On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns’ 2018 regular season begins when they battle the Pittsburgh Steelers. To help preview a few topics from the Steelers’ perspective, we reached out to Jeff Hartman from Behind the Steel Curtain and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Chris: “Week 1 is here, and Le’Veon Bell is continuing his holdout to the point where it doesn’t look like he will play Sunday. Were Steelers fans expecting this? Who takes his spot and what do they offer?”
Jeff: “I don’t think any Steelers fans were expecting this. Everyone thought he would follow the same protocol as last year, and that was by simply showing up prior to Week 1 and playing out the regular season. At this point, who knows when he will return. Maybe he just sits out Week 1 to make a point, or maybe he waits until Week 11, the last possible time to report, and then plays out the final few games of the regular season. Who knows, but you will see a heavy dose of James Conner and Stevan Ridley in his place. Not the same talent as Bell, but hard-nosed runners who played extremely well in the preseason.”
Chris: “Todd Haley was the Steelers’ offensive coordinator for awhile, and now he’s in Cleveland. Just based on the preseason, how do you expect the Steelers’ offensive attack to change, if at all?”
Jeff: “Ben Roethlisberger will have more control of it, and the Steelers will utilize more uptempo offense to slow down the Browns’ pass rush. Myles Garrett is a legitimate concern, and look for Roethlisberger and company to try and run the football, and utilize the no-huddle as much as possible on the road to help negate the impact he can have on the game. Fichtner is more open to change than Haley is/was, and this could work to the Steelers’ advantage.”
Chris: “What would you consider the biggest vulnerability on Pittsburgh’s offensive line?”
Jeff: “Alejandro Villanueva. The team’s starting left tackle is by far the weakest link, but it doesn’t mean he is terrible. He will have his hands full with Garrett and company, and look for Pittsburgh to always be aware of who is lining up across from Villanueva. Other than Villanueva, the Steelers’ offensive front struggled in run blocking last year, while excelling in pass protection.”
Chris: “Which position group on defense is the one Cleveland’s offense can best take advantage of?”
Jeff: “If you want to beat the Steelers’ defense you have to attack the middle of the field. The Steelers’ have a very good defensive front, and a much-improved secondary. However, without Ryan Shazier there is a gaping hole left in the middle of the field. TEs and RBs out of the backfield have killed this defense, and it doesn’t look as if that will change heading into Week 1.”
Chris: “Hard Knocks has won the Browns a lot of national support this year. How is the Pittsburgh fanbase approaching this week’s game? ‘Same old Browns?’ Do you view Cleveland as the basement of the division still?”
Jeff: “The real Steelers fans who pay attention know this won’t be a cake walk. While some still say the same-old sayings about the Browns, honest fans knew this day would come. The day when the Browns’ draft picks and free agent pick ups would actually legitimize the team. For the most part, Steelers fans, especially without Le’Veon Bell, are taking this game very serious. Division game, on the road against a team with nothing to lose. That is a recipe for disaster, and we will see how it plays out on Sunday.”
Thanks again to Jeff for taking the time to answer my questions.