Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: How heavy rain could affect Steelers in opener vs. Browns
If you thought Le’Veon Bell’s no-show this week was bad, it’s about to rain all over the Pittsburgh Steelers’ season opener on Sunday.
And when it rains in Cleveland, it pours.
Accuweather forecasts are calling for an 84 percent chance of precipitation and up to 3.5 inches or rain for the Steelers-Browns game at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Five ways that could affect the Steelers:
1. Counting on Conner: The Browns play on Kentucky Bluegrass, a natural surface, so field conditions could become an issue.
That could force both teams to rely more on the running game. Bell hasn’t signed his franchise-tag tender or reported for practice, so second-year running back James Conner is expected to make his first NFL start in place of the All-Pro.
Where Bell had 10 carries for 32 yards and three catches for 15 yards in the Steelers’ 21-18 victory at the Browns in the 2017 season opener, Conner had four carries for 11 yards.
Conner has yet to record a 100-yard game or score a touchdown n the regular season, but his teammates have expressed confidence in the second-year back and former Pitt All-American.
It doesn’t hurt that Conner is from Erie.
2. A tough mudder : Ben Roethlisberger reigns in the rain .
The Steelers quarterback had one of his best games in a total downpour, completing 22 of 27 passes for 300 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions in a 43-14 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs at Heinz Field in 2016.
“When you get in conditions like that, I believe Ben’s the best ‘mudder’ in the league,” said Todd Haley, the former Steelers offensive coordinator now calling plays for the Browns. “Sometimes, I root for bad weather.”
Big Ben takes it as a compliment but doesn’t feel the same way.
“I’ve been called that for a long time,” Roethlisberger said. “I guess it’s growing up in Northwest Ohio. Just because I’m used to it doesn’t mean I like it.”
3. Ben owns Ohio: Rain or no, Roethlisberger owns Ohio.
He was raised in Findlay, Ohio, attended Miami (Ohio), and seems fueled by making his home state pay on every return visit.
The Browns passed on Big Ben in the 2004 NFL Draft, selecting tight end Kellen Winslow of Miami (Fla.) sixth overall and allowing Roethlisberger to slip to the Steelers at No. 11.
Roethlisberger owns an 11-2 record at Cleveland, more victories in that stadium than any Browns quarterback since 1999. Tyrod Taylor, by contrast, will making his debut for the Browns and becomes their 29 th starting quarterbacks in 19 seasons.
4. Believe in Boz: If the weather forces the outcome to come down to kicking, the Steelers have the edge in Chris Boswell.
Boswell set Steelers records for field goals (35) and points (42) last season, when he was named to the Pro Bowl. He made only three point-after attempts at Cleveland last year, but kicked four game-winning field goals and three came with the clock expired.
5. Both teams have played in worse: The Steelers and Browns both made a Bleacher Report list of the 50 worst bad weather games in sports history – in the same season.
The Browns beat the Buffalo Bills, 8-0, in a blizzard in December 2007 – known as The Snow Bowl – thanks to a safety on an errant snap and a pair of Phil Dawson field goals despite 40-mph wind gusts.
The Steelers endured the Monday Night Mud fiasco against the Miami Dolphins, when the game was delayed by lightning and new sod was turned into mush by a downpour. Roethlisberger completed three consecutive passes to Hines Ward to set up a 24-yard field goal by Jeff Reed with 17 seconds left for a 3-0 Steelers victory.
It can’t be worse than those games, right?
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin at [email protected] or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.