CLEVELAND, OH – Believe it or not, the NFL season is officially here for the Cleveland Browns and their frenzied fan base. In just four days, the Browns storm into Heinz Field and face the Pittsburgh Steelers for their first regular season opener with their arch rival since 1999.
For the third time in as many years, a new face will coach the Browns in the less than popular offseason selection of Mike Pettine. Cleveland has gotten off to the right start just once in their last fourteen seasons. This is a tone setting divisional game of the utmost importance. Here are my three keys that will give the Browns a fighting chance versus the black-and-yellow.
DAWG BONE #1
Get after Big Ben
If the Browns have a really strong point this season, it’s the defensive front seven. Coach Pettine and his staff are stacked with linebackers and defensive linemen. There are at least three players on the defensive line depth chart that could start on other NFL teams. Cleveland is so talented there, it was rumored that if the Browns were to make a trade before the start of the regular season, it would have come from the defensive line.
What’s my point?
The Browns have the personnel to manhandle the Steelers weak offensive line and get after Ben Roethlisberger. In four preseason games, Cleveland had six sacks and a stack of quarterback pressures. Sophomore linebacker Barkevious Mingo looked sharp and had two of those sacks in limited snaps as a starter. Roethlisberger is at his best when keeping plays alive and extending drives. The veteran signal caller has a huge safety valve in tight end Heath Miller. A match up to watch this Sunday is Miller vs. linebacker Karlos Dansby, whose coverage skills are stellar and an upgrade over the departed D’Qwell Jackson.
The Browns have a lifetime record of 1-17 versus Roethlisberger. There is a formula to that though. In that one win in eighteen tries, the Browns sacked Roethlisberger eight times in a 2009 match up at home. Last season, when Roethlisberger was sacked three or more times, the Steelers’ record was 3-6. The Steelers are weak at right tackle too. In 2013, tackle Marcus Gilbert allowed 11 sacks on his side, which was the third most in the NFL.
DAWG BONE #2
Establish the Run Stop Early
Both Steeler potheads, LeVeon Bell and LeGarrette Blount are playing in the opener. It is imperative that the Browns defense sets the tone early in the Steelers’ run game. Both Bell and Blount received 34 carries together in the preseason. The production from those carries was very pedestrian-like and unimpressive. The Steelers running game did not score a touchdown in all four games and averaged a little over three yards a carry.
I expect the Browns to shut it down and make Roethlisberger throw the football. In the two meetings last season Roethlisberger threw two interceptions versus Cleveland. Establishing the run defense early is a huge key.
DAWG BONE #3
The number 81
I believe in the numbers and facts. Last year when opponents ran for 81 yards or more on Pittsburgh, they were 1-7. The Browns must do everything they pitched in the offseason and training camp – power run the football. I expect a heavy workload from Ben Tate and wouldn’t be surprised to see rookie Terrance West get a handful of carries. The magic number for Tate is 19 carries. That’s only a 4.3 yards per carry.
It is time to “get” the rivalry back between these two teams and fan bases that despise each other. What better way to do that than going into Pittsburgh on Sunday and shocking the NFL world.
Ryan Ruiz is the Cleveland Browns Beat Writer for The Inscriber: Digital Magazine. You can follow him on Facebook: Ryan (BrownsWriter) Ruiz and Twitter @ryanpruiz24. Ryan is also a Browns correspondent for The Sportsfix. Tune in every Friday at noon on www.thesportsfix.net. Email Ryan at [email protected]://184.108.40.206/~theinscr