- Mason Rudolph has done a solid job taking over for Ben Roethlisberger, all things considered. However, he's not at the point where he presents an advantage for Pittsburgh. He holds onto the ball too long and can get into spurts where he can't complete anything but short passes -- although he has gotten better as of late, dropping some sideline passes right into the breadbasket of his receivers.
- Baker Mayfield has gone two straight games without an interception, and had his first multi touchdown passing game last week to go along with a higher completion percentage. Mayfield is starting to look like the quarterback we loved from a year ago again.
- The Steelers will have James Conner back for today's game, but his shoulder still isn't in the best shape. Conner had a big game prior to his injury against the Dolphins, but before that, he was only averaging about 3.5 yards per carry on the year. Conner himself is a very good running and receiving back, but the Steelers aren't a good run blocking team, which has limited his impact.
- Conner's backup, Jaylen Samuels, has struggled even more, averaging just 2.2 YPC this season. That's almost impossible to do with 40 carries under your belt.
- Cleveland utilized the dual backfield of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt last week, and it worked wonders. They'd be crazy not to do it again, and I'd expect Hunt's reps to increase to more than half of the game.
Wide Receiver / Tight End
- The Steelers’ top two receivers are JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson, with James Washington also getting third receiver reps. Smith-Schuster has been handicapped without Antonio Brown or Ben Roethlisberger this year, but still leads the team with 36 catches for 503 yards and 3 touchdowns. Johnson, a third-round pick, has 30 catches for 363 yards and 3 touchdowns, and has caught passes of 39, 43, 45, and 30 yards from Rudolph. Tight end Vance McDonald is another player whose stats are down without Big Ben: he has 25 catches for 187 yards and 3 touchdowns
- Over the past two games, Jarvis Landry has now seen 23 targets from Baker Mayfield and has 2 touchdown grabs. The two are definitely on the same page right now, but Odell Beckham still isn’t gelling with Mayfield. Despite that, it’s essential that Cleveland still gets Beckham involved -- the 12 targets last week, even with just 5 catches, was a good start.
- With the late news of Antonio Callaway’s suspension, it has the side effect we’ve all been dying for: Rashard Higgins should be firmly entrenched as the third receiver again. Also, it sounds like Ricky Seals-Jones might be able to play today, which would be another weapon for Mayfield.
- The Steelers’ starting offensive line features LT Alejandro Villanueva, LG Ramon Foster, C Maurkice Pouncey, RG David DeCastro, and RT Matt Feiler. The line itself is pretty solid, led by DeCastro at right guard. Feiler has played surprisingly well at right tackle. But teams are able to load up against Pittsburgh with their lack of weapons, hurting their ability to open running lanes.
- Are we starting to see the Browns’ offensive line settle down a bit? One thing remains clear and concerning: when this team needs to go man on man for a goal line package, they can’t win the battle. They aren’t physically imposing. But in zone blocking, they are doing a pretty good job, and the pass protection has been adequate. We’ll see how they handle an imposing Steelers front, though.
Defensive Line / Linebacker
- The Steelers run a 3-4 defense, with DT Cameron Heyward, NT Javon Hargrave, and DE Tyson Alualu. Alualu will play the fewest snaps in that group, as it really turns to Pittsburgh’s deep group of linebackers to have an impact with T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Mark Barron, and Devin Bush.
- Watt has been an absolute killer to the Browns in his young career, and he’s having a terrific season with 9.5 sacks, 22 quarterback hits, and 4 forced fumbles. Dupree also has 6 sacks. It’ll be essential for Cleveland to get the ball out quick, with each of their running backs serving as checkdown options to avoid sacks when the pressure comes.
- Myles Garrett has gone two games without a sack, but Mason Rudolph hangs onto the ball long at times and can be susceptible to some hits. I was intrigued by the play of Chad Thomas last week, but this will be a big test for him to show whether he can be counted on to hold down the fort until Olivier Vernon gets back. This is also a big game for Mack Wilson, who had a bunch of flashy interceptions in camp but has yet to log one during the regular season this week. He could sneak underneath a route today for one.
