The Steelers will face the Browns for the second week in a row, but need to sure up one weakness before then.
Not much should be take from the Steelers two-point loss at the hands of the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium. Kevin Stefanski is likely approaching the Wild Card round the same way, instead choosing to study tape from games in which Pittsburgh opted to play the likes of Ben Roethlsiberger, TJ Watt, Cameron Hayward and the like.
The core of the Steelers 3-4 defense is their linebacking corps, making it all the more difficult to suffer major injuries to Bud Dupree and Devin Bush early in the season. The injury to Dupree — a torn ACL — was the final blow to that position in the Steelers defense which was once elite.
Rookie Alex Highsmith has filled in nicely opposite TJ Watt, who’s likely the frontrunner for defensive player of the year. Avery Williamson and Vince Williams have also played quite well, but Williams was injured against the Browns and Williamson still has yet to fully grasp the Steelers system as a midseason trade acquisition. The depth drops off dramatically after that.
So, how can the Browns attack this weakness?
The Browns are no New England Patriots, and Baker Mayfield is no Tom Brady. Yet, if the Browns are to hit the Steelers where it hurts, they should take a page from Brady’s book. The following strategy helped Brady and the Patriots take down Dick LeBeau, and now Keith Butler’s, defense in the AFC playoffs.
Pittsburgh often flexes their inside linebackers out to cover the slot receiver or tight end on complicated blitz packages. Those positions would normally be reserved for nickel corners or safeties, but not the Steelers. They’ll guard Rob Gronkoswki or Julian Edelman with a linebacker. Seriously.
With Austin Hooper, David Njoku and even the flexible Jarvis Landry at their disposal, the Browns can move the Steelers defense around pre-snap, and either force them to audible out of those confusing blitz packages or take advantage of what could become a matchup nightmare at Heinz Field.
Heck, it’s worth a shot.