Browns’ Offense to be at Full Strength vs. Weakened Defense
- This is a different Baker Mayfield than the Steelers saw the last time. If you recall, Mayfield had hurt his ribs in Week 5 against the Colts, then had to take on the heavy-blitzing Steelers defense in Week 6. I think the injury was in the back of Mayfield’s head — he was feeling the pain of the defense hitting him before they even did. This time, not only is Mayfield healthy, but he is playing at a way higher level as a quarterback.
- Cleveland gets Wyatt Teller and Jedrick Wills back this week to have their offensive line at full strength. Teller didn’t play the last time these two teams met, and neither did Nick Chubb. The Browns’ results on the ground are astronomically different when Teller plays.
- The Browns have their Top 4 wide receivers back from the reserve/COVID-19 list. I guess if you want to look at the upside of things, they probably have really fresh legs after the week off. Also, Kevin Stefanski possibly has two weeks worth of playcalls he can dial up if there are some tricks he has up his sleeves. Tight end is the only position that Cleveland is missing an offensive player at with TE Harrison Bryant.
- Pittsburgh is resting a few of players on defense, but they’re also missing some defensive players to injury or the reserve/COVID-19 list. DE Cameron Heyward and OLB T.J. Watt are being rested. Watt is among the best edge rushers in the NFL, sacking quarterbacks left and right and also playing at a very high level against the run. He could be the Defensive MVP of the NFL this year:
Khalil Mack— PFF (@PFF) December 29, 2020
PFF's highest-graded Edge Defenders of 2020 pic.twitter.com/ENYTVCLgdi
- Heyward’s absence in run defense will be noticeable too:
Heyward is PFF’s third-highest-graded interior defender versus the run (90.3), and Watt is second to only Bud Dupree (on IR) in run stops among Pittsburgh defensive ends this season.
- In the secondary, Minkah Fitzpatrick might still play and is always a dangerous player. But their other starting safety, Terrell Edmunds, is out with an injury. CB Joe Haden tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday and is also out. With the stakes being what they are, its possible that Pittsburgh really doesn’t even play a guy like Fitzpatrick (and LB Bud Dupree won’t be there at all, since he’s on IR).
- Basically, Cleveland is at full strength on offense against a Steelers defense that is missing half its players. If the Browns’ offense struggles, then I don’t know what to say. There is no excuse to not executing at a high level this week.
Pittsburgh’s Offense vs. a Weakened Browns Defense
- Now let’s talk about the Steelers. Please, god, do not let Mason Rudolph get the better of the Browns. He had a very bad outing against Cleveland last season, a game in which he threw for 4 interceptions and was sacked several times too. He is not a good quarterback, although he’s usually better than what he showed in that game. He isn’t afraid to stand in the pocket and deliver a throw, and Cleveland won’t have to worry about him scrambling.
- I think Rudolph will be a bit jittery at times, thinking about Myles Garrett coming around the edge to get him. And how could you not be? I don’t care who you are — if you get cracked in the skull with a helmet like that, you can’t just put that moment out of your head. Garrett is also going to be the Browns’ captain this week, and I’m sure he is going to be very conscious about how he hits Rudolph. The officials will be watching closely too and probably won’t hesitate to throw a flag on Garrett for even a clean-looking hit.
- Cleveland is missing both of their top linebackers in B.J. Goodson and Malcolm Smith. That might not sound like a big deal, considering our linebacking corp is not great to begin with. But Goodson is a solid player, and Smith had been having an OK season. The Browns’ linebacker position will be as weak as its been all season, to the point where even Pittsburgh’s backups or running game can probably exploit that.
- In the secondary, Denzel Ward is out. “Here we go again.” Remember against the Ravens, when M.J. Stewart was the nickelback and was terrible, basically costing Cleveland the game in my opinion? I wish Cleveland would consider keeping Kevin Johnson as the nickelback, and try someone else out as the outside cornerback.
- UPDATE: Oh god, Johnson was just placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
- Andrew Sendejo is also out, although that one might be offset by the fact that Ronnie Harrison returns this week. Karl Joseph will also be available again. Harrison has played at a high level when he’s been healthy, so that’s definitely a plus if Rudolph tries to be aggressive in threading some of his throws.
- One other note is that Steelers K Chris Boswell is out again. Matthew Wright will kick for the Steelers — he is 1-of-1 on field goals and 6-of-6 on extra points this year.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “I have a tremendous amount of anxiety about this game. It is not about me being afraid of Pittsburgh, but rather that I so desperately want Cleveland to finally make the postseason for the first time since I started blogging at DBN. If the Browns don’t win this week, they don’t deserve to make it, especially since they’ll likely have a re-match against a more stacked Pittsburgh team the following week. I think Cleveland takes care of business.” Browns 31, Steelers 14
Thomas Moore: “This Browns team has been incredibly resilient all season long. From a new coaching staff, no offseason program, an altered training camp, no preseason games, questions about Baker Mayfield, injuries to top players, a horrible defense, and now the ongoing COVID-19 issues, the team has found a way to keep it together and has yet to lose two games in a row. Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh is the latest and last test of the season for the team to truly show this is not the “same old Browns” that everyone fears it is. Win and nothing that happen before matters. Lose and it is going to be one of the longest and darkest offseasons in recent memory. The playoffs beckon and the Browns are going to find a way to answer the call.” Browns 21, Steelers 7
Ezweav: “Maybe the Jets’ loss wasn’t such a bad thing. Sure we would be locked in the playoffs right now, but we wouldn’t have been able to really improve anything in the way of positioning by winning. However, had we won, this game coming up wouldn’t have meant anything to either team and both sides would have kind of phoned it in (as it looks like Pittsburgh is going to).
I think you want your team going into the playoffs fighting hard, and not just going through the motions. This team is usually pretty focused, and I expect the same this week. The defense is lousy and will limit anything that happens in the postseason, but we’ll get there.” Browns 29, Steelers 14
rufio: “We are doing this. Sparked by the return of our WRs, Big Jed, and Teller, the offense takes care of business even if the defense can’t quite match up. Jarvis has a big day after being kept off the field for the first time in his career, while Myles gets a few sacks.” Browns 24, Steelers 19
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.