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Browns vs. Steelers: NFL Week 8 Preview and Prediction

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What happens this time when the Browns and Steelers square off?

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

This week, the Cleveland Browns take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 8 of the NFL regular season. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.


Position-by-Position Evaluation


Quarterback

  • Ben Roethlisberger turned the ball over five times in Week 1 against the Browns — three times via interceptions, and the other two on fumbles. In his five games since then, though, Roethlisberger has not lost a single fumble and has thrown 11 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions. After Cleveland sacked Roethlisberger four times in Week 1, the Steelers have protected him extremely well of late, allowing just one sack over the past three games. Coming off a bye, Roethlisiberger will be tough to take down.
  • Baker Mayfield had a strong second half last week, but the mission this week is finding a way to get the offense going sooner, particularly in the first quarter. One of the big differences that’ll impact the game this week though are the amount of sacks being taken. Compared to Roethlisberger having one sack over the past three games, Mayfield has been sacked 15 times in his last three games. Those negative yards, along with the team’s holding penalties, have created too many long conversion situations that kill drives.

Running Back

  • James Conner has been the Steelers’ workhorse. He ran for 135 yards on 31 carries (4.4 YPC) in Week 1 against the Browns. Conner has had a couple of games where he was stifled this year against the Chiefs and Ravens, but he has surpassed the 100-yard rushing mark in each of his past two games for over 5.0 yards per carry. His receiving skills have been very good too; he has 26 catches for 257 yards.
  • Nick Chubb’s first start of the year went well last week as he tallied 18 carries for 80 yards and 1 touchdown. The 4.4 YPC was higher than what Carlos Hyde had in any individual game this season. The lack of touches for Duke Johnson remains staggering, though. The Buccaneers were hurting big time at linebacker last week, yet Johnson had just 4 catches for 23 yards. That might sound OK for a running back, but Johnson truly is a guy who I think could be getting double that production per week. Will Hue Jackson’s influence get more work for Johnson this week?

Wide Receiver / Tight End

  • Antonio Brown had a perfect catch for a touchdown in Week 1 despite great coverage by rookie CB Denzel Ward. He finished that game with 9 catches for 93 yards. He had a couple of pedestrian games (by his standards), but over the past two games has 11 catches for 206 yards and 3 touchdowns.
  • JuJu Smith-Schuster has been the benefactor of the attention that Brown gets, with four 100+ receiving games this year for a team leading 561 yards receiving. Tight ends Vance McDonald and Jesse James have been productive in the offense this year, each with 274 yards receiving. The tight ends have had catches of 37, 46, 75, 33, and 26 yards.
  • Jarvis Landry had 7 catches for 105 yards against the Steelers in Week 1. One of his best games as a Brown came last Sunday, when he caught 10 passes for 97 yards and 1 touchdown, showing the fire this team has so desperately needed at the position. Antonio Callaway’s involvement has faded over the past three games, totaling just 6 catches for 45 yards. You would think, even with the drops, that the team would find a better way to get him more consistently involved. Breshad Perriman is in line to be the third receiver again.
  • David Njoku has touchdowns in each of the past two games and now had four straight games with over 50 yards receiving. Hopefully that level of involvement extends to this week, because he only had 3 catches for 13 yards against Pittsburgh in Week 1.

Offensive Line

  • The Steelers’ starting offensive line includes LT Alejandro Villanueva, LG Ramon Foster, C Maurkice Pouncey, RG David DeCastro, and RT Matt Feiler. Feiler will make his second straight start in place of the injured Marcus Gilbert. The story here is that Villanueva and Pouncey both had some issues against Myles Garrett and Larry Ogunjobi, but have been solid since then. DeCastro is one of the top guards in the NFL, and I mentioned earlier how clean this group is keeping Big Ben.
  • The Browns’ offensive line definitely needs to be better in spots. It’s a tough mix because you know Joel Bitonio and Kevin Zeitler are locked in, JC Tretter has been consistent, Desmond Harrison is improving, and Chris Hubbard has settled down over the past few games. What can you really do to improve the line at this point? Is it coaching? At the very least, hopefully Harrison has a better game than he did in Week 1, his worst of the season.

Defensive Line

  • The Steelers run a 3-4 defense. Their starting defensive line includes DE Cameron Heyward, NT Javon Hargrave, and DE Stephon Tuitt. Per PFF, “in his past four games against the Browns, Heyward has had at least one sack three times and has 7.5 total against them over his career.” Hargrave doesn’t play many snaps, but he has added the threat of a pass-rush to his game this year with three sacks, a skill that Heyward and Tuitt are typically known for.
  • Myles Garrett is off-the-charts good and definitely proving to be worthy of the No. 1 overall pick. What is crazy is that I still want even more out of him, but that could come down to his utilization. I still favor a few less snaps for Garrett, while also mixing up his utilization at times. Why not stick him inside or against the right tackle very so often? Larry Ogunjobi is really being over-used, especially with all of the overtime games. It really makes you shake your head how a Jamie Meder was cut, and none of the replacement additions can crack the rotation.

Linebacker

  • The Steelers’ starting linebackers include OLB Bud Dupree, ILB Jon Bostic, ILB Vince Williams, and OLB T.J. Watt. It is crazy the amount of success that T.J. Watt has against the Browns. He has 6 sacks on the year, 3 of which were in Week 1 against Cleveland. The other 3 came in Week 5. Bostic has been playing the run well and also has not missed a tackle this year. Dupree and Williams can be targeted in the right moments.
  • The Browns will be without Joe Schobert again, but I feel like we’ve seen some life injected into Christian Kirksey again as the middle linebacker. Genard Avery was one of the players with a big pass-rushing day in Week 1, and Cleveland will need that strong play again against a Pittsburgh team coming off the bye.

