The Cleveland Browns will host the Pittsburgh Steelers in front of a national television audience on Thursday night.
A quick turnaround might be a blessing for the Browns after the defense collapsed in the final two minutes of Sunday’s home opener against the New York Jets. Getting back on the field against a division opponent provides the team an opportunity to wipe out the memory of yet another unbelievable loss and a missed opportunity to sit alone atop the AFC North Division.
Of course, if they were to lose to the Steelers it will be a long 10 days of discussion about how the Browns are still the same old Browns until they play their next game.
To that end, here is what you need to know about the game, along with a few storylines to watch, as the Browns open up AFC North divisional play against the Steelers.
Records: Cleveland is 1-1. Pittsburgh is 1-1.
Kickoff: 8:15 p.m.
Stadium: First Energy Stadium in Cleveland
TV: Amazon Prime Video (national) and News 5 (Cleveland area)
Announcers: Al Michaels, Kirk Herbstreit and Kaylee Hartung (sidelines)
Radio: ESPN 850, 92.3 The Fan, 98.5 WNCX
Announcers: Jim Donovan, Nathan Zegura, Jerod Cherry (sidelines)
Last meeting: Pittsburgh won the last meeting, 26-14, in Week 17 of the 2021 season.
All-time series: The Steelers lead the all-time series in the regular season, 78-59-1. The Browns have won two of the last three meetings between the teams at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Weather: 59 degrees and mostly cloudy. Winds out of the NNW at 21 mph. (weather.com)
Uniform: The Browns will be sporting brown jerseys, orange pants and white socks.
it's only right to break out the orange pants for primetime pic.twitter.com/0wNXLGnXyH— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 21, 2022
Injury report: Browns - Out: Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (ankle). Steelers - No injury report listed.
The line: Browns -4.5 (Draft Kings)
A Few Things to Watch
Can we talk, please?: For the second consecutive week the Browns defense gave up a long touchdown pass due to a blown coverage in the secondary.
And for the second consecutive week everyone involved talked about how they just need to communicate better and the problem will be solved.
That all sounds good, but it also raises the question as to why this is an issue to begin with.
Five of the six main players in the secondary - cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Greg Newsome II, along with safeties John Johnson III, Grant Delpit and Ronnie Harrison Jr. - are all in their second season of playing together. And this is the third season some have played in defensive coordinator Joe Woods’ system.
make the corrections and go compete@denzelward | #Browns pic.twitter.com/uhFiY05e1H— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 19, 2022
Whether Woods needs to simplify things, the secondary is not as good as they seem to be, or they need to have someone else relaying the defensive calls in the huddle, the Browns need to get the situation under control.
Thursday marks the third of four consecutive games where the Browns will be facing quarterbacks in the lower part of the league’s hierarchy, and if they continue to break down against this group, lord knows what will happen when Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen and Tua Tagovailoa start showing up on the schedule.
Talking is great, but the time for turning that talk into action has arrived for Cleveland’s defense.
Offensive blueprint: The Browns showed everyone the perfect blueprint for how their offense can win a game with quarterback Jacoby Brissett running the show.
Get a lead in the fourth quarter and then let running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt grind the opposing defense into the turf.
Against the Jets, Chubb and Hunt took over in the fourth quarter as they helped the Browns rush for 123 yards on 17 fourth-quarter carries and added two rushing touchdowns.
.@NickChubb21 is feeling even better this week pic.twitter.com/QfAJAS8pRu— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 20, 2022
Quarterback Jacoby Brissett did his part as well as he almost made it through a second consecutive game without turning the ball over, although his interception came at the end of the game while the Browns were desperate to get into field-goal range, so that one is not all that horrible.
Keep Chubb and Hunt rolling, and if Brisset can keep eliminating the turnovers, and the Browns should be in a good position to win not only on Thursday but in the weeks to come.
Injuries starting to hit hard: After coming out of Week 1 in good health, Sunday’s game combined with a short week of recovery time has the Browns hurting at defensive end.
The team ruled out starting defensive end Jadeveon Clowney on Monday, placed backup defensive end Chase Winovich on injured reserve on Tuesday, and defensive end Myles Garrett is dealing with a neck injury, with head coach Kevin Stefanski at first making no guarantees that Garrett will be able to go against the Steelers.
Even though Garrett is now expected to play on Thursday, the Browns are incredibly thin at the position as rookie Alex Wright is expected to start in place of Clowney, and the backups are fellow rookies Isaiah Thomas and Isaac Rochell, who will is pretty much a lock to be elevated from the practice squad for the game.
After Rochell there isn’t anyone else available, or at least no one listed as a defensive end, so in addition to the communication issues in the secondary, defensive coordinator Joe Woods might have to work some magic to get some pressure on Pittsburgh quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
Some help for Mr. Cooper?: Wide receiver Amari Cooper showed on Sunday why the Browns acquired him in the offseason to take over as the team’s No. 1 wide receiver as he finished with a team-high nine receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown.
Jacoby and Coop were clicking on Sunday pic.twitter.com/xu2gZPcabB— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 20, 2022
The concern was the rest of the wide receivers only combined for one reception for six yards, which came from rookie David Bell. (If you want to count Demetric Felton Jr. as a wide receiver, then it was two receptions for nine yards.)
The Browns have other weapons in the passing game, and quarterback Jacoby Brissett did a nice job of spreading his 22 completions among seven different players, but opposing defenses are going to make life difficult for Cooper if no one else among the wide receivers steps up and gives Brissett some other options to target and defenses to worry about.
A Final Quote
Cornerback Denzel Ward on the issues in the secondary (quote via a team-provided transcript):
“It is communication-wise. In practice, we go through periods where we have crowd noise and where it can be loud if we are at home. When we are on defense, a guy gets the call and we have to spread the entire call around to the entire defense so everybody can get on the same page and just want to move it fast. I guess everyone did not get the exact call so that is what kind of messed things up in the game.”
Those 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 Thursday’s game against the Steelers?