Week 5: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns

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Jordan DeFigio, @fidgenewton
SteelerNation.com

 

It’s finally here.

The first of two weeks each year where a scrappy steel city from Pennsylvania and a tiny town on a great lake claw away at each other to defend the honor of the franchise that represents their town.

It’s here.

It’s the Pittsburgh Steelers versus the Cleveland Browns week.

And after years of Cleveland garnering major media off-season hype (then going on to squander it all in the regular season), the 4-1 Browns look to storm Heinz Field this Sunday and defeat the Steelers for the first time since 2003. But the boys in black and gold should have every opportunity to prevent that and improve their record to 5-0.

MATCHUPS AT A GLANCE

Entering this game, Cleveland is struggling with key injuries. They are majorly banged up. Quarterback Baker Mayfield, who has had arguably one of the better starts of his career, is listed as questionable with a chest injury. Mayfield has thrown for 976 yards and 9 touchdowns with an average QBR of 78.4, and is starting to develop chemistry with Odell Beckham Jr. (who is also listed as questionable with an illness – not COVID-19). If Mayfield is out, Case Keenum (author of the Minneapolis Miracle) would get the start. With the Steelers’ track record against second string quarterbacks, I’m not sure which is preferable. Keenum has yet to play a down in Cleveland. In fact, he hasn’t had consistent snaps since his one-season stint with the Denver Broncos in 2018. Keenum played 10 games in Washington last season and is in his first season with the Browns. The team is more than likely hopeful Mayfield will be healthy enough to play; with wide-receiver Jarvis Landry also questionable with injuries to his ribs and hip and running back Nick Chubb out longer term with an MCL injury, they could use the consistency. Though Kareem Hunt and D’Ernest Johnson have filled in quite nicely in Chubb’s absence, it is worth noting they have yet to play a defense like the Steelers who are ranked second in yards per game, allowing an average of only 64. The Steelers’ front seven (from Cam Heyward to Tyson Alualu to Vince Williams to TJ Watt to Bud Dupree) have been fierce and fearless and have just as good a chance as anyone to shut down the duo of Hunt and Johnson.

Tight end David Njoku is always a threat. If he can take advantage of that matchup against Steelers’ linebacker Devin Bush, the Browns offense may just be able to rack up yards through the air. The Steelers’ secondary continued to struggle, though Steven Nelson did reel in two interceptions last week. Minkah Fitzpatrick has continued to look a little unlike himself, but I still think he’s due for a big game soon. With that level of talent, it’s only a matter of time. Maybe he makes it happen this week against a beat up Browns team. Joe Haden has also looked a little out of sorts this season, but any game against a former team is good to fuel the fire.

On offense, the Steelers have had one of their more quiet yet most impressive starts. Chase Claypool is exactly who everyone praised him to be (kudos to Kevin Colbert and the scouting staff for landing such high talent in the second round) and Ben Roethlisberger has cracked the double digit mark for touchdowns while throwing only one interception. All of this through only four games AND returning from injury. Maybe Father Time is generous to guys whose names aren’t Tom Brady after all. The Browns’ secondary has also struggled, and if Roethlisberger can lock-in his deep ball they’ll be in for a long afternoon. It helps that the Steelers have had a different receiver lead in yards each game, so there’s no way to predict who may have a breakout game. Maybe this Sunday it will be JuJu Smith-Schuster or James Washington or it could be Claypool again. Even with Diontae Johnson out, someone will step up and step up big.

But there’s trouble up front. David DeCastro is out and Maurkice Pouncey went down in last week’s game. This could leave some mismatches on the line for Myles Garrett to exploit. Say what you will about the incident between these teams in 2019, but there is no questioning that Garrett is one of the best in the league. Roethlisberger has made great decisions under pressure and has one of the quickest releases this year, but if he’s constantly being run down by a 6’4″ 271 pound defensive end that will take its toll on both him and the offense.

 

JORDAN’S PREDICTIONS

This is going to be a tough game. A dirty game. A hard-fought game. And while I’m not convinced the Steelers will win, I’m leaning in that direction. Probably close, probably low-scoring, maybe 21-18 being the final. I think the Browns will come out swinging (not helmets, hopefully) and the Steelers will have to respond swiftly to keep the momentum on their side. Perhaps we’ll see Fitzpatrick force his first turnover of the season? Regardless, I think the defense will make things miserable for Mayfield (if he plays) and that he will be sore come Monday morning.

 

FINAL MUSINGS

This is Kevin Stefanski‘s first game as head coach against the Steelers. He is already off to a much better start than his predecessor Freddie Kitchens. Roethlisberger is a whopping 25-3-1 against Cleveland in his career, and is 15-0 when playing them at Heinz Field.

 

What are your predictions for the game tomorrow? Let us know in the comments below.

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