and limit his snaps. If things are going badly in the game, you’ll be glad there is some insurance there, and Landry Jones will benefit from Brown’s presence. (Note: Tomlin has indicated that Brown likely won’t play Sunday)

Scratch: Sammie Coates

TIGHT-END: XAVIER GRIMBLE

Ladarius Green’s concussion is worrying. There was the question about his concussion history when he signed, and the fact that he hasn’t passed the protocol is deeply concerning. Even if he is fit and ready to go, the Steelers should take a leaf out of the Panthers book and sit him just like Luke Kuechly is being sat. Green has reported back to limited training, but there’s no way he should play.

Jesse James would be another candidate to sit, but again, only seven players can be scratched. He’ll have to dress, but allow David Johnson and Xavier Grimble to take the majority of the snaps.

Scratch: Ladarius Green

OFFENSIVE-LINE: ALEJANDRO VILLANEUVA, RAMON FOSTER, B.J. FINNEY, DAVID DECASTRO, CHRIS HUBBARD.

Already when the subject of sitting players came up, the offensive line has expressed an interest to keep the flow going. They want to play. So let them.

But at the same time, B.J. Finney and Chris Hubbard have been impressive in their appearances so far this year. I can foresee them starting with the first choice offensive line for the first series. Then it would make sense to substitute in Finney and Hubbard for a different starter on each series.

There is a need to reward Hubbard and Finney for their great seasons, and keep them in rhythm just as much as the starting line. Oh, and Brian Mihilak should get some snaps to see what he can do too.

DEFENSIVE-LINE: JOHNNY MAXEY, JAVON HARGRAVE, L.T. WALTON

Injuries force the Steelers hand a little on the defensive line. The biggest priority is to get Stephon Tuitt as ready as possible for the playoffs. His knee sprain is healed with rest, so why bother risking him at all?

Unfortunately, the depth is a little thin – especially with Ricardo Mathews not practicing on Wednesday with an ankle injury. That forces L.T. Walton and Johnny Maxey to be the two defensive ends.

Scratch: Stephon Tuitt.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS: VINCE WILLIAMS, TYLER MATAKEVICH

Ryan Shazier is both the most important player on the Steelers’ defense, and the most injury prone. If he’s not already wrapped in cotton wool, then someone should be fired (joke). Vince Williams is a quality player that hasn’t been getting enough snaps lately, and should be asked to be the leader of the defense on Sunday.

Tyler Matakevich gets first crack, with L.J. Fort getting some snaps too. Lawrence Timmons will have to dress, but in a “break glass in case of emergency” situation.

Scratch: Ryan Shazier

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: ARTHUR MOATS, JARVIS JONES

Over the last few weeks, Bud Dupree and James Harrison have played all but one snap. They should be managed. Dupree hasn’t a lot of tread on his tires after an early injury, while Harrison may want to stay in rhythm – that’s the only reason why I’d dress either, but their snaps need to be limited.

With Anthony Chickillo ending up on the injury report, that could stop him from getting an increased role his play this season deserves. For Jarvis Jones, this could be the final audition for a new contract, be it in Pittsburgh or somewhere else.

CORNERBACKS: ARTIE BURNS, WILLIAM GAY.

Ross Cockrell has been one of the more pleasant surprises of the season. His play shutting down some top receivers has been really good, to the point where the Steelers secondary would look much less convincing without him against top sides.

The Cleveland Browns aren’t a top side. That said, the more snaps Burns plays, the better he will be. He’s still learning to read the play, and the benefit he’ll get from playing rather than being saved is worth it.

The other spot will be filled by William Gay, with Justin Gilbert set to see more snaps against his old team. Cockrell will have to play, because the seven scratches will already have been filled.

SAFETIES: SEAN DAVIS, JORDAN DANGERFIELD

What a year Sean Davis is having. Arguably the Steelers best rookie, Davis has cemented himself as a starter at safety, and we’ve even seen Mike Mitchell improve beside him.

What would be great for Davis though, is if he was thrust into the senior role, and forced to help Jordan Dangerfield through a game. It would be huge for Davis’ development, and give us another glimpse of Dangerfield.

With Robert Golden injured again, Mitchell will have to dress.

Scratch: Robert Golden (injured)

To be scratched: Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Ladarius Green, Sammie Coates, Stephon Tuitt, Ryan Shazier, Robert Golden.

  • xXWARisHELLXx

    I think resting the starters for the entire game is a mistake. They played poorly after the bye week this year and I’d hate to see that happen in the playoffs.

  • treeher

    You stole my notes for the game.

  • LucasY59

    I think most of the starters that dress will play a few series, but I want most of them out by halftime, there is enough depth that all but a few of the linemen and rookies should be able to come out of the game fairly early (D-line and WRs are already depth guys so they will play all of the game also)

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    Nice logic; willbe interesting to see how this compares to the game.