- The Steelers’ two starting cornerbacks are Joe Haden and Steven Nelson, with Mike Hilton being the nickelback. Pittsburgh’s starting safeties are FS Minkah Fitzpatrick and SS Terrell Edmunds. This unit has gone from a weakness in the past to a top-notch unit. Haden is back to being his shutdown self, while Fitzpatrick has made game-changing plays week in and week out. Hilton is one of the league’s better nickelbacks, and Nelson and Edmunds have performed well too.
- Without Jermaine Whitehead taking on playing time last week, Cleveland’s secondary started coming back to form. The nickel situation has still been iffy, probably because the team has switched nickelbacks all season between T.J. Carrie, Whitehead, Eric Murray, and Juston Burris.
- Chris Boswell is the Steelers’ kicker. He is 18-of-19 on field goals and 18-of-19 on extra points, rebounding from his struggles a year ago. Funny enough, Austin Seibert remains perfect on field goals, but have missed three extra points (although one was blocked, and one was a 48-yard try due to a penalty).
- Jordan Berry is the Steelers’ punter. He is 16th in the NFL with an average of 46.1 yards per punt, but 27th in the NFL with a net average of 40.8 yards per punt. Jamie Gillan gets the slight edge in both categories.
- James Washington should handle kickoffs, with Diontae Johnson handling punts. Ryan Switzer normally handles both duties, but he is out to injury. The Browns have been keeping Dontrell Hilliard back on punts, but he’s had a few too many muffs for my liking; it’s time to put Jarvis Landry back deep again.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “The Steelers’ defense has been opportunistic, and the offense has done enough, all things considered (losing their QB, injuries at RB, and wide receiver depletion). It is really a credit to Mike Tomlin for how he kept this group motivated, and now has them playing as hungry as ever. With that said, Cleveland came up big in their only division game against Baltimore this season and have started to reduce the number of mistakes made on offense. Pittsburgh’s winning streak ends this week in a low-scoring game that the Browns have the leg up on with their ground game.” Browns 24, Steelers 20.
Matt Wood: “It’s hate week. Browns rock the Steelers and start scaring the rest of the AFC.” Browns 31, Steelers 16.
rufio: “Browns win. Odell has a big day, and despite a few turnovers the Browns are able to score and move the ball. The defense gets a few turnovers of their own, surprising the steelers with a few new zone blitz looks and utilizing the talents of Denzel Ward.” Browns 28, Steelers 17.
Tom Moore: “If the Browns truly want to signal their intent that this is not going to be a completely lost season, then it has to happen on Thursday night. You are at home against your alleged rival. With almost all of the offensive weapons on hand, and a defense that is overdue to make a statement, the Browns simply have to find a way to win the game and help erase some of the disappointment from the first half of the season.
Tim Couch did it (three times). Even Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer found a way to do it. It’s time for Baker Mayfield to open his account against the Steelers, time for the defense to hit back against a team that has bullied the Browns for the past two decades, and time for the Browns to regain some form of control on the season.” Browns 17, Steelers 10.
BigTownBrown: “Thursday Night Football is coming to FES and along with primetime comes the red hot Pittsburgh Steelers. Winners of 4 in a row the Steelers are in position to make a playoff push with the Browns in the way. Looking up and down Pittsburgh’s defensive roster I just don’t see any way the Browns will be able to score on them.
Not practicing on Monday for a Thursday night game the Browns will be unprepared to handle Maddison Adolf and Jeff Cannor. Baker and Co will be focused on the air attack while trailing all game ignoring the run as Chubb only racks up 30 yards rushing. OBJ has a melt down on the sidelines and Baker MehField doesn’t even go to his post game interview. The end is near, but not until we get embarrassed by the Steelers at home on prime time TV.” Steelers 40, Browns 0.
Barry Shuck: “Several good things happened last week. Zero turnovers for one, a handful of penalties for another, Kareem Hunt is definitely a new toy that just came out of its cellophane, the OLine finally gave some pass blocking, and the Browns won their first home game of the season. The Steelers are on fire. Desperate game for both clubs. Pittsburgh has to win to keep up with the Ravens and the Browns have a 13% chance of making the playoffs - but each win makes that percentage go further up. Can the Browns win two games in a row? Hmmm.....” Browns 24, Steelers 20.
Mike Hoag: “9-7 is the perfect record to miss the playoffs this season via tiebreaker to the Titans. Same old Browns.” Browns 23, Steelers 17.
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.