This week, the Cleveland Browns take on the . Will the Browns be able to avoid going 0-3 in the division? Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.
Ben Roethlisberger and Brian Hoyer have both been very effective in leading their offenses this season, and in that sense, I don't see Cleveland being at too big of a disadvantage at the quarterback position.
Hoyer actually takes much fewer sacks, but Roethlisberger also has a higher degree of extending plays and making defenses pay down the field, just like he did to the Browns in Week 1. Until the Browns do something to dispel Roethlisberger's 18-1 record against the Browns too, I feel obligated to give Big Ben the advantage here.
Le'Veon Bell is averaging 5.3 YPC and is basically the team's second leading receiver. Backup running back LeGarrette Blount is averaging 6.4 YPC. It's not easy to stop either one of these guys.
The Browns have found a comfortable trio with Ben Tate, Terrance West, and Isaiah Crowell. To contrast the Steelers, Cleveland only utilizes their running backs on the ground -- they have combined for just 6 catches for 28 yards. You'd think that with how balanced the offense has been that the offense could work in some screen passes to the running backs, but both attempts to Tate failed last week.
Although the Steelers have gotten some productivity out of Markus Wheaton, the team's big threat at receiver remains Antonio Brown, who has 511 yards receiving and 5 touchdowns this year. He is the only wide receiver with a touchdown on the Steelers. I thought about giving Pittsburgh the advantage again because of Brown's effectiveness and the fact that Jordan Cameron doesn't seem to be gelling into Cleveland's offense very well, but I stuck with making it even because really, how could one have any complaints about what Cleveland's receivers have done this year?
Hoyer is spreading the wealth around, and Miles Austin, Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel, and Travis Benjamin are all stepping up when there number is called. With so many viable weapons, you can get some mismatches, like when Benjamin caught the game-winning touchdown against a linebacker last week against the Titans.
Both of these offensive lines are playing insanely well heading into this game. For as underwhelming as the Browns' offensive line was last year, though, Pro Football Focus ranks them No. 1 in the NFL this year, and it appears to be by a pretty significant margin. The Steelers are No. 4 overall, but this is Cleveland's strength of the team, so they deserve the edge.
Forget what the Steelers have -- Cleveland is facing an uphill battle on the defensive line. Phil Taylor and Billy Winn have been ruled out, and Ahtyba Rubin is battling with an ankle injury. Because the Browns did not make any roster moves on Saturday, I'm assuming that Rubin will play. They will be short-staffed and John Hughes and Ishmaa'ily Kitchen should be forced into action.
The Browns might be without Paul Kruger, who is going through a back injury right now. He's been one of Cleveland's best defenders so far, but if he can't go, Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo are prepared to play the whole game. We drafted Mingo for this, but not many Browns fans can be confident in his abilities right now. Inside linebacker Chris Kirksey is also coming off what appeared to be his worst game as a pro.
Despite Cleveland's shortcomings, the Steelers are a linebacking unit that is still without inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, and they were forced to bring James Harrison out of retirement.
If I had to take a guess, I think Joe Haden will take a shot and try to play against the Steelers. Nonetheless, Cleveland's secondary continues to underachieve, and after four games, Justin Gilbert and Pierre Desir, two high draft picks, are basically riding the bench behind undrafted free agent K'Waun Williams. The Steelers are without cornerback Ike Taylor, who has a broken forearm. The rest of Pittsburgh's secondary wasn't much of a factor against Hoyer the last time these two teams met.
With Christian Yount's snaps looking crisp last week, we can only hope that he's snapped out of his slump, and that could continue to mean good things for Billy Cundiff. Both punters are pretty even, but I'm giving the Steelers the advantage because they trust Antonio Brown in the return game, while Travis Benjamin has basically lost his right to return punts after two fumbles.
My gut tells me that the Browns won't be able to stop Pittsburgh. We're guaranteed to be missing two of our defensive linemen, and we could be without our best player in the secondary and our best player at linebacker. I'm going to go ahead and speculate that OLB Paul Kruger will play some limited reps and CB Joe Haden will give-it-a-go due to the magnitude of this game. Also, unlike the other games, Cleveland has the momentum in a way for this game -- the individual players know what worked in that second half on offense and defense, and they will capitalize on that in front of the home crowd.
Cleveland Browns 24, Pittsburgh Steelers 21
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