Sunday night, the Cleveland Browns’ take on the Pittsburgh Steelers. To help preview a few topics from Pittsburgh’s perspective, we reached out to Jeff Hartman from Behind the Steel Curtain and exchanged five questions with him; this is the first time I’ve ever been able to do a Q&A for a Browns postseason game. Enjoy!
Chris: “The Browns just barely held off the Steelers 24-22 in Week 17. I know Pittsburgh rested some of their best players, but they still had many starters in the game. What were your main takeaways from the game, either good or bad?”
Jeff: “To be honest, there was more good than bad coming out of that game in Week 17 for the Steelers. The Browns had everything to play for, and the Steelers trying to beat their rival without 4 captains. The Steelers proved they can move the ball, especially with the deep ball, and there was even hope for the running game. At the same time, the success the Steelers might have had offensively Sunday in Week 17 doesn’t necessarily equate to success in the playoffs.
Not everything was all good for the Steelers in Cleveland. The run defense gave up 192 yards on the ground, and watched Nick Chubb rattle off a 47-yard run in the first quarter. If the Steelers stand a chance on Sunday in the playoffs they have to stop the run and force the game into Bake Mayfield’s hands. It’s their best chance at success.”
Chris: “Heading into this playoff game, what are you most confident in about Pittsburgh against Cleveland?”
Jeff: “To be completely honest it would be the Steelers’ pass rush vs. the Browns’ pass protecting. With Botonio out due to COVID, and several players along the line, like Teller, banged up, you have to like the Steelers’ odds at getting after Mayfield. They were able to generate 4 sacks in Week 17, and that was without Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt in the game. You can bet they will dial up pressure, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will blitz a ton. They will put their money on Heyward making life miserable for the backup guard, and hope players like Stephon Tuitt, Watt and Alex Highsmith can win their matchups.”
Chris: “Same question, but what are you most concerned about happening in this week’s game?”
Jeff: “The biggest concern is which Ben Roethlisberger will show up. To focus on one game, will it be the first half Ben from the Week 16 game vs. the Indianapolis Colts? Or will it be the second half Ben which brought the team back from a 17-point deficit to win?
Roethlisberger has been consistent this season, but he has started a bad trend of poor turnovers and decisions in the last month of the season. If the Steelers are going to win, it is very unlikely it will be by throwing the ball. This forces the game into the 38 year old Roethlisberger’s hands. Gotta hope for some magic still left in No. 7’s arm.”
Chris: “Matthew Wright was pretty impressive as a kicker last week for Pittsburgh, but it doesn’t sound like he has the strongest leg, and distance seems to come harder at Heinz Field. Is Wright still the kicker this week, and do you think Pittsburgh will be more aggressive in going for it as opposed to trotting Wright out for field goals?”
Jeff: “As for availability, at the point of me answering these questions I have no clue if Chris Boswell will be back kicking for the Steelers Sunday night or not. Boswell has missed the last two weeks with a groin injury, and was listed as limited on the Wednesday practice report. It is safe to say if Boswell is healthy he will kick for the Steelers, but if there is any doubt in his injured groin, they will go with Wright.
As for Wright, your assessment of his game is spot on. He is extremely accurate, but does not have a strong leg. He has played in 3 games and his longest field goal made, and attempted, were the two 46-yard kicks in Cleveland last Sunday. Out of 15 kickoffs, he has only recorded one touchback, and that might be the most troubling aspect of his game. If the Steelers’ kickoff units are on point, the short kicks could lead to pinning opponents deep in their own territory, but Wright typically doesn’t get the height on the kicks to be able to do this consistently. Will Wright kicking force the Steelers to go for it more? In those critical areas, absolutely Wright kicking will be a factor in the decision making process.”
Chris: “The last time these teams met in the playoffs 18 years ago, Cleveland jumped out to a lead, and actually led by two possessions with under four minutes to go before the Steelers came storming back. What do you remember most about that day?”
Jeff: “That game in 2002 was one which really sticks out to me, and I remember so much of it. Kelly Holcomb absolutely shredded the Steelers’ secondary, mainly to Dennis Northcutt, and I’ll never forget fans leaving Heinz Field in the middle of the game. There wasn’t much hope, but in the second half plays were made, a Mike Logan interception turned the tide, but no play was larger than a dropped pass by Northcutt on a critical play. Tommy Maddox hit Plaxico Burress for some big plays, but the play I remember most was the draw play to FB Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala for the go-ahead score. The place, including my house, went absolutely crazy. Antwaan Randle El threw a pass to Jerame Tuman for the two-point conversion, and that was all she wrote. It was the tale of two halves, and it was one of my favorite Steelers memories.”
Thanks again to Jeff for taking the time to answer my questions.