On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns’ take on the Pittsburgh Steelers. To help preview a few topics from Steelers’ perspective, we reached out to Jeff Hartman from Behind the Steel Curtain and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Chris: “When Ben Roethlisberger was set to return to action this year, I thought we would see him start to look a tad washed up, when you factor in his age and the injury he had a year ago. Instead, he is absolutely killing it. Roethlisberer has looked great during the games I’ve watched, but you’ve seen every play of his in 2020 — how has he looked? Is there anything he’s doing less of now (even if he’s still effective)?”
Jeff: “To be honest, you wouldn’t be alone in your expectation of thinking Roethlisberger may return not being the same quarterback, but Steelers fans have been pleasantly surprised. Roethlisberger has been slowly getting better every week, and his Week 5 performance against the Eagles was his best yet. With that said, it isn’t as if he picked up where he left off in 2018. His deep passing accuracy is still missing, and intermediate routes continue to be a struggle at times with the timing and accuracy of his throws.
The biggest improvement in Roethlisberger’s game though isn’t with his elbow, but between his ears. He is a much more efficient quarterback, and when you have the arsenal of weapons he has at his disposal, you can understand why. Roethlisberger is taking what the defense gives him, and it is working. The Steelers have been able to remain balanced offensively, and not having to rely on Roethlisberger to win games with his arm. Not that he isn’t capable, but this offense is vastly different from the Killer Bs of the 2014-2017 teams.”
Chris: “Myles Garrett returns to face the Steelers. Although he’s off to a defensive MVP-like start to the season, he has also had the advantage of facing a backup-level player each week and exploiting him. Does Pittsburgh’s offensive line have any issues right now?”
Jeff: “Garrett will be going against Alejandro Villanueva, again, and Villanueva has struggled in his career vs. Garrett. However, the offensive line as a whole has been a bright spot for the offense to date, and this after some shuffling along the line. Ramon Foster retired after last season and the Steelers moved Matt Feiler from right tackle to left guard. They are starting a backup right tackle in Chuks Okorafor, and it is expected All-Pro guard David DeCastro will miss Week 6, giving rookie Kevin Dotson another start. It doesn’t seem to be an issue with this group, as they have primed the running game to averaging 138.8 yards per game, and have kept Roethlisberger clean only allowing 6 sacks on the season.
If this offensive line has struggled, it has been with short yardage running. For whatever reason, they are better off trying to throw on 3rd and short rather than run the ball, other than that, the Steelers’ offensive line seems to have gone through transition rather seamlessly.”
Chris: “I often hate playing the schedule game, because good team’s take care of business, and that’s why Pittsburgh is 4-0. With that said, they have faced opposing teams whose offenses rank near the bottom of the NFL: the Giants (30th), Broncos (29th), Texans (22nd), and Eagles (28th). We know Pittsburgh can stop the run, so if there have been glimpses of concern with the Steelers’ defense, what area has it been in?”
Jeff: “The secondary, definitely the secondary. It really is the only blemish for the Steelers through four games, defensively. We know the Steelers get after the quarterback, and they are stopping the run averaging just 64 yards per game on the ground. But the secondary, which was so good in 2019, is still a work in progress. The Steelers are blitzing more than they did in 2019, and that is leaving some players out to dry on the back end. On top of that, Minkah Fitzpatrick has basically been MIA in the big play department this season. Mike Tomlin spoke about this during his Tuesday press conference, and he told the fans, and media, to pause a big before jumping to conclusions, but the eye test shows this Steelers defense has a lot of work to do before they become a complete unit.
If you want to beat the Steelers, you have to pick apart the zone and pick up the blitz. Do that and you will move the ball with ease.”
Chris: “Rookie WR Chase Claypool had an incredible four-touchdown game in Week 5 against the Eagles. Is he going to see the same amount of reps this week, and did his breakout come out of nowhere (more so the level of play as opposed to the statistical output)?”
Jeff: “If the Steelers don’t use Chase Claypool as much, or more, in Week 6 they should be fired for not doing so. Claypool has to be on the Browns’ radar, and even if the Steelers go out and put him on the field to be a distraction it can be helpful to other weapons like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson and Eric Ebron. Claypool’s Week 6 performance will likely cause defensive coordinators to shift coverage his way, and that can be beneficial to other players on the offense.
As for his breakout game, I wouldn’t say it came out of nowhere because he had provided a spark in every game this season. In Week 1 it was a beautiful sideline catch to get the offense going, in Week 2 it was an 84 yard catch and run for a TD, in Week 3 it was him using his size on third downs and we all know what happened in Week 5. The Steelers are just starting to realize what they have, and how they can use, in Claypool and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon.”
Chris: “Tell us about one player on offense and one player on defense who Browns fans might not be familiar with, but who could make a nice contribution for this week’s game.”
Jeff: “On offense I would say look for one of two players. James Washington (WR) and rookie running back Anthony McFarland. Browns fans might know who Washington is, since he is entering his 3rd year, but when all the attention is given to Smith-Schuster and Claypool, Washington can win his matchup when given an opportunity. McFarland isn’t used a lot, but is a big play waiting to happen. His break away speed is something to keep an eye on if the Steelers can give him a sliver of daylight.
On defense the player would be Tyson Alualu. The veteran is taking over at the nose tackle position for Javon Hargrave, and fans haven’t missed Hargrave due to his great play in the middle. Alualu has also been a force in run defense, and should play a huge role in this department vs. the Browns and their lethal running game.”
Thanks again to Jeff for taking the time to answer my questions.