In Week 1 of the NFL season, the much talked about Cleveland Browns will make their way to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers. A few weeks ago, the Browns made the decision to start Brian Hoyer over the polarizing Johnny Manziel, but Pittsburgh is still preparing as if both quarterbacks will play come Sunday.
Steelers Defensive Coordinator Dick Labeau has long said he expects the Heisman winner Manziel to play Week 1, even though the Browns have not hinted at a two QB system. He will be preparing his team for this possibility, because if it does happen, they need to adjust to Manziel’s unique style of play. Pittsburgh’s defense is very experienced, but it has had trouble dealing with more mobile quarterbacks in the past, such as facing off against Tim Tebow in the 2011 playoffs. Preparing for both QB’s will not hurt even if only Hoyer plays, because they know more of what to expect from him, as he has a much less improvisational style.
The process for the Browns to pick their starting QB was a long and highly publicized one. Brian Hoyer won the job, but many think that Manziel will eventually get at least a few starts throughout the year and maybe even win the starting job outright before the year ends. If Labeau is right, and he does get some playing time against the Steelers, that could be the first step to getting more playing time. That scenario could also lead to more of a two QB system, where Manziel is brought in to bring more of a running threat to the Browns’ offense.
Opening the season with a divisional game means a win will be crucial for both the Steelers and Browns. Neither team is expected to be elite, but more is expected from Pittsburgh than Cleveland coming into this season. Some pundits have Pittsburgh making the playoffs, but most people expect them to be just on the edge of a wildcard spot come playoff time.
The Steelers often-heralded defense has taken some visible steps back over the last few years, and they have some major question marks surrounding them coming into 2014. Some holes were addressed in the draft with players like Stephon Tuitt and Ryan Shazier, but holes in the secondary remain. The only draft pick Pittsburgh used to address their aging secondary was in the fifth round, taking Shaquille Richardson, who they just released in the last round of cuts. This is a glaring weakness, especially with the advanced age of Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor. For them to meet their potential as a possible playoff team, they will need to stay healthy and get some immediate production from some young players.
For the first time in a long time, the Steelers offense could be much better than their defense. Over the last two years, under Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley, the offense has transitioned to a more passing attack, which has greatly increased Ben Roethlisberger’s passing numbers. The connection between Big Ben and receiver Antonio Brown has become one of the most dynamic in the league, and the offensive line should be much improved if only because of familiarity. A big jump should be made by second year running back Leveon Bell, who showed flashes of stardom at times during his rookie year.
The Steelers are preparing for both Johnny Manziel and Brian Hoyer to play in their opening game against the Cleveland Browns. This will help them be ready for any possibility the Browns offense can throw at them in a game that will be crucial for both teams in the AFC North.
Commentary by Max Petkevicius