On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 8. Below, we analyze a few advantages, disadvantages, or general thoughts about the two teams before getting to our predictions for the game.
Getting Healthy Again
- Unfortunately, it seems that every week, I have to start off my talking points with an update about injuries. Here’s the good news: QB Baker Mayfield, RB Nick Chubb, and RT Jack Conklin will all return against the Steelers. It’ll also be the first time this season that Mayfield has played with WR Odell Beckham and WR Jarvis Landry on the field at the same time.
- Not to diminish the importance of other players who are out (RB Kareem Hunt and WR Donovan-Peoples Jones) on offense, but having the offensive line at full strength is the No. 1 reason I am optimistic for Sunday. They block at such a high level in pass protection and on the ground that it opens everything up for Kevin Stefanski.
- On defense, CB Denzel Ward is out, which means CB Greedy Williams will get the start alongside rookie CB Greg Newsome. The player I am most keeping my eye on is DE Jadeveon Clowney. He didn’t practice all week as he battles through a bunch of different nagging injuries, but defensive coordinator Joe Woods seemed optimistic that he will play on Sunday. I hope it’s just a case of the team resting him up for gameday.
Winning in the Trenches
- This is a game that, much like last week against the Broncos, Cleveland should have a big edge in the trenches. The weather might not be the best for throwing conditions either.
- Besides the Browns’ offensive line being at full strength and leading the league in run blocking, Pittsburgh’s defensive line has become their soft spot this year. Injuries have forced rotational players to see too much playing time up front, and teams have been able to take advantage of that. As much as we liked Joe Schobert when he was on the Browns too, he often lacked being a game-changer. If the Browns are able to get to the second level regularly on the ground, I see it as a plus that Nick Chubb and D’Ernest Johnson only have to contend with Schobert. No matter what, though, you still always have to be careful about where T.J. Watt is on the field.
- Pittsburgh re-tooled their offensive line this year, which doesn’t sound like the best thing to do when Ben Roethlisberger is slower and already taking too many hits. The line got off to a rough start to the season, but has been better over the past two weeks. Still, the overall experience of that group figures to give a significant edge to Myles Garrett and Clowney, as well as Malik McDowell disrupting plays on the ground.
- Hopefully Freezing Cold Takes doesn’t make a mockery of this, but Roethlisberger throwing the ball downfield doesn’t concern me too much. Now, obviously, the other factors associated with that still worry me: like drawing gift pass interference penalties, or our safeties getting confused again.
- The past few times we’ve seen Roethlisberger, though, he’s not the same quarterback with his decision-making. He doesn’t trust his protection enough, and often seems to miss defenders dropping right in front of him, which can lead to interceptions or tipped passes.
- How fun is it that this game falls on Halloween? This is also Cleveland’s first AFC North matchup of the year, making it all-the-more important.
- According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Browns are 4.5-point favorites against the Steelers on Sunday.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “It wasn’t too long ago that the Browns were being deemed Super Bowl contenders, and the Steelers were fading like one of the worst teams in the NFL. Pittsburgh still has talent that’ll keep them from being pushovers, but wins against Teddy Bridgewater and Geno Smith the past two weeks don’t make me believe they’ve turned it around. The Steelers’ offense won’t be able to do much on the day until racking up some points late, while Cleveland will dominate on the ground.” Browns 27, Steelers 17
rufio: “It is time for us to metaphorically bury this generation of Steelers. I think we see this game play out much like the Broncos game did: we get back to basics on the ground, and our defense shows up. If our offensive tackles can play we can run it on just about anyone. If Nick can suit up, then we can spread the ball around even more.
In the end I think the team steps up with a limited Baker and we have a 21-17 Browns win that is not as close as the score would seem to indicate.” Browns 21, Steelers 17
Barry Shuck: “I like the Browns in this game and I will tell you why: the run game. They are great with pass rushing and have the horses to accomplish lots of pressure to coincide with their 10 sacks. Pittsburgh is second to last in rushing whereas Cleveland is Number 1 plus are best at yards-per-carry average with 5.3. The Stefanski should pound the ball on most downs and should the tight ends more since this is the Steelers’ Achilles heel. Browns are fifth in defense against the run and since the Steelers cannot run, this will play into the game clock domination. Pittsburgh will have to rely on Roethlisberger’s arm and those great receivers to carry the game. Big Ben has only tossed two picks all year and is having a good season. The Browns defense will need to send five guys each passing down in order to rush the big QB.
A lot is riding on this game and more than just division foes. If the season were to end today, the Browns would capture that Number 7 playoff spot while Pittsburgh is the first one out. Cincinnati and Baltimore are beginning to pull ahead so Cleveland can’t lose this one. I am going to this game with my brother so I will wave to y’all. My first visit with be with “The Macho Fan” in Section 115.” Browns 27, Steelers 17
Matt Wood: “Doesn’t matter if it is Baker or Case. The Browns are going to go trench warfare in this one just like the did against Denver. Remember the Broncos had the 4th ranked rush defense going into that game and it didn’t matter. The Steelers give up 4.3 YPC and they haven’t really faced a dynamic runner yet. When the Seahawks got back into the game on Sunday Night, they ran it. The Browns won’t suddenly think that Geno Smith needs to pass like the Seahawks and that will be the difference.
On defense I think this will be the first of many “I wish we had JOK playing right now’ moments of his injury. Najee will be a problem against our LB’s in space, but the Steelers OL is a mess. Even with the quick passing game, Big Ben has been sacked 12 times and the run game is nowhere to be found. 3.7 YPC for the Steelers? Browns control this game along both sides of the LOS. Scoreboard makes it seem a bit closer than it was.” Browns 31, Steelers 20
Ezweav: “As of this writing it is unclear whether or not Baker will play, and that does make a huge difference in terms of how to project the outcome of this game. With, even a 75% Baker, we’re a significantly better team than Pittsburgh. We may still be even without him but Case Keenum - while probably as good a backup as you can reasonably have, is still very limited in what he can do. As incredible as our running game has been, we saw last year against the Jets how ineffective it is without any semblance of a downfield attack. So if Case starts it’s going to be a struggle-bus offensively.
However on defense, we definitely have the edge. Their OL is garbage and our pass rush is monstrous. We’ll basically do the same thing to them that they’d do to Keenum: keep everything in front and rally to all the quick routes they have to run. It’s not so much because Pigpen can’t heave it deep as it is he will not be able stand tall in the pocket to let things develop.
So we’re a better team…with Baker. Without, it’s tenuous. Probably best to just assume the worst.” Browns 20, Steelers 10
Thomas Moore: Baker makes him triumphant return to hand the ball of 45 times as the Browns grind the Steelers into the turf with the run game. On defense, Myles Garrett makes Ben Roethlisberger regret not hanging it up when he had a chance after the spanking the Browns gave the Steelers in the playoffs last season.
Cleveland opens their AFC North account for the season with a win in front of the home fans before turning their sights south to next week’s opponent in the Cincinnati Bengals.
Browns 21, Steelers 10
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.