1. The Browns defense improved against the run last week: Through the first three games, the Browns had given up 5.2 yards per carry. This past week, they gave up under 3.4 yards per carry to the Titans running backs (as Chris pointed out). If the Browns have another strong effort against the run, they can get the Steelers offense behind schedule and force them into obvious passing situations where they can both tee off and get creative with their rushes.
2. No More Charlie Whitehurst: Ben Roethlisberger is no Charlie Whitehurst nor is he Jake Locker. Big Ben won't beat us with his legs on runs. Instead, he's poised under pressure and a threat to extend plays and buy extra time for his receivers.
3. Last week I stated that the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line was the worst I've studied so far: I stand by that statement. Their line has two players who are above average or better for their positions and three that are well below average. As a result, there are major opportunities to exploit favorable individual matchups.
4. Steelers Right Guard David DeCastro: DeCastro is an athlete with excellent balance, good coordination and knee bend, and pretty good feet, especially for a guard. Most importantly, he plays under control, knows his athletic limits, and plays within them. This makes for a right guard that is very difficult to beat within a phone booth, whether with power or quickness. His greatest limitation is that his ability to cover ground when beaten is just average.
He was only beaten twice by Browns pass rushers in Week 1. Here, Armonty Bryant beats him with speed and quickness. DeCastro can't catch up to him to cut him off from the pocket, but he is able to force Armonty to take a wide path rather than a direct route:
Below, DeCastro picks up Taylor off the snap but discovers that he's on a stunt with Mingo and that Mingo has beaten him to the inside. He shoves Mingo wide to lengthen the rusher's path to the quarterback. Note how he also makes sure to keep his balance and keep his feet under him in case he can find some way to help. DeCastro is not a lunger.
5. Steelers Center Maurkice Pouncey: It's debatable whether or not this former first rounder is better than DeCastro. I'd say so. Pouncey is another interior lineman that has just about everything. He's not as powerful as DeCastro, but he's quicker and has more recovery range. Pouncey has good feet, balance, and agility to mirror rushers around the pocket, as well as a strong enough base and bend to handle the bull rush.
Here's the lone time a Browns rusher beat him in our first game. Pouncey (#53) blocks blitzing ILB Chris Kirksey off the snap and loses track of Armonty Bryant stunting behind him. By the time he notices, it's too late:
6. Steelers Left Guard Ramon Foster: Foster is a waist bender with poor knee bend and poor waist flexibility. As a result, he struggles recovering once he loses the advantage, so he is very reliant on making good on his initial contact and winning off the snap. Furthermore, this means that he'll always be tempted to lunge in order to initiate contact and land that early knockout punch. He's very disciplined to avoid doing this, but he's still overeager enough that he can be caught leaning. Defensive tackles can beat him quickly off the snap if they can get him to bite on a feint in one direction and then quickly redirect or if they can get their hands on him outside his frame and control him. Additionally, DTs with above average power can drive him off the ball, as he struggles to reset once an opponent's gotten him "on skates".
Foster is immediately beaten by Armonty's quickness and agility. Bryant gets into the backfield and nearly bats down the pass:
Here Foster gets beaten by another quick move: the patented Taylor shoulder shove. Taylor squares up on him, shoves him to turn him aside, and it's all over:
Ishmaa'ily Kitchen beats Foster with power, walking him back into the pocket and pressuring the quarterback:
Upon a closer look, we can see Foster attempting to "catch" Kitchen after his initial surge. However, his power step is simply insufficient for the task. As you can see below, he doesn't get enough knee bend to sink his hips, gain the upper hand in the leverage battle, and turn the tables back on the defensive tackle. Phil Taylor is out for the upcoming game and Kitchen is one of the guys likely to step into his role during his absence. This game with this matchup is probably the best time that this could have happened, as Kitchen's better leverage and greater ability to drive back an offensive lineman should allow him to exploit Foster. More athletic guards could both more adequately stall Kitchen's bull rush as well as take advantage of his lesser lateral agility (compared to Taylor's, that is), but Foster is not suited for doing so.
