Pittsburgh Steelers week One Preview: Cleveland Browns

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From day two of practice for week one. Photos from http://www.steelers.com

Pittsburgh Steelers week is upon us once again, and this time it counts. They have done some tweaking to the roster this offseason, after their loss in the AFC Championship game. They have strengthened the secondary, added a starting outside linebacker, and bolstered the depth behind Le’Veon Bell. They have the roster to win it all, now it’s time to win some games. Pittsburgh Steelers week one preview looks at what they need to do to be successful.

Pittsburgh Steelers week One Preview: Cleveland Browns

The Steelers open up their regular season with a trip to Cleveland to play the Browns. This series has been dominated by the Steelers since the Browns re-entered the NFL in 1999. The average score of the games the Steelers have won since then, has been 26-12. The closest game in recent memory was last season’s week 17 overtime win, when the Steelers rested most of their key starters. They’re not taking the Browns lightly either, despite the fact they should have an easy time of it on Sunday. This is the first step for a Steelers team looking for Super Bowl glory, while the Browns seek respectability.

The Return of Martavis Bryant

Martavis Bryant returns to regular season action for the first time in over 15 months, giving the Steelers a reliable deep threat. Bryant opens things up for Antonio Brown, who spent last season being double and triple covered. He spent his time away from the game adding 20 pounds of muscle, and more speed, to a frame that was already dominant. Bryant had 15 touchdowns in 21 games prior to his year long suspension. Ben Roethlisberger just might have to forget about retirement with Bryant at his disposal again.

When the Steelers Have the Ball

Roethlisberger and Brown have to be the two happiest people on offense. They will benefit the most from having Bryant back. Brown can run free, and Roethlisberger can go deep at will. The Browns secondary can’t matchup with the Steelers receivers after releasing Joe Haden, their best corner. Haden might be the happiest player on the field because he doesn’t have to cover Brown and Bryant anymore.

Bell says he is ready to take center stage after sitting out training camp and the preseason. He has gone eight months without meaningful football activity and fatigue is likely to be a factor. The Steelers intend to protect Bell from any fatigue related injuries, especially with $12.1 million on the line. James Conner will likely see his fair share of carries while periodically giving Bell a breather. The two of them should have quite a bit of running room against a spread out defense weary of the pass.

When the Steelers are on Defense

The Steelers are 19-3 against rookie quarterbacks since 2004, which doesn’t bode well for DeShone Kizer. Pittsburgh’s young defense, which led the NFL in sacks after week nine last season, improved as the year went on. Kevin Colbert sought to improve the talent and depth, adding Tyson Alualu and Haden through free agency. T.J. Watt, Cameron Sutton, and Brian Allen were brought in through the draft.

The additional talent gives the Steelers flexibility along the line and that should have Kizer running scared. The secondary is transitioning away from primarily running zone coverage to one that is man coverage capable. Haden and Artie Burns give the Steelers two corners that can play press-man coverage. Sean Davis is versatile enough to play all four secondary positions, as is Sutton. Keith Butler has the flexibility now to mix up his coverages and move personel around within them.

Butler’s first objective is to take the run away and make Kizer beat the defense. He will look to confuse Kizer, keeping him off balance and uncomfortable in the pocket. He’ll use multiple looks out of the base 3-4 to generate pressure up the middle. Butler will move in and out of nickle or dime defenses, mixing up his blitzes to force Kizer into making mistakes. Rookies who are off balance and confused make mistakes, and that’s just how the defense likes them.

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