Cleveland could have three key players back in the lineup for the Steelers-Browns wild-card matchup tomorrow night.
Cleveland could have three key players back in the lineup for the Steelers-Browns wild-card matchup tomorrow night: tight end Harrison Bryant, safety Ronnie Harrison, Jr. and linebacker Malcolm Smith. They were activated off the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Saturday.
Bryant and Smith both tested positive and were placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Dec. 31. Neither played in the Week 17 finale. Harrison, however, just tested positive two days ago. It’s presumed that it was a false-positive, and he tested negative twice since. Otherwise, players who test positive need to quarantine for 10 days, as is the case with Steelers cornerback Joe Haden. Though it’s unclear exactly what day he tested positive, Haden was placed on Reserve/COVID-19 list on Jan. 2.
In 11 games, Harrison has 38 tackles (24 solo), a pick-six, seven defended passes and a fumble recovery. He played 100 percent of snaps versus the Steelers and logged six tackles (five solo) and a defended pass.
Smith had appeared in 15 games and registered 72 tackles (49 solo), a sack, forced fumble and interception.
The rookie tight end posted 24 receptions for 238 and three scores. He’s been significant for Cleveland on first down, notching 14 in 15 games.
Though it’s not official whether they’ll play, expect them to be in the lineup tomorrow.
Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield had more rushing yards than running back Kareem Hunt versus Pittsburgh in Week 17.
The Cleveland Browns are a run-first team and have one of the best at it with Nick Chubb. The Steelers had the luxury of facing the Browns sans Chubb in their first matchup in Week 6. He’s averaging 5.6 yards per attempt this season, the best of his three-year career. Take away the 47-yard touchdown, in which the Steelers had several missed tackles; Pittsburgh kept Chubbs relatively in check with 61 yards on the ground.
But after Sunday’s game, the Steelers have a new wrinkle to game plan for — quarterback Baker Mayfield escaping the pocket and taking off. In his previous four games versus Pittsburgh, Mayfield had a total of 4 rushes for 17 yards. This week, he had six rushes for 44 yards — three to his left and one right.
Mayfield, who had more yards on the ground than Kareem Hunt, had a big run for 28 yards in Steelers territory, ultimately setting them up for a score. And, of course, the critical third-down conversion with a minute left in the game. His three-yard run allowed the Browns to run the clock down for the win.
“I thought we have to do a better job of containing [Baker] Mayfield,” said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin in his weekly press conference. “He hurt us with his legs some. Not only the big run, like the big run in the latter part of the third quarter that produced a touchdown drive, but also conversion runs, third-down runs when he was scrambling around and converting. We know he is capable of that. So, our rush has to be better, not only in terms of applying pressure but containing him, minimizing that component of play.”
What does the veteran QB have to say to his receivers as they head into the playoffs?
Sunday will be Ben Roethlisberger’s 10th season taking the Pittsburgh Steelers to the playoffs in his 17-year career. With a playoff record of 13-8, he’s thrown for 5,256 yards and 30 touchdowns.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, a then-rookie at the tender age of 21, was on the receiving end of exactly five of those yards in Pittsburgh’s one-and-done, 45-42 heartbreaker with the Jacksonville Jaguars back in 2018.
James Washington, Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool have exactly zero NFL playoff experience.
What does the veteran QB have to say to his young corp of receivers as they head into the playoffs? The message was simple: Don’t take it for granted.
“There are a lot of guys that don’t understand what it’s about. I get it,” said Roethlisberger in a Wednesday press conference. “You’re thinking I am young; I’ll get back. It’s not guaranteed. I think all of the veteran guys, as we are winding down our careers, understand we don’t know what is next — if there is going to be a next for some guys. We want to make the most of our opportunity, and we keep trying to tell those guys and emphasize to them how important this time is.”
Roethlisberger’s advice for all players is something he lives by.
“I think every player should approach this playoff game like it could be their last playoff game ever,” he said. “We’ve used examples of players and coaches who have been in this league for a long time that have never been in the postseason, never been to a Super Bowl, whatever it may be. I think it’s prudent for every player to take that mindset and approach. I know I am because nothing is guaranteed in the game or this world.”
With the playoffs impending and sitting out the Week 17 game, there’s no more important week to get back into a rhythm than this one.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is doing something today that he hasn’t done all season — practice on a Wednesday.
Big Ben shared in a Zoom press conference with the Pittsburgh media that since he rested last week he’ll participate in practice today. Throughout the season, Roethlisberger has been listed on Wednesday practice reports as “DNP” or did not practice, without an injury designation — it’s a standard day off for the quarterback.
With the playoffs impending and sitting out the final regular-season game, there’s no more important week to get back into a rhythm than this one. Roethlisberger said the only throwing he did last week was to his kids.
Big Ben said he watched the Steelers-Browns game with his wife and kids. His son, Ben, Jr., is “very involved” and asked him questions every other play.
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach provided update on linebacker Robert Spillane in Tuesday’s press conference.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been without playmaking linebacker Robert Spillane for the past four games but could get him back just when they need him. Spillane suffered a knee injury versus the Washington Football Team and was placed on injured reserve.
In his weekly press conference, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin spoke of the significance of having both Spillane and offensive lineman Matt Feiler could back in time for Browns matchup. “The inclusion, or potential inclusion, of those guys is exciting,” said Tomlin. “But it also creates some challenges from a decision-making standpoint because we feel like we have some options. The guys who have played in place of those guys have done some good work for us. That’s a good problem to have as we prepare this week.”
Rookie guard Kevin Dotson has played in place of Feiler, who was struggling mightily after moving from tackle to guard in the offseason, and the offensive line has performed better because of it.
Linebacker Avery Williamson, who the Steelers signed after Devin Bush went down for the season, has been hot and cold. Williamson will continue to rotate in, as he did prior to Spillane’s injury, but there’s no way Williamson starts if Spillane is healthy.
Dotson, on the other hand, cannot and should not be supplanted by Feiler.
Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski, four players and coaches, tested positive for COVID-19.
The Cleveland Browns will head into the wild-card round without their head coach. Kevin Stefanski, who took the Browns to the playoffs in his first season with the team, tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday. He will not be coaching in Sunday’s playoff game.
Per a statement from Cleveland, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer will serve as acting head coach. NFL Network reporter Mike Garafolo tweeted that offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt is expected to call plays.
Two other members of the coaching staff, as well as two players, have also tested positive. Their names have not been released.
Browns DE Olivier Vernon has been diagnosed with a torn ACL, and will not play in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
The Cleveland Browns will be without a significant piece of their defense on Sunday at Heinz Field.
Defensive back Olivier Vernon, who exited the game the Week 17 game with a lower leg injury, was diagnosed with a torn ACL on Monday.
Vernon had nine sacks on the season, including one on Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph.
Pittsburgh faced a Cleveland defense that was down five rotational defensive players, including starters at cornerback and safety, Denzel Ward and Andrew Sendejo.
It’s too early to tell who from the Browns will be back for the Wild Card matchup, but it won’t be Vernon.