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Browns vs. Steelers: NFL Week 10 Preview and Prediction

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Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns (2-7) take on the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4) in Week 10 of the NFL regular season. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.


Position-by-Position Evaluation

Pos Advantage Reason
QB - Ben Roethlisberger toyed with the media during the week, flirting with the idea that he'd be able to play against the Browns despite suffering a foot injury last week against Oakland. As of this post, we still don't know who will start, but it sounds like Michael Vick tipped off the media that Roethlisberger will not play. If it is Landry Jones, he will make his second start of the year. In two relief appearances against Arizona and Oakland, he's led the team to late victories. In his start against the Chiefs, though, Pittsburgh's offense couldn't gain any traction. Pittsburgh won't take the reigns off of Jones like they did with Michael Vick, but Jones' decision-making over the course of a full game can be suspect.

The Browns also flirted with who would start at quarterback this week between Josh McCown and Johnny Manziel, and head coach Mike Pettine has decided to withhold that information. I would've assumed that McCown would play, as he started getting more work in practice as the week went on. The guy is no doubt a warrior and can lead the offense even with the running game is absent. However, Friday evening, reports surfaced that Manziel will actually start again.

RB Isaiah Crowell looked better than he has all season during the first half of last week's game against the Bengals, and I think him knowing that Robert Turbin wouldn't be in a timeshare with him helped him run with some more confidence. The team activated Glenn Winston from the PUP list this week, and after praising him all of last year, it'll be interesting to see if he finally gets any touches. Two weeks in a row, Duke Johnson has been a great first half weapon, but the coaching staff has forgotten about him in the second half.

Pittsburgh is without Le'Veon Bell, but DeAngelo Williams has been brilliant this year. He has 90 carries for 480 yards, an average of 5.3 yards per carry to go along with 5 touchdowns. Jordan Todman will serve as the team's backup, but Williams is expected to be the workhorse. The element that Pittsburgh will miss is having a receiving back, though, which could hinder a young quarterback like Landry Jones. Pittsburgh gets the edge at running back not because of depth, but because of how explosive Williams has been in 2015.

WR
TE
Antonio Brown has set the standard as the top receiver in the NFL. He can run any route, plays physical, and does a great job gaining yards after the catch. He already has over 1,000 yards receiving and has been assisted by the return of Martavis Bryant to the lineup. Explosive in his own right, Bryant already has 4 touchdowns, including an 88-yard play, since returning to the team. Markus Wheaton and Darrius Heyward-Bey aren't world-class receivers, but both receivers have had a handful of big plays this year at the right time. Until recently, Heath Miller became less involved in the passing game, but remains a solid blocker.

Cleveland should have both Andrew Hawkins and Brian Hartline back this week from their concussions. Overall, the receiving group has been in a three-game slump. Three weeks ago, it was the two fumbles (one for a touchdown) against the Rams. Two weeks ago, it was Hartline's four drops. Last week, it was Gabriel's four drops. This group needs to find a way to snap out of its funk, and that could start with moving Travis Benjamin to the slot in certain situations in an attempt to get him matched up against lesser cornerbacks. Gary Barnidge's production depends on if McCown is under center or not.

OL The big news this week is that Cameron Erving will make his first start of the season, but it's coming at the last position people would have guessed: left guard. Joel Bitonio is out indefinitely with an ankle injury, so it could be Erving's job for awhile, but it's the position he's taken the fewest reps at this year, and even when he has played, he has not stood out on tape. Nonetheless, when you are 2-7, it's a great time to evaluate your younger players, so I'm looking forward to it.

The Steelers' offensive line consists of Alejandro Villanueva at left tackle, Ramon Foster at left guard, Cody Wallace at center, David DeCastro at right guard, and Marcus Gilbert at right tackle. It'll be interesting watching Villanueva, the 6-9 tackle who has flirted with wide receiver, defensive end, and tight end in the past. After a slow start to his career, DeCastro has turned things around. The liability is at center, where Wallace can't match what Maurkice Pouncey would provide the club.
DL Two weeks ago, Robert Turbin put the ball on the ground twice, then didn't play against Cincinnati, and then was waived. While I don't think the Browns would go to that extreme with veteran defensive lineman Randy Starks, I'd be curious to see if his playing time was cut back considerably this week. Danny Shelton will probably continue to face double teams, but if he were ever going to have a breakout type of game, it'd be great to come against Pittsburgh where their biggest liability on the line is a center.

