This Monday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Pittsburgh Steelers to close out Week 2. Below, we analyze a few advantages, disadvantages, and general thoughts about the two teams before getting to our predictions for the game.
Contenders or a Flash in the Pan?
- The Browns’ defense made a big impression in Week 1, not just against the Bengals, but across the entire NFL. The big asterisk relates to the rain, because one could still argue that it severely limited what the Bengals could do in those conditions. But my gut tells me it was much more than that — this Jim Schwartz-led defense has the making of something special, and mostly everyone is healthy right now.
- If Cleveland’s defense is indeed that good, then they are in store for another great week. I still can’t believe that Pittsburgh is trying to rely on Kenny Pickett as their successor to Ben Roethlisberger. The guy doesn’t have it, and if Pittsburgh thinks they are going to be able to rely on him long-term, they better be ready for several years in the basement of the AFC North. On top of that, the team’s top receiver, Diontae Johnson, suffered an injury in Week 1 and is out. They’ll rely on the talented George Pickens to try to bail them out.
- There is still a question mark on defense for me: the run defense. The Bengals were not a good running team, and this week, Pittsburgh isn’t a very talented run team either. I think Cleveland added the pieces — like Dalvin Tomlinson and Shelby Harris — to improve things up front, but we’ll see what happens when a team really tests them there.
The Tackle Situation
- If the Browns lose this week, I think it’ll have to be a low-scoring game. And for that to happen, I think it would mean that the Browns’ offensive tackle situation was too broken against the pass-rushing threat of T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith.
- We already know the threat that Watt always presents, but Highsmith had 4 sacks in 2 games against Cleveland last year. Jedrick Wills is the shakiest member of the Browns’ offensive line, and at right tackle, Jack Conklin suffered a season-ending injury last week. Taking his place is Dawand Jones, the massive 6-8, 374 pound rookie out of Ohio State. He was very good this preseason and last week in pass protection, looking above average for a rookie. But, he’s still a rookie, so you have to factor in him going against tougher competition this week, or chemistry issues. If Pittsburgh can find enough flaws in that to create turnovers and generate points with their defense, things could get dicey. Remember, he graded poorly in run blocking by PFF last week, and these were probably some of the lapses why:
When Dawand Jones goes the right way and knows his assignment.. It looked pretty good!— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) September 11, 2023
Some rollercoaster plays in there though lol whoops
Wrong way and a missed trap climb. Both plays end up in complete disaster lol
He had some highlights! Just having fun with the youngin' pic.twitter.com/vuLvulfppQ
- On the flip side, this is a bad run defense that Pittsburgh is putting out there, hurt even more by the fact that Cameron Heyward is done for awhile. The Steelers’ pass-rushing threats don’t boast the same threat in stopping the run, much like I wouldn’t label Myles Garrett a prolific run stopper. You can bet on the Browns coaching up Jones this week and preparing him for fewer missed assignments, and with the strength of Wyatt Teller, Ethan Pocic, and Joel Bitonio on the interior, Nick Chubb should be ready for another big day. You just hope that in those times when Deshaun Watson runs the playaction fake hoping to take a deep shot, those edge rushers don’t get around the edge so fast that they become drive-killers and momentum-changing plays. Part of that will be on Watson to be smart and aware of things too.
- What a debut by K Dustin Hopkins last week for the Browns. We forgot how it felt to see kicks go straight down the middle with no drama involved.
- WR Amari Cooper tweaked his groin in practice on Saturday and is now listed as questionable for Monday’s game. We’ll see how things go, but I think any time you hear about a receiver injury like that on the last practice before gameday, you are counting him out of the game. That could mean that rookie WR Cedric Tillman gets a chance to shine. Although the Browns value Cooper very much, their offense isn’t made-or-broken on whether he is playing in my opinion — so that’s why the injury doesn’t make me think it lessens our odds of winning.
- According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Browns are 2.5 point favorites against the Steelers.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “My confidence in the Browns is flying high after Week 1. Am I ready for the team to come to reality in Week 2? Yes. But that reality involves another impressive takedown of an AFC North rival, further solidifying the Browns as serious contenders in the AFC.” Browns 27, Steelers 7
Thomas Moore: “The Browns have a fantastic opportunity, but also a tall task, ahead of them against the Steelers. Not only can the Browns move to 2-0 for the first time since 1993 with a win, which would be nice, but they can also drop the Steelers to 0-2, which would be just as nice. Cleveland should win this game given that they have advantages across the field - quarterback, running back, offensive line, defensive line and the secondary.
It is never easy in Pittsburgh for the Browns, of course, and one area of concern is at right tackle, where rookie Dawand Jones makes his first NFL start, which just so happens to come against Pittsburgh edge rusher T.J. Watt, a player that Jones will likely become very familiar with on Monday night. We’ve all seen Watt disrupt the Browns before, and if Jones struggles then it will be a long night for the good guys.
Jones isn’t the only rookie tackle who might see playing time, however, as the Steelers may turn to Broderick Jones at right tackle as starter Chuks Okorafor is in the concussion protocol. If that occurs, it will be the first time that Jones has played right tackle since his redshirt sophomore season at Georgia, which will certainly catch the attention of Cleveland defensive ends Myles Garrett and Za’Darius Smith.
