1) Joe Haden vs. Antonio Brown
It's not a secret the Pittsburgh Steeler receiver has often performed well against Haden. In two games last season, Brown hauled in a combined 15 catches for 179 yards against Cleveland, with Haden marking him most of the game. Even though Brown and Haden are nearly identical in size, the Browns' Pro Bowl cornerback often tells reporters the Steelers' top receiver is his toughest matchup in the NFL.
"Every corner kind of has their style that's basically like kryptonite to them," said Browns head coach Mike Pettine. "It was Stevie Johnson with [Darrelle] Revis because of the unique way that he came off the ball."
Cleveland is still going to trust Haden to check Brown for a large part of the game. But the Browns coaching staff was honest in saying they will also use Buster Skrine and maybe even Justin Gilbert.
"I'm never a fan of kind of giving an offense just a steady diet of the same matchups and the same types of coverages," said Pettine. "There will be times that [Brown will be in] single coverage. There will be times when he's doubled. Joe will be involved with that a lot. Sometimes, he won't."
"We have legitimate starters on every position of this defense," said Haden. "We have people that make plays – impact players. We just need to make sure everybody does their job, and this defense can be special."
2) Can the Browns sustain a consistent pass rush against the Steelers?
We detailed earlier in the week how sacking Ben Roethlisberger will be the ultimate key for the Browns on defense. That's easier said than done.
At the moment, defensive end Desmond Bryant has not been able to practice all week (wrist), meaning Armonty Bryant will likely get the start in his place. Armonty's progression in the preseason was perhaps the greatest revelation for the pass rush during the summer months. Still, Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin haven't exactly proven to be known commodities in terms of sacking quarterbacks.
Cleveland is going to rely heavily on all three of their outside linebackers – Barkevious Mingo, Paul Kruger and Jabaal Sheard – to help collapse the pocket around Roethlisberger. In particularly, watch for Mingo. His speed will translate well against Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert. The 330-pound Gilbert has trouble with speed rushers off the edge and allowed 11 sacks in 2013, third most in the NFL.
3) What will third-downs be like for Brian Hoyer an the offense?
If Cleveland finds themselves in a ton of third-down and long situations against Pittsburgh, it could be a long afternoon against the Steelers.
Watch for the Browns to come early and use more short throws than you'd anticipate. Wide receiver screens to Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel might not turn out to be big 30-yard plays. Pittsburgh is expecting a heavy dose of the running game, so an up-tempo, quick-hitting passing attack could catch the Steelers off guard.
4) Which free agent newcomer makes the biggest impact?
Ben Tate – The Steelers were 1-7 in 2013 when they surrendered more than 80 yards rushing. Tate is one of the few running backs who is completely fine grinding four yards at a time. He doesn't try and force hitting a home run by cutting outside. Expect the veteran to get close to 20 carries.
Andrew Hawkins – Hoyer has long called Hawkins a miniature Wes Welker. Hoyer and Hawkins clearly had the most chemistry in training camp. Now it must be translated on the field. The former Cincinnati Bengal matches up well against the aging Ike Taylor (34), and has potential to blow by the cornerback in a yards-after-catch scenario.
Karlos Dansby – Many are pegging Steelers tight end Heath Miller to have a breakout fantasy season. There's no better first test for Dansby to not only prove covering tight ends won't be a weakness for Cleveland, but rather a strong suit.
Donte Whitner – The Browns' vocal leader has said all the right things since walking into the building. Now it's time to show Cleveland he's capable of walking the walk, too. Whitner needs to do what he did early against the Detroit Lions: completely lay out a wide receiver over the middle of the field to remind the Steelers receivers how dangerous of a hitter he can be.