LG Ramon Foster and LT Kelvin Beachum both get beaten on this play. Kruger beats Beachum by overpowering him and finishing with speed. Foster gets surprised by a blitzing Chris Kirksey, who gets past him before the guard reacts:
7. Steelers Left Tackle Kelvin Beachum: Beachum is a tackle in the "undersized but athletic" mold. He's a long-armed guy with pretty good agility and balance. His weakness is against power. That doesn't bode well at all for him against Kruger, but in his case Sheard and even Mingo punished him with strength in Week 1. This, in turn, forces him to commit to presenting as strong a base as he can, meaning that he starts to hold off from opening up his feet and hips in a true kick slide. That makes him susceptible to speed moves. A vicious circle.
Mingo beats Beachum with power, knocking him back, getting his hands on him, and opening up a path to the inside. Left guard Ramon Foster comes to the rescue, leaving Billy Winn to help on Mingo:
Sheard uses power to gain the advantage on Beachum and complete his push through the turnstile:
Kruger takes his turn outmuscling Kelvin Beachum, getting low to muster a massive push to drive him off the ball. Ramon Foster comes over to help, but Beachum has already committed a holding call by that point, Roethlisberger has taken off to run for it, and Kruger has begun a spin move to stop the QB run:
An offensive lineman isn't going to win a battle with the Nightmare on Third Street (okay, the stadium's technically on Alfred Lerner Way and I have no idea where Kruger lives) with his hand placement and center of gravity this much higher than Kruger's:
Here Sheard sets him up with an inside step, faking a bull rush straight into the left tackle, and burns him with speed on a shallow arc to the quarterback:
Beachum gets fooled by linebackers Mingo and Kirksey as to who is rushing. Mingo takes his first step upfield while Kirksey's first step goes laterally. The left tackle interprets this to mean that the ILB has coverage on the running back heading to the flat while the OLB is rushing the passer; in fact, the opposite is true. Mingo breaks outside to catch up to the running back while Kirksey already has two steps on the LT and is headed into the backfield:
Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard run a stunt, with Sheard crossing behind. Instead of switching, the Steelers linemen each stick with their original man and try to stay in front of him. Foster, the left guard, does a decent job of this with Taylor. Beachum has a tougher task with Sheard and fails, letting him right into Roethlisberger's face and somehow magically avoiding a flag for a blatant holding penalty:
8. Steelers Right Tackle Marcus Gilbert: Gilbert is a much bigger, stronger guy than Beachum, but he's nowhere near as athletic as the left tackle. Theoretically, his 6'6" size and length should enable him to string speed rushers out wide and his strength and 330 pound bulk should allow him to gobble up moves directly at him or to his inside. Unfortunately for him and his team, he plays high, doesn't bend well, lunges, and has heavy feet. This results in him being susceptible to the inside, to the outside, or to rushes straight at him if the pass rusher can manage to get him leaning the wrong way or get leverage on him. His poor flexibility and feet also result in him having limited ability to recover once he's beaten. Essentially, he's similar to left guard Ramon Foster but at tackle: he can only really make one move on a play and he better guess correctly or he's finished.
Sheard lowers his head on a bull rush, barrels through Gilbert, and makes an ankle tackle for a sack as he goes to the ground:
Kruger starts Gilbert off with a hand to the center of his chest. He drives him back, gets a second hand on him, and pushes him even deeper into the pocket. Gilbert finally sets his feet but Kruger rips past him and tackles the scrambling quarterback for a sack:
Kruger gives Gilbert an inside step to set him up, Gilbert doesn't bite but Kruger still blows by him. Roethlisberger steps up to scramble and Kruger puts on the brakes, spins to turn downfield, and shakes Gilbert again to pursue the quarterback:
Sheard sells his inside step a lot harder than Kruger did. Gilbert bites and Sheard beats him with quickness and speed around the edge: