Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin announced Thursday that several more key starters will rest against the Browns this Sunday. It was already known that Mason Rudolph would start at quarterback in the place of veteran Ben Roethlisberger and now LB T.J. Watt, DE Cam Heyward and C Maurkice Pouncey will also rest, per Steelers beat writer Gerry Dulac.
T.J. Watt is undoubtedly the centerpiece of a formidable Pittsburgh defense that is currently second-best in yards allowed across the league. Watt leads the NFL with 15 sacks and is a frontrunner in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation. The fourth-year edge rusher has proven to be one of the NFL’s most dominant players in all aspects of the game. Cam Heyward is another notable presence on the Steelers’ defensive front; the Ohio State alum is a seasoned veteran and is an effective complement to Watt’s pass-rushing virtuosity off the edge. Their absences in the front seven should create more opportunities for a Browns’ rushing attack that has seen a recent decline in production in past weeks. Fans should expect a strong showing from RB Nick Chubb, who is just 41 yards away from his second 1,000-yard season. Taking away the threats of Watt and Heyward will also take the pressure off of Baker Mayfield and the Browns’ offensive line, who will likely see the return of OT Jedrick Wills and OG Wyatt Teller this week. Mayfield has struggled all year when under pressure and it will be essential that he is able to perform at a high level for the Browns to secure a win against their rival.
With no Ben Roethlisberger on offense, the Steelers will be expected to rely heavily on their run game vs. the Browns. Missing Maurkice Pouncey means that the Steelers’ offensive line will be without a strong veteran leader in the middle, hopefully setting up DT’s Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi to have big games. Even without key players, it is important that the Browns do not underestimate this Steelers team who, despite having little to gain from Sunday’s game, would still love to be the reason that their up-and-coming division rival narrowly misses the playoffs.
(Stats via ESPN.)
(Photo via The Athletic.)