Secondary

  • The Steelers’ starting cornerbacks are Joe Haden and Artie Burns. Haden has been having a solid season for Pittsburgh as their top cornerback. Personally, I remember how he started having trouble keeping up with speedy receivers here, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to try to run Antonio Callaway right by him. Burns has struggled mightily — he’s been in-and-out of the starting lineup. He will start Sunday, but will not play all the snaps that a starting corner normally would. Mike Hilton covers the slot well, but the Browns don’t exactly have a threatening player from that spot.
  • Pittsburgh’s starting safeties are Sean Davis and Terrell Edmunds. Edmunds is the one new starter Cleveland faces compared to Week 1. A first-round pick this year, Edmunds took over for veteran Morgan Burnett due to an early-season groin injury. Burnett returns this week to boost Pittsburgh’s depth, but Edmunds will remain the starter.
  • With E.J. Gaines still having a concussion, expect much of the same this week for Cleveland’s secondary: lots of Denzel Ward, Damarious Randall, and Briean Boddy-Calhoun, with T.J. Carrie also getting some nickel work. Ward will have his hands full with Antonio Brown, so it’ll be up to the other three trying to keep the rest of Pittsburgh’s playmakers in check.

Special Teams

  • Chris Boswell is the Steelers’ kicker. Boswell has struggled a bit this year. He is 5-of-8 on kickoffs and 16-of-19 on extra points. Greg Joseph may not instill confidence in fans, but he is 8-on-9 on field goals and 6-of-7 on extra points.
  • Jordan Berry is the Steelers’ punter. He is averaging 43.1 yards per punt with a net average of 39.1; marks that are in the lower half of the league. Britton Colquitt’s average continues to improve, but his net average will be low for awhile due to all of the early-season returns against him.
  • Jabrill Peppers has been much more aggressive the past two weeks on punts, and it has led to big punt returns...but also a fumble that was one of the causes of Cleveland losing in overtime last week. Ryan Switzer of the Steelers has also done pretty well on some of his returns. RB Dontrell Hilliard returned kickoffs for Cleveland last week and had some decent runbacks.

Predictions

Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.


Chris Pokorny: “Pittsburgh’s offense has been playing well and are coming off a commanding win over the Bengals prior to the bye week. I don’t doubt that Cleveland can contend with Pittsburgh, but a few things are just going against them — the Steelers are fresh coming off of a bye, Roethlisberger doesn’t have his offseason rust any more, and there is a bit of dissension on the offensive coaching staff. I’d love for the Browns to take command and gut out another division win, but I think Pittsburgh finds offensive success early on that is too hard to overcome.” Steelers 27, Browns 20.


Mike Hoag: “There hasn’t been an individual game where it seemed the Browns were overmatched. That changes heading into Week 8 in Pittsburgh. The Browns defense is missing a couple key players, and the Steelers are rested off their bye after hitting their stride. James Conner should again be able to have an impressive game on the ground, and the Browns will again have no answer for Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. They could keep it close in a shoot-out, that is if their lazy first-half offense gets it together, but I doubt it.” Steelers 31, Browns 20.


Matt Wood: “I wish I could tell you this is the game where the Browns break through but alas I think this is the week it really breaks the other way. I think the Browns hang for a bit but pressure on the edge leads to a bad turnover for the Browns a quick score for the Steelers which opens the flood gates and the Browns get one hung on em.

Browns Fire Hue Jackson on Monday. Steelers 37, Browns 16.


Thomas Moore: “The wheels have come off for the Browns as they head into the midway point of the season. The quarterback is telling the head coach to stay in his lane, the team’s best playmaker on offense has no idea why he is not getting the ball, the defense continues to lose players to injury, the defensive line is about to fall over from fatigue, and all the while the head coach runs around telling everyone he is the head coach because, well, who really knows?

With all that going on, the Browns are headed to Pittsburgh, where the Browns have only won twice since 1989.” Steelers 28, Browns 10.


Ezweav: “The Curse is feeling it right now, and after that performance against Tampa its mostly gotten over its earlier anger about our having found our starting QB and winning a few games so far (such insolence!)

This week will be the usual - Yinzburgh will get out to a big lead because of course they will, and we will then have to play catch-up. Baker mounts another comeback and forces another overtime (after Greg Joseph’s 16 yard attempt at the end of regulation is blocked by four guys).

The Stillers will take the ball first in OT and take 8 minutes to go down the field (aided by three defensive penalties on 3rd down) and kick a field goal to take the lead. They will then kick to us, and our return guy will let it bounce into the endzone, where it stays in bounds, to be recovered by the enemy, and we’ll become the first team to ever lose an overtime game by over two scores.” Steelers 35, Browns 26.


Andrea Hangst: “This isn’t the week the Browns turn things around. The Steelers are at home and are coming off of a bye week. Their offense is well-equipped to exhaust an already overworked Browns defense. And while the Steelers defense should give Baker Mayfield and company a chance-those missed tackles aren’t going to correct themselves any time soon, it appears-the fact that he’s a rookie headed into Pittsburgh for the first time doesn’t bode well for his, or his team’s chances. Overtime again? Not this week.” Steelers 28, Browns 16.


rufio: “Browns rediscover their offense by letting Baker Mayfield be Baker Mayfield. Gregg has a few tricks up his sleeve for the Pittsburgh offense and gets a few turnovers, but the Browns defense surrenders plenty of yards and points. Nick Chubb breaks off a few explosive runs and Duke Johnson finally touches the ball 10 time or more en route to a Browns win. (We can all dream, right?)” Browns 42, Steelers 35.


Josh Finney: “I’m with Matt; this is the make or break game for this team, and I think they’re too stubborn to change the formula on either offense or defense.” Steelers 34, Browns 17.


Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.