USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - NL WEST - Ben Roeth­lis­berger Brown tavis Bryant Gar­rett, DeShone Kizer. well. Le’Veon Bell MarI­sa­iah CroPlayer to watch: Steel­ers CB Joe Haden. Num­ber crunch­ing: 9. Danny Shel­ton

An­nounc­ers: Greg Gum­bel, Trent Green, Jamie Er­dahl

About the Steel­ers: Ex­pec­ta­tions are high, but match the team’s tal­ent and ex­pe­ri­ence level, and the Steel­ers won’t be sat­is­fied with just a re­turn trip to the AFC Cham­pi­onship Game. Star RB was in­jured in that game and didn’t par­tic­i­pate in camp be­cause of a con­tract squab­ble, but he’s play­ing un­der the franchise tag and re­mains one of the NFL’s most dy­namic play­ers. Bell, QB and WR

form a trio as good as any around the league, and the pass­ing game should be even more dan­ger­ous with the re­turn of WR

from a year-long sus­pen­sion. With the re­turn of DE from in­jury and the ad­di­tion of OLB through the draft, the Steel­ers think their de­fen­sive front will be much bet­ter than it was down the stretch last sea­son.

About the Browns: The Browns see go­ing 1-15 last sea­son as a painful yet im­por­tant piece of their lat­est re­build­ing plan. This year’s team has the No. 1 over­all pick, DE and is start­ing a rookie quar­ter­back,

But over­all the Browns are more ma­ture, more tal­ented and more ready to at least com­pete in the rugged AFC North. Kizer un­doubt­edly will have grow­ing pains, but the de­fense is the ex­pected strength of the team, and the Browns spent big in the off­sea­son to bol­ster the of­fen­sive line in hopes the run­ning game will ex­cel and Kizer can re­main up­right. Ex­pect a con­ser­va­tive, run-heavy game plan fea­tur­ing plenty of RB

If the de­fense can stop the run, it will look to cre­ate sacks and turnovers. DeShone Kizer, a 2017 sec­ond-round pick, will start at quar­ter­back for the Browns. Matchup to watch: Steel­ers OLB Bud Dupree vs. Browns LT Joe Thomas. Thomas re­mains one of the game’s best and is headed for 10,000 con­sec­u­tive snaps. The Steel­ers need more out of the out­side line­backer spot and were led in sacks by 39-yearold James Har­ri­son, who’s still pro­duc­tive but shouldn’t be lead­ing the team in that cat­e­gory. For the de­fense to take a leap, Dupree and Watt need to be solid.


Just a week ago Haden was a locker room leader — for the Browns. But the team dumped him af­ter he wouldn’t take a pay cut, and in a mat­ter of hours Haden had a deal with the Steel­ers. The Browns think Haden can’t play at a high level any­more, but the Steel­ers need cor­ners and think they’re get­ting a mo­ti­vated player who has moved past two in­jury-rid­dled sea­sons.

With Haden gone and DT re­cov­er­ing from a knee in­jury and pos­si­bly still at least a week away, the Browns could have nine dif­fer­ent de­fen­sive starters than they had on the field in last year’s sea­son opener.


1. Bombs away: Bell needs to shake the rust, Bryant should be back from sus­pen­sion and Brown can make plays against any­one. Roeth­lis­berger and the Steel­ers will have the Browns’ re­made sec­ondary on high alert.

2. Bait the rookie: If the Steel­ers can get the lead, they’ll try to frus­trate Kizer with blitzes and cov­er­age he hasn’t seen. The win­ner of the turnover bat­tle prob­a­bly wins this game.

3. An­swer the call: The Browns de­fense was miles ahead of the of­fense in the pre­sea­son, and for the Browns to win they’ll need to cre­ate mo­men­tum-chang­ing plays and help the of­fense with solid field po­si­tion.

4. Keep it sim­ple: The Browns must help their rookie quar­ter­back by run­ning the ball well and avoid­ing must-pass sit­u­a­tions.

Zac Jack­son


An­to­nio Cam Hey­ward T.J. Watt Myles

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