The 5: What to watch for as Steelers host Browns in Week 2

It’s Week 2 in the NFL already and fans are gearing up for an AFC North rivalry game at Acrisure Stadium as the Pittsburgh Steelers host the Cleveland Browns. There are a lot of things to unpack following the Steelers’ loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1 while the Browns dismantled the Cincinnati Bengals.

Injuries are a concern heading into the game but will they play a major role? Can Pittsburgh pick themselves up and dust off to take care of the Browns as they have several times in the past? Will this be a smack-down, physical battle on Monday Night Football? All great questions, so let’s get into it.

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The Steelers offensive line

As Will Moffitt pointed out in his preview for Week 1, the trench battle is a key area. The Steelers’ offensive line looked better than it has looked in the last several years… and then it struggled against San Francisco in ways it hadn’t struggled throughout the entire preseason as different personnel packages were brought in and out. It wasn’t unexpected that the Steelers’ front was tested considering the 49ers threw everything they had into winning that battleground, and San Francisco has some exceptional players on their defensive line and edge.

The Steelers can’t afford to have another poor performance on the offensive line against the Browns. Cleveland has Myles Garrett and Za’Darius Smith ready to apply the pressure, but their injury report illustrated that three defensive tackles  – Shelby Harris (Achilles), Maurice Hurst (hamstring), and rookie Siaki Ika (foot) – were moved down the depth chart behind presumptive starters Dalvin Tomlinson and Jordan Elliott.

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Austin time

With receiver Diontae Johnson injured and expected to miss some time from the active roster, there has been a lot of chatter on social media despite the fact that the Steelers were very deep throughout camp and the preseason in the wide receiver group. What will the Steelers do without Diontae?!

First, the Steelers know what they have in George Pickens and there is a high expectation that quarterback Kenny Pickett will look to build off of their relationship this week against the Browns.

This will be a big week for Calvin Austin to get a real opportunity to be utilized. He has shown promise in special teams returns, capable hands in limited rushing attempts, and has had some spectacular routes that gave Steelers fans glimpses of what the young receiver can provide to the offense. Austin is built to rip the top off of the Browns’ defensive backfield, and it should be exciting to see if that’s not what Pittsburgh does on Monday night.

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Replacing Cam

With captain and veteran Cameron Heyward requiring surgery this week due to a groin injury and his subsequent placement on injured/reserved, there is concern about how well the Steelers defensive line will be able to fill the gap.

“Obviously, losing Cam is significant, but that’s what team is about. Replacing Cam is not a one-man job man, it is a multiple-man job and a coach’s job because it changes your schematics when you lose significant players.” – Mike Tomlin

Here we go with the “next man up” philosophy in just Week 2. The Steelers will be counting on Isaiahh Loudermilk, Keeanu Benton, and Larry Ogunjobi to step up their games against the Browns – especially in containing running back Nick Chubb – but it’s not out of the question that they’ll ask Montravius Adams, Armon Watts, and DeMarvin Leal to be more active in this game as well.

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Pickett Pick-me-up

There is no question that quarterback Kenny Pickett is ready to put Week 1 behind him and move forward. After missing open receivers with poor timing in the season opener, the game went off-script offensively for the Steelers and that is something no one wants to see repeated against the Browns.

Pickett expressed confidence early this week in his ability, and the team’s ability, to bounce back from the mistakes that were made against the 49ers and be fully prepared to meet the challenges the Browns present. “I love the attitude we have around here… it’s about competing and winning,” he told the media about the upcoming matchup. The Steelers need Pickett to offer their offense a pick-me-up when it comes to overall execution and success in creating drives that put points on the scoreboard.

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Full team momentum and effort

One thing the Steelers have had success at in the past is in the way they utilize veteran players to encourage a higher work ethic from new players and rookies in order to create and build momentum. While T.J. Watt was a shining star in Week 1 with his ability to channel frustration into a three-sack game (among other eye-opening stats by the outside linebacker), it will take extra effort from the Steelers in all three aspects of the game to earn momentum and then hold onto it.

“There is more of an emphasis on the next man up and just using each other, making sure we take care of each other, push each other to have a good week. Next generation up.” – DeMarvin Leal

There are still a lot of moving pieces in terms of personnel who are in their first season with the Steelers. The middle linebackers and defensive backs are trying to feel each other out and utilize effective communication. The offense is trying to find the tempo needed to mix the run game with the passing game. Special teams are trying to create opportunities to make big returns while limiting the field position of their opponents.

This week, against the Browns, the Steelers need to pull together and put in a full-team effort in order to get on track and put a win next to their names.

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