Here you go. Your weekly list of what needs to happen for the Steelers to be 4-1 come Sunday evening.
This is the obvious one for right now. We finally have our Two-time Super Bowl champion back under center after a four game suspension. The last time he saw regular season action was back on January 3 against the Miami Dolphins where he threw for 220 yards and three touchdowns.
Roethlisberger coming back brings up two questions. Will he be rusty since he hasn't been in real action in over a month? Also, will his bad habit of holding the ball too long only cause a tough Browns defense to get to him after earning eight sacks the last time these two met in a 13-6 loss.
I think the bye week came at the perfect time for this team. He was eligible to come off of suspension last Monday, which gave him almost two full weeks to get back in sync with the rest of the offense. The second question might pose a few problems come Sunday, but I don't think it will cost them the game. For as many times as he holds the ball too long and takes a sack, he makes two or three spectacular plays because of doing it.
The line has only given up nine sacks so far this season and have paved the way to a team rushing average of 133.5 yards a game, good enough to rank eighth among all NFL teams. Keep in mind that they finished 23rd and 19th, respectively, the past two years.
Pass protection has been much improved, but based on past starts when Roethlisberger couldn't play they also looked good in pass protection. Remember when Dennis Dixon didn't take a sack at all in last year's start against the Baltimore Ravens?
There has been discourse over the years that Roethlisberger has had trouble reading blitzes and such. I think it's a combination of both that and his holding the ball a little bit too long. Don't forget that he was sacked 50 times last year (one short of the team record for a single season) yet still was able to pass for over 4,000 yards.
I think that if anybody is thankful that Roethlisberger is back in the lineup, it's the Steelers corps of receivers. Mike Wallace is already among the league's elite in yards per catch (23.4), expect him to get many more deep targets in single coverage. Thus, raising his average.
The player that should benefit most is Heath Miller. Through four games, Miller only has 10 catches for 10 yards and no touchdowns. In my opinion, Miller is actually Roethlisberger's favorite target out there and he always looks for him in the red zone. He's probably the best pass catcher on the team. He had 76 grabs last year, behind Hines Ward's 95 receptions. Hopefully Bruce Arians calls more of those peel-off screens to Miller.
Defensive Line/Pass Rush
Nose tackles Casey Hampton and Chris Hoke were battling leg injuries prior to the bye week. They should be 100 percent for Sunday's game against the Brownies. In fact, the only player on the injury report this week is offensive guard Trai Essex.
In case you didn't get to read my piece on how rookie quarterbacks fare against the Steelers defense, I'll give you the rundown right here.
Kyle Boller 2003: one INT, two sacks
Charlie Frye 2005: eight sacks
Bruce Gradkowski 2006: three INT, five sacks
Get the picture? The bottom line is that it's not looking to pretty for Colt McCoy, who will make his first NFL start on Sunday. Also, the uncertainty of running back Peyton Hillis is also a cause for concern. The lack of running game for the Browns might cause them to throw more often.
I expect the pass rush to be quite effective for the duration of the game. I also expect this game to be a statement by this team.
Official prediction: Steelers 37 Browns 6
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