Le’Veon Bell may not suit up for the Steelers against the Browns, but Antonio Brown is ready to go for the start of the regular season.
The Browns are catching a break that Le’Veon Bell almost certainly won’t be ready to play for the Steelers in their Week 1 matchup. That doesn’t mean Pittsburgh is devoid of offensive weapons. Antonio Brown is going to present the Cleveland defense with a massive challenge.
The Steelers have been cautious with their star wideout during the preseason as he’s been recovering from a quad injury in August. The shackles are set to come off Brown on Sunday. Mike Tomlin promises his Pro Bowl wideout will be a “full go” when the regular season kicks off.
That’s bad news for rookie cornerback Denzel Ward. He should get a fair number of snaps against Brown in his first NFL contest. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will try to give Ward support by bringing pressure against Ben Roethlisberger. The challenge will be getting Big Ben on the ground. He’s one of the best signal callers in the league at shrugging off pressure to make big time plays down the field.
The return of Brown to full health should be a big boost for Juju Smith-Schuster and the rest of the Steelers’ receiving corps as well. If the Browns focus too much of their energy on shutting Brown down, they may be vulnerable to big plays from his teammates.
In addition to Smith-Schuster, don’t rule out the possibility of tight ends like Vance McDonald and Jessie James hurting the Browns down the seam. Both players will present a unique challenge to Jabril Peppers in pass coverage.
It’s safe to assume that Pittsburgh’s ability to throw the ball down the field is going to be a big story as long as Bell is unavailable. That’s going to shift even more focus to Brown than ever before. Fortunately for the Steelers, he’s got the talent and health to torture opposing defenses in Bell’s absence. He could be in line for a massive performance in Week 1.