This is as close to a must-win game as you will find at this point in the season, as the Browns need a victory to state their intent as a challenger in the AFC North and keep pace with the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens.
The Browns will welcome running back Nick Chubb and right tackle Jack Conklin back to the field after both players missed the previous two games with injuries. Quarterback Baker Mayfield will also be sporting a fancy new brace to keep his left arm attached to his body, which is nice.
This is a series that has been a rivalry in name only for a long time, but that has started to change the past few years as the teams have split their regular-season meetings in each of the past two seasons.
It is Browns vs. Steelers and here is everything you need to know as the Browns look to win their third consecutive game against Pittsburgh for the first time in 32 years.
Records: Cleveland is 4-3. Pittsburgh is 3-3.
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
Stadium: FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson (sidelines)
Radio: 92.3 The Fan (WKRK), ESPN 850 WKNR and WNCX (98.5)
Announcers: Jim Donovan, Doug Dieken, Nathan Zegura (sideline reporter)
Last meeting: The Browns won the last meeting in the regular season, 24-22, in Week 17 of the 2020 season. (Boxscore)
All-time series: The Steelers lead the all-time series, 75-60-1. The Browns have won two in a row at home against the Steelers.
Weather: 55 degrees and mostly cloudy, with 17 MPH winds and a 15 percent chance of rain. (weather.com)
Uniform: The Browns will be sporting brown jerseys and orange pants.
Injury report: Browns - Questionable: wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (shoulder), defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (ankle/groin/knee), cornerback A.J. Green (groin), defensive tackle Malik Jackson (knee), fullback Johnny Stanton IV (calf) and defensive end Takkarist McKinley (groin). Out: cornerback Denzel Ward (hamstring), wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (groin) and safety Richard LeCounte III (discipline).
Steelers - Doubtful: linebacker Melvin Ingram III (groin). Out: tight end Eric Ebron (hamstring)
The line: Browns -4
A Few Things to Watch For
Baker’s return: Quarterback Baker Mayfield will be back under center after missing the game against the Denver Broncos.
Everyone involved — from the team’s coaches, doctors and training staff, to Mayfield’s personal doctors — have signed off on the idea that Mayfield can play effectively while dealing with a torn labrum and fractured bone in his left shoulder.
Just how that will all work, and how limited Mayfield might be, will be revealed soon enough. There is no doubt that Mayfield can’t keep taking hits to the shoulder if he hopes to make it through the rest of the season, so hopefully the offensive line can do its part and Mayfield can think twice about trying to be a lead blocker or tackling someone if the situation presents itself.
Keep on running: The Browns did not miss a beat last week in the running game even without Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt on the field against the Denver Broncos.
In his first NFL start, D’Ernest Johnson rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown, and perhaps most importantly had seven carries for 52 yards to help the Browns run out the final 5:17 of the game to secure the win.
With quarterback Baker Mayfield still dealing with a serious injury to his left arm and Chubb expected back, the Browns should be looking at rolling out a run heavy offense on Sunday, especially since they averaged 159.5 rushing yards in their two wins against the Steelers last season.
Even if Pittsburgh is expecting that, there may not be much they can do about it, as The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly points out:
The Browns have been outstanding against eight-man fronts. The majority of the time the Browns have countered with two tight ends. Still, they average a league-high 4.69 yards per carry when at least eight are in the box. Only the Titans and Derrick Henry have attempted to run into a stacked box more than the Browns. They are tied with the Titans with 11 rushing touchdowns with a full box, but the number that concerns the Steelers and Butler the most is 0.96 yards before contact.
That indicates that the Browns run through arm tackles and break tackles better than anybody in the league. Because the Steelers struggled in that department last game, it’s a concern.
It may not make for a pretty game, but going old school might be the best path for the Browns to win this week.
Control the line of scrimmage: The Browns should have their entire offensive line back for the game, which is comforting as they need to keep Baker Mayfield as safe as possible to help ensure he does not suffer any further damage to his shoulder.
On the flip side, Pittsburgh’s offensive line has struggled to keep Ben Roethlisberger clean (12 sacks in six games) and the running game is ranked No. 31 in the league, although rookie running back Najee Harris did have 127 rushing yards and a touchdown two weeks ago against Seattle.
If the Browns front seven can keep Harris from getting going and force Pittsburgh into third-and-long situations, they will have an opportunity to tee off on Roethlisberger. That might be a bit more difficult if defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney, who did not practice all week, and Takk McKinley, who missed practice on Friday, are bothered by their injuries, but this is a game where the defense might need to step it up for the Browns to have a chance to win.
No Stump: The Browns have built the league’s best rushing game on the backs of the offensive line and running backs Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and D’Ernest Johnson.
Those parts all work together thanks to the efforts of run game coordinator/running backs coach Stump Mitchell, who unfortunately will be out for a while as he has an undisclosed medical issue relating to a previous knee injury.
In his absence, coaching assistant Ryan Cordell will take over as the interim running backs coach, with senior offensive assistant Kevin Roger pitching in to help Cordell.
The Browns did not give a timetable for when Mitchell will return, but there is no doubt he will be missed.
A final quote
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (via steelers.com):
“It will be fun. You can say what you want about the rivalry and this, that and the other, but the fans are awesome. They’re passionate. It’ll be exciting. Anytime your fans have a nickname, or an area has a nickname, is pretty cool. They like to get on us and it’s part of the game. Obviously when you go there and you play well and you win it has a little extra feeling of satisfaction, but it’s not easy to play there.”
These are just a few things to keep an eye on; now it is time to have your say. What are you looking for from the Browns in Sunday’s game against the Steelers?