The no-huddle offense deployed by the Steelers was a major factor in the team’s success against the Lions but now the challenge gets much greater as Pittsburgh heads up the turnpike to play long-time rival Cleveland.
The Browns are in many ways still “the Browns” but this defense will be decidedly different than what the Lions offered to Ben Roethlisberger and the offense.
For starters, Cleveland’s attacking 3-4 defense is led by a familiar face to many Steelers’ players and fans. Former secondary coach Ray Horton now leads the Browns’ defenders. He coached in Pittsburgh from 2004-2010 before leaving to become the defensive coordinator in Arizona.
Horton’s defense currently ranks fifth overall in the league, fourth against the pass and eighth against the run.
Those numbers will not do much for the confidence of the Steelers’ offense especially when it comes to the struggling running game. Horton has clearly taken a page from Steelers’ defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau in terms of stopping the run first and foremost.
This doesn’t mean the Steelers should abandon the run altogether though. They must find creative ways to get Le’Veon Bell and Jonathan Dwyer some running room as difficult as that may be.
Perhaps the biggest match-up of the week will be Steelers’ wide receiver Antonio Brown going up against Browns’ cornerback Joe Haden. Both Haden and the entire Cleveland secondary are significant steps up from what Brown and Roethlisberger saw from the Detroit secondary which is average at best. (That’s probably a compliment because they were pretty bad.)
That means guys like Heath Miller, Jerricho Cotchery and Marcus Wheaton need to step up especially if Emmanuel Sanders can’t go with his foot issue.
Horton will know some of the Pittsburgh offensive personnel well especially Ben Roethlisberger but with a totally different offense being run by the Steelers that shouldn’t matter a whole lot.
I fully expect a defensive battle to take place on Sunday. Any expectations of scoring 37 points again should go out the window. I’ll gladly eat crow however should the Steelers’ do that.
Marc Uhlmann writes for and co-owns www.steelcityblitz.com. Follow him on Twitter @steeldad and follow the website at @SCBlitz. He can be heard Mondays on Trib-Live Radio at 630pm ET talking Steelers and is a blogger for ESPN 970 in Pittsburgh.