The Pittsburgh Steelers will face the Cleveland Browns in week 17 and this game has much meaning to the seeding in the AFC one week before the playoffs begin. If the Steelers win and get help from the Cincinnati Bengals over the Baltimore Ravens they will win the AFC North division. If the Steelers win and get help from both the Bengals and the Buffalo Bills over the New England Patriots they will win the AFC and get home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Also if the Steelers win but the Ravens beat the Bengals, they will play the winner of the AFC West who could either be the Denver Broncos or Oakland Raiders.
Regardless of how the rest of the conference games turnout, the Steelers have to take care of their own business against the Browns. The Steelers are coming off of a Christmas eve shutout win over the St. Louis Rams where Charlie Batch lead the offense to a big offensive day. Rashard Mendenhall broke 100 yards for the second time this season and the defense played well against the struggling Rams. Despite the shutout, the defense allowed Stephen Jackson to break 100 yards on them which is a problem that has to be figured out before the post season begins.
The Browns will try to fix their current 4-11 record and upset the Steelers before their playoff road begins. However that might be a tall task as Seneca Wallace is starting at quarterback in place of Colt McCoy who is still having concussion symptoms from that James Harrison hit back on December 8th. The Browns defense is in the top ten in the NFL and will try to get in Ben Roethlisberger's face as they did on that day where they nearly broke his leg in the process. The key for the Browns will be to make Roethlisberger make bad decisions and force turnovers.
There are many keys for the Steelers in week 17, as they try to take the AFC North away from the Ravens despite losing the season set from them.
Continue To Run the Ball Effectively - Last week Mendenhall was very effective against the Rams as he averaged 6.4 yards per carry and after a slow start has fixed his yard per carry mark to 4.0. Can he start to emerge further to aide Roethlisberger as he is nursing those bumps and bruises? It would be a tremendous lift if he can start becoming the impact player again as he was in the last two seasons for the Steelers. Also having the running game emerge at this point heading into the playoffs would be huge in helping the play action become an element in the Steelers arsenal.
Protect Big Ben - The offensive line has to protect Roethlisberger against the Browns because the last thing that needs to happen is for him to further aggravate that high ankle injury. With Maurkice Pouncy and Doug Legursky finding their way back to good health and returning to the lineup Roethlisberger should have plenty of time to throw the ball.
Find the Swagger Back - The offense hasn't had their swagger under Roethlisberger since that day when he originally hurt that ankle and they need to get that back. They have to find the poise they used in the win over New England where they were able to use short routes and quick drops to move the ball effectively. Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown are big in that area as they have to reconnect their timing with Big Ben. That includes not turning the ball over because that has been one of the side effects of having a heavy passing offense.
Pressure - Who would have thought the Steelers would have issues with getting pressure in opposing quarterbacks faces? Well that has been an issue over the last few weeks. The Rams used short drops just like the 49ers did and were able to neutralized that pressure. Dick Lebeau has to find a way of eliminating that as a factor, so they can start forcing mistakes again. A problem in that has been not having both LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison in the lineup at the same time due to injuries and suspension issues. This has to improve quickly as they will need to pressure to be a factor in the playoffs.
Force Turnovers – The Steelers are still among the worst teams in the league at forcing turnovers. Are they just not getting the bounces, out of position or is there another reason for not being as fortunate as they were a year ago when they were the best in the NFL. This is another element of the defense that has to become a solid staple, especially with the playoffs being right around the corner.
Avoid Injury - Win or loss, the absolute last thing the Steelers need to do is risk a big name player or a starter getting injured at this point. If the Steelers go up in this game early, Mike Tomlin needs to pull the starters and go with the backups because at this point it is too risky.
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