Steelers at Browns preview

A look at the major storylines for Week 1

Daryl Ruiter
September 08, 2018 - 12:00 pm
leveland Browns tight end Seth DeValvle (87) and quarterback Tyrod Taylor (5) and running back Carlos Hyde (34) and defensive end Myles Garrett (95) stretch during training camp

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland (92.3 The Fan) – Much has changed since a Deshone Kizer pass went through receiver Corey Coleman’s hands and hit him in the facemask before falling harmlessly to the ground cementing an 0-16 season at Heinz Field on New Year’s Eve.

Kizer and Coleman are both gone – traded this offseason. So are 31 other players.

General manager John Dorsey rebuilt the roster with 8 draft picks, 8 unrestricted free agents, 5 waiver claims and 4 trades, including deals for quarterback Tyrod Taylor, receiver Jarvis Landry and safety Damarious Randall.

Only 19 players – not including the 3 specialists – remain with the team which features a total of 10 new starters. No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield will learn from the sideline while No. 4 pick cornerback Denzel Ward will start.

Here’s a look at the major storylines entering the Week 1 matchup between the Browns and Steelers.

Pray for (no) rain – Mother nature will be a major factor Sunday with heavy rain and strong winds expected in the forecast all afternoon. 2-4 inches of rain, including localized flooding and winds of 20-40 miles per hour are expected throughout the day.

Help from Haley – Todd Haley was hired as offensive coordinator by the Browns in January after his contract in Pittsburgh was not renewed amid reports of tension with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Jackson has turned the keys to the offense completely over to Haley, who spent 6 years under Mike Tomlin and went 10-2 against the Browns.

Silent Bell – Le’Veon Bell’s holdout means one less ‘killer B’ to worry about Sunday. It’ll be second-year back James Conner will take over carrying the load on the ground.  Conner was a third-round pick in 2017 for Pittsburgh and they expect big things from him, which might be why they’ve played hard ball with Bell the last 2 years, declining to give him a rich long-term deal. He ran just 24 times last season for 144 yards in limited time as a rookie.

Ward v Brown – Ward’s baptism by fire begins with Antonio Brown. The 6-time Pro Bowl and 4-time all-pro is the premiere wideout in the division – if not the NFL – and a big reason the Browns felt it necessary to draft Ward fourth overall. While the burden won’t solely be on Ward to slow Brown, the Ohio State Buckeye gets his first of many tests to come right out of the game.

Carry the load – With tropical storm-like conditions in the forecast, the new-look backfield of Carlos Hyde, Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson should see plenty of work.

Replacing Joe – Desmond Harrison has the unenviable task of replacing future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas at left tackle, a decision that wasn’t made until this week. Harrison, and undrafted rookie free agent from Western Georgia won’t get much time to acclimate himself to the NFL with Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward lining up on the other side along with right outside linebacker Bud Dupree.

Stop the bleeding – The Browns haven’t won a regular season game since a 20-17 victory over the Chargers on Dec. 24, 2016, a streak of 17 straight games. A loss Sunday would set a new franchise record for the most consecutive regular season losses and tie the team for the third longest losing streak in NFL history.

Cleveland, which has lost 34 of their last 35 games and 50 of 55 dating back to Nov. 16, 2014, is 1-18 in Week 1 since 1999 with the only win coming in Sept. 12, 2004 – 20-3 over the Ravens.

Last time – Dec. 31, 2017: Steelers 28, Browns 17

Series – Overall: 72-58 Steelers; since 1999: 33-6 (including playoffs) Steelers.

Projected starters – Offense: WR Jarvis Landry, TE Darren Fells, LT Desmond Harrison, LG Joel Bitonio, C JC Tretter, RG Spencer Drango, RT Chris Hubbard, QB Tyrod Taylor, TE David Njoku, WR Rashard Higgins, RB Carlos Hyde

Defense: DE Myles Garrett, DT Larry Ogunjobi, DT Trevon Coley, DE Emmanuel Ogbah, WILL Christian Kirksey, MIKE Joe Schobert, SAM Jamie Collins, CB Denzel Ward, CB Terrance Mitchell, FS Damarious Randall, SS Jabrill Peppers

Uniforms – White jerseys, white pants

Broadcast information – Radio: 92.3 The Fan, 98.5 WNCX and the University Hospitals Cleveland Browns radio network. TV: WOIO TV-19 (CBS).

Kickoff – 1:03 p.m. FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio