The Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to be without their starting quarterback coming off a record-setting offensive performance last week. They'll be looking for their first win within the AFC North when the Cleveland Browns visit Heinz Field on Sunday.
The Browns (2-7) are already playing solely for pride just nine games into the season after four straight losses, but a win over their most heated rival always stirs the hearts of fans back in Cleveland. Backup quarterback Johnny Manziel kept things close for a half against division kingfish Cincinnati last week, but the second half was a disaster. Starter Josh McCown's ribs have had a few extra days to heal, but his status is still up in the air. With a bye week ahead, head coach Mike Pettine may choose to err on the side of caution and stay with Manziel.
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Landry Jones is expected to start in place of Ben Roethlisberger, who was carted off the field for the second time this season last week with a foot injury. Jones came off the bench against Oakland last Sunday to lead the Steelers (5-4) to a game-winning field goal. A loss to Cleveland would give Pittsburgh losses at home to all three divisional opponents this season.
Here are three keys to the game for both the Browns and Bengals.
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1. Bait Landry Jones
The Browns' best chance for an upset is to win the turnover battle. The defense needs to force Jones to make mistakes by mixing up its blitzes and coverages. A well-disguised look combined with the right pressure could turn the tide in Cleveland's favor.
2. Play ball control
Cleveland's rushing attack has been surprisingly stagnant through nine games. The Browns' formula for winning was supposed to be a power rushing attack behind a strong offensive line. Sustaining drives by grinding the ball out on the ground will keep Pittsburgh's dangerous offense off the field.
3. Use Gary Barnidge in playaction
Barnidge has been the only consistent weapon in the Browns' passing game. Establishing the run will free up Barnidge to do some damage against a Steelers' secondary that has struggled against tight ends this season.
1. Get the ball out quickly
The less Jones has to worry about going through his progressions, the better for Pittsburgh's offense. Fortunately for the Steelers, their receivers should have an easier time getting open with cornerback Joe Haden and safety Donte Whitner still in the concussion protocol.
2. Don't give the ball away
Jones turned the ball over three times in his first start against the Chiefs, a 23-13 loss. The offensive line needs to protect him better than it did in Kansas City because a mistake-free game by Jones should put the Steelers in the win column.
3. Stack the box and jam receivers
The Steelers can afford to take chances on defense since the Browns have a shortage of playmakers on offense. While they need to be wary of Travis Benjamin getting deep, the defense should be aggressive in all phases. Use a safety over the top to help on Benjamin's side of the field and attack everywhere else.