#1 - Thinning Out at Wide Receiver: Aside from WR Antonio Brown (and that is a big aside, considering how good he is), the Steelers are basically in the same boat as the Browns when it comes to not having proven threats at the wide receiver position this week. One of the reasons for that is that veteran WR Lance Moore, who came over from the Saints this year, has been ruled out with a groin injury. WR Martavis Bryant, a fourth-round pick, is listed as doubtful with a shoulder injury. Although Bryant wasn't expected to be a heavily featured player, Moore was slated to be the team's No. 3 receiver.
As we discussed with Behind the Steel Curtain, WR Markus Wheaton (5-11) is expected to be the team's No. 2 receiver. Next up? WR Justin Brown (6-3), a sixth-round pick in 2013, and WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (6-2), a former first-round bust of the Raiders. Wheaton and Brown have combined for six career catches as they enter their second year. Compared to the Browns' receivers, the Steelers' group of unknowns have more size, but that doesn't equate to success. It is a reason why having two rookie cornerbacks with size is an asset, though -- Justin Gilbert is 6-0, while Pierre Desir is 6-2.
#2 - The Secret Weapon? I don't know how many Browns fans know who Dri Archer, but I think a fair amount do, considering he played at Kent State and had some pre-draft support from Cleveland fans. Three picks after the Browns took RB Terrance West during the third-round of the 2014 NFL Draft, the Steelers selected Archer, and it looks like they will try to utilize him as their "secret weapon" on offense and special teams.
The 5-8, 173-pound Archer is viewed as a hybrid running back/wide receiver, but it's his 4.26 40-yard-dash that makes him a threat when he gets the ball in space. This preseason, Archer only had 6 carries for 18 yards, but he had 8 catches for 108 yards. For all intents and purposes, the Steelers have their own mini Andrew Hawkins, and they are ready to use him.
#3 - Vulnerable Against the Run: I agree with the Browns' decision to start QB Brian Hoyer over QB Johnny Manziel, but I hated the reason that some people used -- that there was no way we could throw Manziel in there against a "Dick LeBeau defense." While LeBeau is obviously a very good coordinator, this simply is not the Steelers defense of old, and there is no better reminder of that than Pittsburgh's run defense from a year ago.
In 2012, the Steelers were 2nd in the league against the run, yielding 3.71 yards per carry. In 2013, they dropped to 21st in the league, yielding 4.27 yards per carry. If Cleveland is committed to being a running football team this year, they attacking the Steelers on the ground is the right way to start things off, even if Pittsburgh doesn't respect the passing game enough -- that is where Hoyer can make them pay later.
#4 - Early Debut for Shazier: The Pittsburgh Steelers will have a rarity when ILB Ryan Shazier starts this Sunday against the Browns. According to our Ohio State Buckeyes affiliate, it will be the first time a rookie linebacker has started an opener for Pittsburgh since Kendrell Bell did it in 2001. Shazier was a talent who many Browns fans had their eyes on during May's draft, but Cleveland took Chris Kirksey in the third round to fill their void at the position. Shazier has been getting good reviews so far:
Shazier's teammate Lawrence Timmons told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "His pass coverage is awesome. You saw the tackles; he was making tackles left and right. He has the pedigree. He has all the talent and the intangibles you want in an inside linebacker."
Browns head coach Mike Pettine also talked up the rookie linebacker:
"We thought that he was outstanding," Pettine said of Shazier. "He is just the total package of a guy that can run and hit. He’s kind of that new breed of NFL linebacker where not only does he have the height and weight but he has the movement skills as well."
In his limited action as a starter, QB Brian Hoyer has seemed susceptible to not seeing those linebackers drop back into coverage. It's tough to prepare for a player you have limited film on and have never faced, but besides Troy Polamalu, Shazier might be the second guy I'd have my eye on this Sunday.
#5 - Special Teams Overview: The Steelers are going with Shaun Suisham as their kicker again. He has been fantastic the past two years, connecting on 58-of-63 field goal attempts (92%). He was 5-of-7 this preseason, but both missed attempts came on the road and were from 38 and 46 yards.
Pittsburgh is going with a new punter this year in rookie undrafted Australian Brad Wing, who played college at Louisiana State. Wing averaged 40.2 yards per punt and a net of 37.1 yards per punt this preseason. To compare, Spencer Lanning averaged 41.3 yards per punt and a net of 34.1 yards per punt this preseason. At kick and punt returner, it sounds like the Steelers are going to give Dri Archer a shot in that role. If Archer struggles or if Pittsburgh is in need of a game-changing play, they will utilize Antonio Brown on punt returns.