The 5: Areas Steelers need improvement from against Browns

The Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3) and Cleveland Browns (6-3) will go head-to-head once again in Week 11 in their second AFC North division rivalry game of the 2023 NFL regular season. The stakes are high in the November 19 game at Cleveland Browns Stadium as both teams are dealing with injuries while trying to grab the divisional lead.

In this article, we look at five areas the Steelers need improvement from if they hope to grab their second win of the season against the Browns and take the top spot in the division.

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Run defense

The Steelers enter the game down yet another interior linebacker. Last week, Kwon Alexander suffered a serious injury that leaves the middle of Pittsburgh’s defense exposed. The Browns are expected to rely more heavily on their rushing game as quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who hasn’t thrown a ball since Week 8, gets the start on Sunday.

“We know they’re going to run the ball and try to run the ball effectively, so we better make sure we have the right guys in the game… and get ready for a tough football game.” – Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin

The Browns never completely got away from the run, which means Elandon Roberts will be tasked with quarterbacking the defense and working with Mark Robinson, Mykal Walker, and communicating with the defensive line to keep Cleveland from racking up major rushing yardage.

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Line of scrimmage battles…

Center Mason Cole hasn’t always snapped a clean ball, and he’ll need to focus on doing so as anchor of the Steelers offensive line in order to help quarterback Kenny Pickett get plays off as the offensive line battles a tough Browns defense.

There will be pressure applied to the entire line to win the battle up front, at the line of scrimmage. That requires fighting to limit pressure from Myles Garrett and company, and getting the protection and push needed to create opportunities for Pittsburgh’s offense to operate efficiently.

“We know No. 95 (defensive end Myles Garrett), leading the league in sacks and the tremendous talent that he brings… tremendous challenge for us playing the best defense in the league statistically right now. They’re very, very aggressive whether they’re blitzing or not.” – Offensive coordinator Matt Canada

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… and a counterpunch run game of their own

Broderick Jones has been a difference-maker since being added to the line. He was asked to slide to right tackle, and since then the Steelers have seen an uptick in rushing statistics. There have been more pulls on blocks and better lanes for Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren to navigate.

Getting their own run game going always creates more opportunities in pass play and aids in managing time of possession. If Harris and Warren are able to keep the momentum going that has re-emerged in the last two weeks, the run can also help limit the blitz Cleveland may dial up.

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Accuracy and ball control

When Pickett is on, he’s on. He has struggled at times with accuracy in his throws. That has led to concerns in the Steelers’ passing game. When he has settled in, Pickett has done well orchestrating drives, pushing the ball out to receivers, and putting points on the scoreboard.

It isn’t always pretty, but Pickett has found a way to keep the Steelers in games and an ability to close things out without giving the ball away. That will be key in Week 11.

The receivers need to up their game this week, as well, especially in maintaining control of the ball, having good awareness, and running sharp routes. There have been some incompletions that weren’t on Pickett.

If George Pickens can make sure he actually gets both feet inbounds (a missed touchdown opportunity of the very recent past that was costly), Diontae Johnson can handle contested catches (also a recent past issue) on sharp routes, and other targets zero-in, then Pittsburgh would be able to navigate the challenges Cleveland throws at them with a higher level of efficiency.

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Creating turnovers without giving any away

Pittsburgh has been doing well in the turnover margin. That has been important as they’ve found themselves out-gained in several games. When the Steelers have created turnovers, they’ve won games. Getting takeaways against Cleveland is key. That said, the Steelers can’t afford to execute poorly and give the ball away to the Browns.

In all likelihood, Week 11 will be a close game. A turnover could very well be the difference in who ends up with more points on the scoreboard after 60 minutes of play. It seems simplistic to say that, but the Steelers have narrowly edged-out some opponents this season only because they’ve come away with a turnover at critical moments.

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