Pittsburgh's starting defensive line includes Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt on the ends and Steve McLendon at nose tackle. Heyward has been playing like an All-Pro player, especially when it comes to getting to the quarterback, and Tuitt has been playing at a high level too. According to Steelers Depot, "through 9 games, opposing offenses are averaging just 2.16 yards per carry when McLendon is on the field."
LB Paul Kruger registered his first full sack of the year against the Bengals, so I'm hoping the monkey is off his back and he can find himself in a rhythm again. He's attempted so often to get around the edge with no success that I don't know what's happened to him faking a move around the edge, only to spin back inside. Also, this is a game where I feel like Barkevious Mingo's length could be of use in catching Landry Jones (if he starts) off guard in some third-down passing situations, but what do I know?

The Steelers' outside linebackers are Arthur Moats and Jarvis Jones, with Bud Dupree and James Harrison filling in as the reserves. At inside linebacker, Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons lead a great tandem. On the outside, Dupree has been a bit of a liability for the defense despite leading the club with four sacks. Harrison is out this week with a knee injury.
DB - Pittsburgh's secondary has not been a high-caliber unit this year, resembling the sore spot of the defense in 2015. William Gay and Antwon Blake cover the outside cornerback spots, with Ross Cockrell being the nickelback. Of the three, Blake has by far been the biggest liability, both in coverage and missed tackles. At safety, Mike Mitchell and Will Allen lead the way. Neither one brings elite-caliber play to the table, but Allen can be exploited a bit more.

Cleveland will be without Joe Haden and Donte Whitner again. Pierre Desir will start for Haden and K'Waun Williams figures to be in the slot, but rookie cornerback Charles Gaines is expected to make his debut. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see Gaines move ahead of Justin Gilbert and Johnson Bademosi on the depth chart with how well he played in the preseason. Jordan Poyer will be back, but I think it'd be a mistake to take Ibraheim Campbell's spot away right now. He's been a bright spot defensively the past two weeks after sitting all year, so why not continue striking while the iron is hot?
ST - Pittsburgh's kicker is Chris Boswell, a rookie who has come in as the team's fourth kicker this year and finally provided some stability. He's connected on 11-of-12 kicks, including one from beyond 50 yards. Travis Coons has only attempted one field goal in his past two games as the team has gotten better results in the red zone, but distance has still remained an issue on his kickoffs.

Andy Lee had two punts that ended up as duds this past Thursday, and I'm still pretty disappointed that he and the coverage units have not been able to down punts at or around the 1 yard line after he seemed to do it left and right in the preseason. Pittsburgh's punter, Jordan Berry, is near the bottom of the NFL in average and net average.

The Steelers' kickoff returner was Dri Archer, averaging 25.3 yards per return, but they released him in favor of the recently-waived Jacoby Jones. In his debut, Jones returned 4 kicks for 83 yards, but has been one of the game's best kick returners in recent years. Jones will also handle punt return duties, with Antonio Brown still getting some opportunities in big moments. The Browns might be fazing Justin Gilbert out of the kick return game already, as we could see Marlon Moore or Duke Johnson back there this week. Travis Benjamin will continue handling punts.



Prediction

The Browns have had too many things go against them during their four-game winning streak, and it's about time that good fortune heads their way. I expect the running game to get off to another good start and whoever the Browns' quarterback is to taking advantage of it off of playaction. If Cleveland can sustain one good drive in the second half this week too, I think Landry Jones (if he starts) will be coerced in to too many mistakes as the Browns could try to drop a linebacker or safety into semi-double-coverage on Antonio Brown. If the quarterback situations change, I can't really do much about changing my prediction.

Cleveland Browns 25, Pittsburgh Steelers 18

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