In between the game and the game, they’re playing the game within the game.
If that seems a little complex for football, it might be. A lot will likely be made of the fact that the teams will be meeting on Sunday night for the second time in eight days, and how that will impact the play on the field in the game that really matters.
The game within the game actually started last week, as the Steelers and Browns decided how much of their actual game plans for one another they wanted to reveal in the regular season contest.
The Steelers, with little to play for, rested four starters, while Cleveland needed the win to secure a playoff berth. So the Steelers had the upper hand when it came to playing games, and they used it.
The Steelers ran out different personnel packages across their formations, some because of the artificially created absences and others, seemingly just out of a desire to mess with their opposition, from a renewed emphasis on the jet sweep to Josh Dobbs’ package of plays as a running quarterback.
Now the Browns will spend a week figuring out how much of what the Steelers showed last week they actually intend on using, while also examining their own game plan for potential improvements as they prepare to face a full-strength Steelers squad.
“It is not like you can Xerox a gameplan,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. “You have to go back in and see what you called, see what worked, see what did not work and see who is available to you, and they will do the same. It is going to be quite the challenge. Again, we respect that team over there. It is a really good team, and we are going to have to play our best to have a chance to beat them.”
Of course, that was before it was revealed on Tuesday that Stefanski, who calls the plays for the Cleveland offense, will miss Sunday’s game, as he, two assistants and two starting offensive players tested positive for COVID-19.
Those absences, along with two more players lost to injury and at least one more potential injury absence, will have the Browns re-working whatever plan they had coming into the week. All of that has combined to make the game within the game not as impactful as it might have been, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said on Tuesday.
“I don’t want to make it sound like it is something significant,” Tomlin said. “It’s simple, prudent business decision making. What’s the potential benefit and what are the potential costs?”
Where the Browns feel they may have some advantage is mentality. While their plan might change drastically from last week to this week based on their available players and coaches and the Steelers’ reinforcements, they are in the same situation as a team: win or else.
“It was win or go home for us already,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “Our playoffs started a week early. It just so happens that we play the same opponent next week. We know what the Steelers are all about.”
JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers Announce Donation to Ryan Shazier Fund for Spinal Rehabilitation
The Pittsburgh Steelers and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster have announced a $10,000 donation to the Ryan Shazier Fund for Spinal Rehabilitation, the latest installment in their Social Justice Grant program.
The @steelers announced donations to @ryanshazierfund from @TeamJuJu with a matching contribution by the team as part of the #Steelers’ Social Justice Grant program to help support community efforts.— Steelers Community Relations (@SteelersCR) January 27, 2021
📝: https://t.co/sWMPRrI7U7 pic.twitter.com/niwPtQrmry
Smith-Schuster donated $5,000, a contribution which the Steelers organization matched.
Shazier’s trials and tribulations are well-documented, having suffered a career-ending spinal cord injury in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals in 2017.
The former Pro Bowler inspired millions throughout his recovery journey, and has turned his misfortune into an opportunity to help others, starting his foundation in November.
“My foundation is about people dealing with spinal cord issues. I dealt with the issue myself. I understand how much support and care you need for those with spinal cord issues,” Shazier told Steelers.com. “Sometimes people don’t get the right amount of care or support or rehab they need. I started this to give them more support, the caregivers more support and help them get more rehab. You always have to do some kind of rehab when injured. For spinal cord, usually you only get 30 sessions of rehab. That’s like trying to teach your kid to walk again in 30 sessions. That is almost impossible.”
For Shazier, it is extra special to have a former Steeler teammate in Smith-Schuster and the organization supporting his cause.
“I am truly thankful for this,” Shazier told Steelers.com. “It means a lot. It lets you know the relationships you built while playing with guys, guys who are from different backgrounds and different parts of the world, really mean something. You have relationships that go beyond football.”
“This doesn’t just mean a lot to mean personally, though. It means a lot because it’s going to help so many people who are going through the same thing I have gone through. JuJu has firsthand experience seeing what I have gone through when we played together. It’s amazing to have someone like that, someone who was a teammate not just support me, but support others.”
Selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft out of Ohio State, Shazier was selected to two Pro Bowls over his four-year career, tallying 299 combined tackles, 24 tackles-for-loss, seven sacks, seven forced fumbles and seven interceptions.
Report: Steelers Interview Former Packers OL Coach James Campen
The Pittsburgh Steelers are reportedly interviewing veteran offensive line coach James Campen for their vacancy at the same position, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac.
Campen is most known for his tenure with the Green Bay Packers, where he served as the club’s offensive line coach from 2007 to 2018. He additionally served as Green Bay’s run game coordinator in 2018, and won Super Bowl XLV over the Steelers in 2012.
He was also the associate head coach and offensive line coach under Freddie Kitchens with the Cleveland Browns in 2019.
Campen was most recently the offensive line coach for the Los Angeles Chargers last season under former head coach Anthony Lynn, but was not retain when Lynn was fired.
The Steelers are looking to fill the vacancy left by former offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett, who, along with offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner and defensive backs coach Tom Bradley, did not have his contract renewed following the 2020 season.
Pittsburgh officially announced the promotion of quarterbacks coach Matt Canada to offensive coordinator on Monday, even though reports indicated head coach Mike Tomlin wanted to first hire the team’s next offensive line coach.
Campen is just the second reported candidate the Steelers have interviewed for the opening. They also reportedly spoke to Detroit offensive line coach Hank Fraley, who has since been retained by new Lions head coach Dan Campbell.
The Steelers’ next offensive line coach will have their hands full from the jump, as they will be tasked with righting an aging unit that produced the league’s worst rushing attack in 2020.
Report: Former Steelers OL Coach Shaun Sarrett Joining LA Chargers
Former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett is reportedly joining the Los Angeles Chargers as their assistant offensive line coach, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.
Sarrett, along with offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner and defensive backs coach Tom Bradley, did not have his contract renewed by Pittsburgh following the 2020 season.
Lackluster play along the offensive line was one of the Steelers’ greatest obstacles in 2020, as the team finished with the league’s worst rushing offense averaging an abysmal 3.6 yards per carry.
Pittsburgh did protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger well, but he rarely faced pressure with the Steelers’ quick-strike passing game, likely by design given the offensive line’s limitations.
Sarrett spent the last nine season in Pittsburgh, taking over for his mentor Mike Munchak as offensive line coach in 2019. Prior, he had served as an offensive assistant (2012-17) and assistant offensive line coach (2018).
The Steelers have reportedly interviewed a pair of candidates to replace Sarrett thus far, most recently speaking with former long-time Green Bay Packers offensive line coach James Campen on Wednesday.