Of all the X-factors, wild cards, variables and hidden stats attached to the Steelers’ postseason hosting of Cleveland, the Browns at least have this much not to worry about once the ball is kicked off:
Cleveland will not have left its A-game on the practice field.
The Browns will have left their head coach, Kevin Stefanski, and their best offensive lineman, Joel Bitonio, home due to COVID. And if cornerback Denzel Ward is to make it into the game, he’s going to first have to have traversed the James W. Shocknessy Ohio Turnpike. Hopefully, he has an E-ZPass.
Minus Stefanski, the Browns’ long-awaited postseason return is in the hands of a guy who used to be in the navy. What was that line from Hoosiers? “I don’t know why we hired a guy who’s been in the water for the last 10 years.”
Mike Priefer was actually a helicopter pilot for six years but never a head coach, even at Youngstown State or VMI. Priefer has been to the Persian Gulf but two things he hasn’t been previously are Paul Brown and tolerant.
The play-calling, meanwhile, has fallen to Alex Van Pelt. He’s memorable in Steelers’ history for having been screamed at by OC Ron Erhardt after every training camp rep at Saint Vincent College. Erhardt yelled at “AVP” more often than he bummed cigarettes from the media.
Baker Mayfield better have woken up feeling especially dangerous for Cleveland’s sake. And that book club that meets at FirstEnergy Stadium better have discussed in detail how to counter a Mike Hilton blitz from the slot.
The issue wasn’t diminishing skills last week in Cleveland, it was diminishing staff, personnel and on-field preparation.
Are you ready for some football?
The Steelers just lost to the Browns last Sunday, but that was with a JV lineup that still played to win.
Enhance what was a sound plan schematically with varsity execution and a sense of urgency befitting a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs the last two seasons and hasn’t won a playoff game in the last three, and the road to Buffalo is navigable if not accessible by E-ZPass.
Ben Roethlisberger knows how to get there from here.
So does Mike Tomlin.
The navy guy still isn’t likely to give up the ship.
But putting out the fire on the Cuyahoga River is another matter entirely.
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