Steelers Scouting Report: What to Expect From the Cleveland Browns

After what seemed like an extremely long bye week, we are back to another Sunday of Pittsburgh Steelers football this weekend. Fortunately, Pittsburgh fans, the Steelers have started to get things going after a rough start to the season and are on a two-game winning streak. However, this week brings a bigger challenge. The Steelers will be seeking revenge from last year’s playoff loss this weekend in a road game against their AFC North rival, the Cleveland Browns. With that being said, let’s take a closer look at this week’s opponent in a matchup that will have huge playoff and division implications.

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Injury Report

While they have still been able to find ways to win, the Browns have been victims of some tough injuries so far this season.

Offensively, they will be without running back Kareem Hunt who was placed on the IR with a calf injury. His backfield partner, Nick Chubb, missed last week and is listed as questionable this week with a calf injury of his own, but was able to practice in a limited fashion on Wednesday. They could also be without starting quarterback Baker Mayfield (labrum) along with receivers Odell Beckham Jr. (shoulder), Jarvis Landry (knee), and Donovan Peoples-Jones (groin), who are all listed as questionable. Mayfield and Beckham were limited in Wednesday’s practice while Landry and Peoples-Jones were unable to participate.  Offensive tackle Jack Conklin was also limited on Wednesday and is listed as questionable with a knee injury.

Defensively, the Browns will be missing rookie linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (ankle) and defensive back M.J. Stewart (hamstring) who were both placed on the IR. Cornerback Denzel Ward could also miss Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury as he did not practice on Wednesday. Fellow corner A.J. Green is also listed as questionable with a shoulder injury but was able to be a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice.

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Cleveland Lives Through Their Run Game

One thing that has been clear when watching Cleveland this year is that they have one of the best rushing attacks in football, regardless of who is in the backfield. This is mainly due to having one of the best offensive line units in the country. With Hunt out, Chubb is their clear lead back with 90 carries for 523 yards and two touchdowns, which puts him at fourth in the league in rushing. However, in Chubb’s absence last week, backup D’Ernest Johnson played very well with 22 carries for 146 yards and a touchdown so he could see some carries as well.

This week, they will be facing a Steelers front seven, led by team captain Cameron Heyward, that is typically solid against the run.  Pittsburgh currently ranks 12th in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing 107.7 yards per game and only two rushing touchdowns on the year. However, they must have someone step up on the interior to help out Heyward as Stephon Tuitt has been missed in a big way so far this season.

The passing game for the Browns has been very inconsistent this season. Mayfield has struggled at times, throwing for 1,474 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions. If he is unable to return this weekend due to his labrum injury, Case Keenum will step in again as the starter. In the win over the Broncos, Keenum played a solid game, throwing for 199 yards and a touchdown with zero interceptions.

The top receiving threat in this Browns offense, so far, has been tight end David Njoku, who has 17 catches for a team-leading 284 yards and a touchdown. He will be joined in the passing attack by Beckham Jr. who is looking to get things going along with Jarvis Landry and Peoples-Jones (if healthy) and fellow tight end Austin Hooper. If Landry or Peoples-Jones are out, Austin Schwartz will have an expanded role in the offense.

The best matchup in this game will be the Browns’ offensive line against the Steelers’ pass rush. Pittsburgh has 15 sacks on the year as a unit, led by T.J. Watt who is third in the NFL with seven sacks.

If Baker or Keenum have time to throw, they will be facing a Steelers secondary that has been average this season. Pittsburgh currently ranks 15th in the league against the pass, allowing 244.7 yards per game and eleven touchdowns while coming away with only two interceptions. They are still waiting on a big play moment from safety Minkah Fitzpatrick but have luckily had a seventh-round pick step up in the secondary in rookie Tre Norwood, who will be a name to continue to watch.

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Browns Defense Has Stepped Up This Year

While the Browns are known by most for their run game on offense, their defense has also been very impressive – for the most part – this year. They currently are sitting at second in the league in total defense, allowing 295.6 yards per game and 23.6 points per game.

The strength of their defense has been against the run, where they rank second in the NFL, allowing only 80.4 rushing yards per game and five rushing touchdowns on the season. Their front seven is led by star defensive end Myles Garrett who has 27 tackles with nine for a loss, so far. He will be joined on the defensive line by Jadeveon Clowney at the other end, and with Malik Jackson and Malik McDowell at the tackles. Behind them, Anthony Walker will be at middle linebacker with Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki on the outside. Malcolm Smith will also be in the linebacker rotation.

This group will be facing a Steelers rushing attack that has been showing a ton of progression in the past couple of weeks. The Pittsburgh offensive line is improving as the season has gone forward, creating room for rookie running back Najee Harris to go to work. This game will be a huge chance for the Steelers to prove themselves on the ground.

Cleveland has also been solid against the pass this year, ranking seventh in the league. They have allowed 215.1 passing yards per game and 16 passing touchdowns while coming away with three interceptions. Their success leans heavily on their pass rush, led by Garrett (who leads the NFL with 9.5 sacks.) However, they have some concerning injuries in the secondary.

Denzel Ward is usually their leader at cornerback, but if he can’t go, Troy Hill will likely start in his place. Rookie Greg Newsome II is listed as the starter at the other corner spot but Greedy Williams is used heavily in the rotation. They will be joined in the secondary by Ronnie Harrison Jr. at strong safety and John Johnson III at free safety. Grant Delpit will also see some time at safety.

This secondary will be up against a Steelers passing attack that has struggled for the most part but has shown signs of improvement. After a rough start, Ben Roethlisberger seems to be a little more comfortable in this new offense. He will look to keep things going in a positive direction and continue to establish a connection with numerous receiving targets. Hopefully, the offensive line can hold their own and keep Garrett away from Roethlisberger as much as possible.

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Final Thoughts

As I mentioned already, this game has a lot on the line. Believe it or not, the Steelers are still very much in the playoff hunt, and obviously, so are the Browns. This is a revenge game for Pittsburgh and I think that plays a huge factor in the outcome.

Defensively, I think the Steelers have to stop the run. If they force Cleveland to try and beat them through the air, I like Pittsburgh’s chances as I don’t think either quarterback – Mayfield or Keenum – will kill them.

On offense, I truly think Roethlisberger will be on a mission in this one after last year’s playoff loss. I see this being his best game of the season and also getting Chase Claypool involved more. This game will be down to the wire, but I think ‘Big Ben’ makes some plays down the stretch to lead the Steelers to a huge road win, 27-21.

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