The Pittsburgh Steelers will face the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night at First Energy Stadium. The game will be the first time that the Steelers will appear on the brand-new Amazon Prime streaming platform. Steelers fans from around the country, outside of the Pittsburgh area that have been forced to endure the first two weeks of NFL Sunday Ticket streaming and the well-publicized issues, will be looking forward to the opportunity to view the entire game for the first time this season.
The Cleveland Browns rejoined the NFL in 1999 and since that time including the playoffs, they are 9-38-1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. They are 4-9 since their return to the league against the Steelers when Ben Roethlisberger does not play quarterback, which makes this week’s matchup especially important in the long-running rivalry. This will probably be the last meeting in the foreseeable future before the Browns’ new franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson takes the field against the Steelers later this season.
It is unlikely that the Browns will abandon the run as easily as Kevin Stefanski did in the final home game of the Roethlisberger era when the two teams meet. During the first two games of the 2022 season, Jacoby Brissett has benefited greatly from the production of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The rubber will meet the road on Thursday night for the Steelers’ run defense during the first huge test since last season’s historically bad showing. Cam Heyward spoke to reporters about how the black and gold have to go about stopping the run.
“Usually, it’s not one guy tackling Chubb. It’s multiple guys, we all have to be responsible for stopping this rushing attack,” Heyward said. “Everyone needs to stay in their gap, A lot of times a guy can put everybody at risk because he’s not in his gap. Guys have to make sure they stay in their gaps and get good extension to stay off blocks.”
Last season, Pittsburgh did a good job of slowing the Cleveland running attack despite the success of virtually everyone else in the league against them. On Halloween last season, the Steelers held Chubb and D’Ernest Johnson to 20 carries for 83 yards and 1 touchdown. In the second meeting, they did even better, holding Chubb and Johnson to 17 carries for 71 yards and no touchdowns. For the record, 4.2 yards per carry is not a rousing success, but compared to the over 5 yards per carry, they gave up to the rest of the NFL it was for the 2021 defense. Hunt did not play in either matchup against the Steelers last season.
T.J. Watt was dominant in both meetings last season against the Browns. Pittsburgh will have to get big games from Heyward and Alex Highsmith in this meeting. The X factors for this season’s defense in the running game, Larry Ogunjobi and Myles Jack will need to show up big on Thursday night to keep the run game from gashing the black and gold consistently. Ogunjobi and Jack have already made their presence felt this season, but this is the first big test of how much the defense has improved against the run.
The Steelers trio, Heyward, Tyson Alualu and Ogunjobi need to hold their ground on running plays allowing Jack to knife into the backfield and shut down runs. The Browns do have an elite route runner in Amare Cooper but with Brisset under center, it is less likely they will need to play their nickel packages on early downs, which should help against the Cleveland attack. Forcing the Browns into long third downs by slowing the run is going to be crucial. The last time that the Steelers faced Brissett was when he was on the Indianapolis Colts in 2019. Minkah Fitzpatrick tortured him with a pick 6 on the way to a Steelers victory.
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Mike Tomlin can’t know what to expect from his offense on Thursday night, but last season’s defense held the Browns to 24 points total in two meetings. A similar effort will be required to give the black and gold the best chance to win and surprisingly remain atop the AFC North.
What do you think Steeler Nation? Will the defense show up big on Thursday night? Comment below or on my Twitter @thebubbasq.