Z-Factor is a Steel City Underground feature that selects one Pittsburgh Steelers player that is expected to be critical to the team's success in the upcoming game as selected by SCU writer Zac Celedonia and adds pre-game commentary and analysis.
After a very "above the line" bye week for the Steelers, we can all press pause on the panic button in Pittsburgh. Not one, not two, but all three opposing teams in the AFC North lost their respective games, and the Steelers are in first place. All is right with the world, for the time being.
Circumstances would be even better if the playoffs started right this second, but alas they don't, and the Steelers still need to handle their business. Speaking of "business", it's expected to be exactly that, as usual, as the "new and exciting" Cleveland Browns travel to Heinz Field to take on our Steelers.
Much different from years past, however, it's actually a pretty exciting time to be a Browns fan. Yes, they're currently in last place in the AFC North, but they have been able to string together more wins this season than any previous under head coach Hue Jackson. They finally have a quarterback in Baker Mayfield after years of highly-drafted busts, their young stud running back, Nick Chubb, is getting his sea legs under him, and their defense is legitimately good. All that being said, the Browns still find themselves at the bottom of the division with a 2-4-1 record.
We all know where the tie came from. That Week 1 game could have been won or lost by either team many times as it was one of the sloppiest games of the season, weather and play wise. I maintain to this day that Pittsburgh was lucky to emerge that Sunday afternoon without technical defeat, and this game should prove just as challenging.
Writing this piece late on Friday afternoon, the projected weather for Sunday is "showers" throughout the day with a break between 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. That break would be perfectly timed to sneak the game in, but a lot can change from now until Sunday afternoon. These two teams could potentially be in store for another bad weather game; they also could not be.
Bad weather or not, my eyes will be on fourth-year pro Bud Dupree. In the first game, we saw Cleveland start the rookie Desmond Harrison (at left tackle) who didn't have the best debut. Most would (correctly) tell you that Dupree came away from the match-up versus Harrison victorious after getting after then-starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor a majority of the game and recording a sack. The Steelers are going to need an even better showing from Big Bud this Sunday at home.
Since being selected by Pittsburgh in the first round in the 2015 NFL Draft, Dupree has been polarizing, to say the least. There are times where he flashes the athleticism that got him drafted so high; other times where we are all painfully reminded of how little he has to offer in his pass-rush toolbox.
I wouldn't call Dupree a "bust" by any means (17.5 career sacks), but there will always be those extreme fans that throw the term around whenever any first-round pick doesn't produce perfection. The freak athleticism Dupree displays helps cover up the slow rate at which he has developed, but given what the Steelers are seeing from Artie Burns (a 2016 first-round pick) lately, they'll take whatever glimmer of hope Dupree can shine-through with.
By no means is Dupree a bad player. Has he lived up to the first round pick? That has yet to be seen.
The reoccurring issue Dupree seems to have is when offensive tackles use his speed against him. They do this by simply letting Dupree speed rush (fire off the ball as fast as you can and try to beat the tackle with your speed around his outside shoulder), and push him all the way up out of the play past the quarterback. This is evident all over the place on team film and professional athletes make too much money to fall for the same tricks every week, so these linemen have become very wise to Bud's technique.
On the flip side of that, Bud gets a lot of his sacks by hustling around, staying with the play, and using that same speed and stamina that made him so enticing to Pittsburgh in the first place (as you can see from this play against the Bills last season.)
My point is, it goes both ways with Dupree, and I'm not going to complain about him getting sacks regardless of how they come.
Mayfield loves to extend the play and try to make magic, especially by bursting out of the pocket. It's who he is. When you think about it, though, Dupree may actually be the perfect weapon to counter Mayfield's magic. The young signal caller is bound to try and extend the play on more than a few occasions, and that will set up prime opportunities for Dupree to track him down and potentially make a play on the ball. I'm talking strip-sack people. Expect Big Bud to have a big day.