  • CP72

    I want one playoff game where Ben, Bell, and Brown play together….only one way to gura that.

  • RickM

    The suggestions seem perfect, although if Brown does play he should be pulled as soon as he gets the record. The Browns have given up between 28-33 points in all 7 road games, so I imagine the O will do just fine without Ben, Bell, etc. It’ll be interesting to see how the D does though with the back-up LB’s.

  • Daniel

    Playoffs is a different story than regular season

  • RickM

    And the QB will not be coming off surgery.

  • swithick-upon-thames

    If the coach had any tactical nous he would play a full strength team in order to keep momunetum into the playoffs.

  • Steeler-Drew

    Perfect line-up. Could not agree more.

  • Steeler-Drew

    Perfect line up. Could not agree more.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Chickillo instead of JJ

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Not true…players get hurt in practice all the time

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I would like them to play a half except for guys that have some minor stuff going on

  • Mason Dale

    They could always sign me for a week. Corner depth is always needed you know

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    I’m on the fence here part of me want the starters like Ben/bell/brown/pouncey/green
    Shazier/tuitt/gay/Harrison all out so we can have them for the playoffs then another part of me want the starters to continue building their momentum

  • Carlos

    I’ll take health over the momentum that beating the Browns can provide at this point

  • nutty32

    Might be interesting to run 5 – 6 gadget plays just to make the Dolphins/Chiefs have to waste practice time prepping against them. We are probably going to have to waste time prepping against Dontari Poe playing RB and throwing jump passes and stuff if it’s the Chiefs.

  • nutty32

    Is most yards in 4 years really a record? End points seem so arbitrary and forced. AB will be just fine w/o this record and he can rest easy knowing that he already owns the record for most yards in 3 years & 15 games – haha

  • Dshoff

    I would let AB play to get his record, I think he deserves that, then get him out. I really hope we see a LOT of McCullers and not much of Hargrave. The DT position is arguably the most physical position on the team and we need Hargrave to be fresh for the playoffs.

  • RickM

    Yes, health is easily the key factor. And Cleveland is a bad football team losing their last road game by 20 points to Buffalo. Even our diminished line-up should chalk up a W. And if we don’t, it won’t matter one bit when we play the Wild Card game. The Steelers will be ready for whomever comes to Heinz Field.

  • Steve Bozell

    Good thing we didn’t get a bye – the “too much rust, sky is falling” caterwauling here would have been deafening.

  • Rocksolid20

    WOW , I didn’t realize that all injuries happened after halftime ?!

  • Rocksolid20

    Don’t need him in there returning punts either .

  • WOW, I didn’t realize that all injuries happened in the last game of the year?!

  • Jim Foles

    How many picks do we move up if we lose? During the draft how much does it cost to move up 4 or 5 picks?

  • dany

    Who’s the black sheep when Finney Hubbard and Mihalik are all in the game? Villanueva right??

  • stellarsfan

    We don’t. Once you’re a playoff team, draft order is determined by how you finish in the playoffs.

    And it costs more to move up early in the draft than it does later on. I think there’s a determined value system where the earlier pics are more heavily weighted in value and therefore cost much more than later pick movement.

  • Josh

    good point – let’s see Rogers again.

  • Rocksolid20

    Or maybe Gilbert , he’s done it in the past .

  • Jim Foles

    ok

  • Jeff Burton

    I want to see what Zach Mettenberger can do. We already know what Landry Jones CAN’T do. I think Tyler Matakevich will have chance to shine and he will. And it will be fun to watch B.J. Finney maul guys for an entire game again. He should be starting and probably will be next year.

  • A Football Fan

    The Quality Man
    The focus this week is on the the reserves. So What are the values and priorities to be addressed in the Game Plan? Winning has no value so the top value should be to evaluate the Individual players under NFL Game Conditions. to get this value, the Game Plan must not be compromised; it should be the same GP as if it was a regular season Game. Team is at full strength. The win/lose criteria is not the final score; but on the Player ratings during the Game. The Ratings of the individual performers will yield a Quantitative basis for how to draft this spring.

  • SilverSteel

    Risk our most important player for an accolade with the playoffs coming? No way. Brown sits especially after him being concussed for last year with the Broncos.

  • SilverSteel

    Man, we have had soooo many injuries this year and last. Do you really want to test that for the Browns? Tomlin will have good practices to make sure rust is not a factor – you can bet on that. The 3 Bs sit in my opinion and plenty of others too.

  • LucasY59

    they can get hurt in practice as well…

    its about resting starters that have played 15 games, (every guy is less than 100% by this time of the yr, and getting some snaps off should help them since hopefully they will be playing in 5 more)

    limiting amount of snaps played lowers injury risk statistically, but halftime is just a good threshold for when some players should no longer be in a game that doesnt matter, it isnt the “magic” time to take players out of a game or else they get hurt…

    Injuries can happen at anytime,

    only way to avoid injury is to never play the game