Which brings us back to the original question: can the Browns win on Monday night in Pittsburgh? We’ve all been burned before by believing the Browns can pull it off only to watch them go down in flames, but this time it will be different. It won’t be easy, but it will be different.” Browns 21, Steelers 10
Barry Shuck: “The Steelers defense can’t stop the run. Cleveland has one of the league’s best running backs and an offensive line built to run block. Advantage: Browns. Expect Deshaun Watson to gain the game’s second-most rushing yards and Nick Chubb to have an exceptional day. That is if Kevin Stefanski is smart about his game plan. So often he will have an advantage such as this and abandon it. The strategy should be to stick to the run game and pound it repeatedly. Last week the 49ers rushed for 188 yards and found holes everywhere. Pittsburgh is 29th against the run, so, run the damn ball. They gave up an average of 5.5 yards per carry, dead last in the league. The Titans are next on the schedule and are ranked 31st in run defense. With a game against the Ravens, Cleveland could be 3-0 going against Baltimore in Week 4.” Browns 34, Steelers 17
Jared Mueller: “For me it is simple, until Kenny Pickett and Matt Canada can prove they have anything more than a high school offense, we can’t trust them to score points. That puts a lot of pressure on a talented but flawed defense to make things happen. Outside of their DL and edge rushers, Minkah Fitzpatrick is the only defender who is impactful. Generally, that is enough, and Dawand Jones and Jedrick Wills will have to step up their game, but it will not be enough against Cleveland.
The Browns showed they can win with their defense and run game last week but have enough electric talent in the passing attack to make things difficult. Due to OL concerns and the Steelers struggling offense, Kevin Stefanski will probably play this to be a lower-scoring game and keep things safe.” Browns 24, Steelers 13
Ezweav: “Not quite as confident about the matchup this week, albeit the closer we get to it the better it feels. Pound for pound the Browns are clearly the more talented ball club but the history of this rivalry makes it impossible to find any comfort in that.
Although, you can feel better about by realizing they don’t really have a way to move the ball against us. Kenny Pickett is either working through the start of a sophomore funk or is just not a good QB, and he’s going up against a defense that just held Joey BurrowS to under 100 yards passing.
On top of that the receivers are inferior to the Bengals at full strength but they’re also down their best one (Dionte Johnson). The Browns are going in the other direction - getting Juan Thornhill back to add to a secondary that was absolutely lights out against (reputedly) one of the league’s best passing offenses.
Then there’s the matchups on the line but the point is made, it’s going to be a struggle-bus for them to pass, and making them one-dimensional renders Najee Harris ineffective and makes for a very long night for that offensive unit.
On the other side, they also don’t have Cam Hayward which is a huge loss. Doesn’t help that their standup LB core is a pretty lackluster group and they have to deal with Nick Chubb this week. It just doesn’t look good for them.
In the end, I think we’ll all be nervous most of the game, but will see our guys grind them down to what ultimately is a decisive victory on the road.” Browns 26, Steelers 9
Curtiss Brown: “Divisional games are always the most difficult games to play. Pittsburgh got punched in the mouth against San Francisco and I expect Pittsburgh to come out motivated to get the bad taste of their mouths after getting embarrassed in front of their home fans at their home opener. However, when you have Pittsburgh radio saying “Browns are the Browns” to quote Han from Tokyo Drift “You didn’t just play with fire you soaked the matches in gasoline.” No need to give this Cleveland Browns team anymore motivation (we saw what happened last week). Pittsburgh’s offense was pretty atrocious last week, and it doesn’t get much easier for them this week against a much improved Browns defense.
If you think Pickett was in hell against the 49ers, he’s pretty much gonna have to deal with the same thing on Monday night. Pittsburgh’s offensive line struggled in pass protection last week and I believe they will struggle again. Wide receiver Diontae Johnson is out so expect a ton of George Pickens and Pat Freiermuth. Defensively, no Cam Hayward but T.J. Watt will be there and he will have some help. Pittsburgh’s run defense couldnt contain Christian McCaffrey so Kevin Stefanski should run the ball at will. It’s a must win for both teams, Pittsburgh trying to make sure their season doesn’t start to unravel and Cleveland trying to prove last week wasn’t a fluke.
This game will be close, but this Cleveland team feels different in previous years. It’s a sense of swagger and confidence that last year’s team lacked. I expect this to be a physical, chippy and emotional football game on Monday night. Close game but I expect Cleveland to leave Pittsburgh with a win.” Browns 29, Steelers 20
Matt Wood: “SUUUUUUUUUUPER BOWL HERE WE COME!!!
The Cleveland Browns got on the radar of the NFL last week but this week, on prime time, the Browns will let everyone know they are for real.
The Browns will flat out dominate the Steelers OL and make the night for Kenny Pickett, a nightmare. Myles will once again show that he is the premier defender in the AFC North and the entire NFL. On offense the Browns will help out both tackles with some trickery early on and of course a good old fashioned heaping on Nick Chubb. The Browns will demand a seat at the table Monday night.” Browns 72, Steelers 3
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.