Steelers Scouting Report: What to Expect From the Cleveland Browns
As we head into Week 6 of the 2020 NFL season, it has been an exciting year for Steelers fans so far as they are off to a 4-0 start. However, things haven’t been too difficult so far as the Steelers have yet to face an opponent with a winning record. That changes this Sunday as they will host a 4-1 Cleveland Browns team that has been off to a surprisingly hot start this season. While this AFC North rivalry is typically close regardless of records, this one has even more to play for as the top spot in the division is on the line. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at this week’s opponent, the Cleveland Browns.
There are several injuries to monitor for the Browns this Sunday on both sides of the ball. On offense, they will be without star running back Nick Chubb as he was placed on the IR due to an MCL injury. Kareem Hunt, who is supposed to fill in for Chubb, is listed as questionable with a thigh injury and was limited in practice. Quarterback Baker Mayfield (Chest/ribs) and wide receiver Jarvis Landry (Ribs/hip) are also both listed as questionable. Mayfield was limited in practice and Landry did not participate. Star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was sent home from practice on Thursday and is listed as questionable. Center J.C. Tretter and guard Wyatt Teller are also listed as questionable for Sunday’s game.
On defense, they will be without cornerback Greedy Williams who was placed on the IR with a shoulder injury. Safety Karl Joseph is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury and did not practice on Wednesday. Defensive end Olivier Vernon (Groin) and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (Abdomen) are both listed as questionable. Ogunjobi was limited in practice on Wednesday and Vernon’s practice status was not listed. Linebackers Tae Davis (Elbow) and Jacob Phillips (Knee), along with safety Ronnie Harrison Jr. (Concussion) are all listed as questionable. Davis was limited in practice while Phillips and Harrison are being monitored.
Can Browns offense keep rolling?
As we all saw last year, the Browns had an abundance of weapons on offense and just couldn’t seem to use them to their advantage. That has changed so far this season in their 4-1 start. It all starts with the play of quarterback Baker Mayfield who is playing better this season. He has thrown for 976 yards with nine touchdowns and four interceptions so far.
The biggest difference in their passing game this season is that they are finally finding ways to get Odell Beckham Jr. involved. He has 21 receptions for a team-leading 294 yards and three touchdowns so far. They have also seen solid production from Jarvis Landry who is tied with Beckham with the team lead in receptions with 21 for 279 yards. Hopefully for the Browns, both of these players can go on Sunday. If not, Mayfield will have to rely on receivers Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and Taywan Taylor, along with tight ends Austin Hooper, Harrison Bryant, and David Njoku, and Kareem Hunt out of the backfield in the passing game.
He will be facing a Steelers secondary that has surprisingly struggled at times this season. They rank 18th in the league in passing defense allowing 237.5 yards per game and eight passing touchdowns while coming away with six interceptions so far.
If they want to slow down this passing attack, they will need play making free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and corners Joe Haden and Steven Nelson to show up. It will also help if they can continue to get big games out of TJ Watt and Bud Dupree off the edge.
Luckily for Mayfield, he has also had a very good running game to lean on this year. While losing Chubb could take a huge hit on their production, they still have a very good starter in Kareem Hunt to fill in. Hunt is currently the leading rusher for the Browns with 70 carries for 347 yards and three touchdowns. D’Ernest Johnson should also see some carries.
The Browns will have their hands full on the ground this weekend as they are facing the second ranked rushing defense in the league. Pittsburgh has only allowed 64 rushing yards per game and three rushing touchdowns so far this season. Their front seven speaks for themselves as they don’t have a single weak link on their defensive line or at linebacker.
Browns defense must step up this week
While their offense has seemed to be clicking this season, Cleveland’s defense has been towards the bottom half of the league. They are 21st in the league in total defense allowing 383.4 yards per game and 29.8 points per game this season.
The strong suit of this defense has been against the run. Cleveland ranks fourth in the league in rushing defense allowing only 87 yards per game and five rushing touchdowns so far. Their front seven is led by defensive end and recent Steelers villain Myles Garrett who will be joined by Olivier Vernon at the other end with Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi at the tackles. Adrian Clayborn should also see meaningful time in the rotation at end.
Behind them, B.J. Goodson is the starting mike linebacker with Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki on the outside. Malcolm Smith, Tae Davis, and Jacob Phillips will also be in the linebacker rotation. They will look to slow down a Steelers rushing attack led by James Conner who is off to a solid start with 55 carries for 268 yards and three touchdowns so far.
While they have been great at stopping the run, the same can not be said for their secondary. The Browns are 30th in the league against the pass allowing 296.4 yards per game and 12 passing touchdowns while coming away with six interceptions so far.
Their secondary is led by star cornerback Denzel Ward who will be joined by Terrance Mitchell at the other corner. Karl Joseph is the usual starter at strong safety and his backup Ronnie Harrison Jr. is in concussion protocol so if they can’t go, that spot will be in question. Whoever is in that spot will be joined by Andre Sendejo at free safety.
They will be facing a Steelers passing attack that has been hot through their first four games. Ben Roethlisberger has thrown for 1,016 yards with ten touchdowns and only one interception. It also helps that he has a variety of weapons at his disposal, including breakout rookie receiver Chase Claypool who has 13 receptions for a team-leading 261 yards and four touchdowns.
As is usually the case in all AFC North matchups, I expect this game to be a very close, physical battle until the very end. For the Browns, it all comes down to who will be able to suit up as they have a lot of injuries being monitored. If they have multiple key players out, things could get tough for them down the stretch.
The biggest advantage for the Steelers in this one will be the passing game as I see Ben being able to pick apart this secondary. I see this being a bounce back game for Diontae Johnson assuming he’s ready to go and could also see this being a big game for tight end Eric Ebron as he is starting to find his role in this offense.
At the end of the day, I see the talent of the Steelers taking over in the fourth quarter to hold on for a 31-24 victory.