This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Pittsburgh Steelers. To help preview a few topics from the Steelers’ perspective, we reached out to Jeff Hartman from Behind the Steel Curtain and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Browns are 2.5-point underdogs against the Steelers.
Chris: “The Browns had the luxury of facing Mitch Trubisky the last time these two teams met. Tell us about how Kenny Pickett has performed as the team’s starting quarterback, and what he’s done well vs. been shaky with.”
Jeff: “Pickett has been a work-in-progress since taking over, and a large part of that was the grueling stretch of defenses he had to face once being named the starter. Nonetheless, since coming out of the bye in Week 9, he seems to have a solid grasp on what he can/can’t get away with at the NFL level.
Most importantly, Pickett is protecting the football. Throws he could make in ACC competition are not ones he can always make at the next level. When he hasn’t turned it over, he’s shown the ability to make the throws necessary to win games. He’s far from a gun slinger at this stage in his career, but he has shown tremendous improvement and upside in the past several weeks. So much so, many are seeing the Steelers with their next franchise quarterback.
Pickett himself said the biggest difference between college and the NFL isn’t the speed of the game, but how many different looks defenses can/will throw at him on a weekly basis. His pre-snap reads were pretty bad to start, but have improved tremendously since the bye. In other words, he’s learning and improving...what more can Steelers fans ask for?”
Chris: “Comparing the last time the Browns faced the Steelers, are there any other injury- or depth-related changes we should be aware of (additions or subtractions), besides the quarterback position and the obvious one of LB T.J. Watt?”
Jeff: “Outside of T.J. Watt, the Steelers have been a relatively healthy group this season. Their offensive line has been intact for all 17 games, with center Mason Cole missing a half, and right tackle Chuks Okorafor missing a snap. That’s it. Outside of Watt’s return, which can’t be understated, the Steelers have seen more young players step up and carve a role for themselves than they have seen players lost, or return, to injury.”
Chris: “When all the games are said and done on Sunday, do you think the Steelers will be in or out of the playoffs?”
Jeff: “That’s a really tough question considering the help the Steelers require to get into the playoffs. I think the Bills will beat the Patriots, but the big game is the Jets somehow beating the Dolphins. On top of that, I’m not about to suggest the Steelers will just walk all over the Browns. The Browns have played the Steelers extremely well in recent years (Browns have won 3 out of the last 5), but I am going to be an optimist and think the Steelers will find a way to claim the 7th spot in the AFC Playoffs.”
Chris: “Who has been the most improved player over the course of the season for Pittsburgh, not including Pickett?”
Jeff: “This might shock some people, but I’m going to say Najee Harris, that is if I can’t choose a position group like the offensive line. The offensive line went from a group with nothing but uncertainty to a group which has been carving out a nice role for themselves. But a large part of the line’s success has been that of Harris. In the first half of the season Harris was indecisive, and tried to bounce everything outside. He was dancing at the line of scrimmage and not using his size to punish defenders. In the second half of the season he has been the polar opposite player. The game vs. Baltimore where he put up 111 yards, he was punishing defenders and making them feel it every time he tackled them. He showed why the Steelers took him in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. If they can continue to get that kind of performance from Harris, there’s no doubt he’ll be in Pittsburgh for a long time.”
Chris: “The Browns are +2.5 as of this question, per DraftKings Sportsbook, with the Steelers favored to win. Who would you pick against the spread?”
Jeff: “As someone who obviously follows the team closely, I feel as if the offense is due for a breakout game. They’ve moved the ball well for well over a month, but have struggled in the red-zone. The Browns are a team out of the playoff hunt, and the only thing they’re playing for is to spoil the Steelers’ shot at the postseason. I’ll take the Steelers, even giving the points, at home on Sunday.”
Thanks again to Jeff for taking the time to answer my questions.