Coming off their first loss of the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers make their second road trip to Ohio to take on the Cleveland Browns in the first game of the third week of the season. This week’s matchup is the sole Thursday night game for both teams and it is coming relatively earlier than usual for the Steelers.
After continued offensive struggles in the first two games of the season, they need to keep the blinders on and turn ahead to a tough task in Cleveland. This matchup is pivotal for both teams, as the winner will be 2-1 with a big divisional win in their grasp. The loser, however, will be left still trying to find themselves and searching for ways to stay relevant in the 2022 season.
Let’s take a look at some things we can look forward to when the Steelers take on the Browns
MATCHUPS AT A GLANCE
Offense: As surprising as this sounds, the offensive line hasn’t been relatively bad in the first two games. Not to mention, they’ve seemed to improve week over week and are looking healthy heading into the third week. But with that said, any time a team faces the Browns, Myles Garrett’s name comes up. Dan Moore Jr. did well against Garrett last year and is going to need a repeat performance on Thursday night. Therefore, this is one of two matchups we should be watching.
In 2021, it was the second matchup of the season between the two teams where Moore Jr. locked down Garrett. In a game that was unanimously the final home send-off for Ben Roethlisberger, Moore Jr.’s performance against Garrett was overshadowed. In that game, he only allowed Garrett to rush Roethlisberger twice with a single solo tackle and no sacks.
If you were to ask me the definition of “neutralizing an opponent”, that would be very close. For the offense to have any luck moving the ball on offense, it starts with taking Garrett out of the game. Plus, with Jadeveon Clowney slated to miss this week’s action, all eyes will be on Garrett and making sure he’s accounted for each play.
The other matchup we should be watching is a fairly obvious one; Mitch Trubisky and the receiving corps versus the Cleveland secondary. In what was supposed to be a more “aggressive” offensive attack in week two, the game plan resulted in a single touchdown on only 168 yards through the air with 21 completions and Diontae Johnson leading the way with 57 yards. The opposing secondary features some tough competition in the way of Greg Newsome II and Denzel Ward on the outside and will likely be blanketing Johnson, George Pickens and Miles Boykin accordingly.
With tensions and anxiety on the rise amongst Steeler Nation with every offensive possession, the time is now for offensive coordinator Matt Canada to open up the playbook and let Trubisky loose. Specifically, getting the ball down the middle of the field beyond 20 yards and converting on third down. The Browns’ defense is stouter on the outside compared to the inside and Chase Claypool is a matchup nightmare lined up in the slot. The opportunities will be there for Claypool and Pat Freiermuth in the middle of the field; it is just a matter of Canada calling the right plays to take advantage of that and Trubisky making the right play to find them.
Defense: With the Browns’ offense focusing heavily on a ‘run first’ mentality, that is the clear formula on defense to address first. Nick Chubb has been running over each defense they’ve faced in 2022 and is averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Looking at the 2021 games, the Steelers held Chubb in check. Combined between the two games last season, Chubb rushed for 119 yards on 28 carries, averaging 4.25 yards per carry.
To put this simply, the defense needs to keep Chubb under 5 yards per carry on Thursday for them to control the game. Although there are other characters to the Browns’ backfield in Kareem Hunt and D’Ernest Johnson, the pressure will be on the defense to stack the box, collapse on the line, and force Jacoby Brissett to have to shoulder the offensive production. Ironically enough, this leads to the second matchup to watch; the Browns’ receivers versus Minkah Fitzpatrick, Akhello Witherspoon and Cam Sutton.
Although this matchup comes without Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., there are significant receivers who need to be accounted for. Those being Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones. If last week is any indication, the Pittsburgh secondary is going to have their hands full after allowing over 250 passing yards on 21 completions against the New England Patriots. Witherspoon has been lackluster in his early performance, allowing 135 yards so far and a touchdown per game. Sutton has had bright moments, but is averaging over 13 yards per completion when the ball comes his way.
While I am not saying Cooper and Peoples-Jones make up the top receiving corps in the league, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin tends to rely on the ’bend-but-don’t-break’ strategy a bit too much, leading to opposing receivers running free down the sideline. This week poses a great opportunity for the secondary to reset itself and alleviate a lot of the pressure off Fitzpatrick, who may need to provide more run support this week.
Brissett has never beaten Pittsburgh. Trubisky has never lost against Cleveland. Currently, the home team sits as 4.5-point favorites with the point total anticipating poor offensive performances in the way of 38.5 points to be scored in the game. There are a lot of different ways one could forecast this game. I, for one, see the defenses being the determining factor in the game and I’m going with the better defense. Prediction, Steelers 16, Browns 14.
This week marks the first Thursday night matchup between the two teams since the Mason Rudolph and Garrett brawl game in 2019. Included in that was Larry Ogunjobi, who is now making his return to Cleveland as a Steeler. Ogunjobi explained earlier this week that he doesn’t think something like that will happen this go-around, but strange things happen to Pittsburgh in Cleveland on Thursday nights.
To prove that, here is a fun fact; the Steelers have never beaten the Browns in Cleveland on Thursday night. You read that correctly. Even though they’ve seemingly owned the Browns in every other aspect, a win in Cleveland on a Thursday night has never happened. However, the Steelers have never lost to Cleveland on Thursday night in September. Do with that information as you will.
What are you watching on Thursday night? What do you think the final outcome will be? Let us know in the comments below!