The Story That Won’t Be One
- Several month ago, when we were looking forward to the 2020 season, fans may have been thinking about what would happen with Myles Garrett played his first game against the Pittsburgh Steelers since last year’s helmet-smashing incident to Mason Rudolph. And while I’m sure we’ll hear it mentioned on the broadcast a little bit, or see a replay of it, the whole thing oddly seems like a non-story right now.
- Maybe it’s the fact that Ben Roethlisberger is Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback, so we’re not going to see Rudolph vs. Garrett again. Maybe it’s the fact that 2020 has been such a depressing year in general, that we just want to focus on football, plain and simple — and that is Roethlisberger vs. Garrett, but between the lines. The Browns have expressed that, and so have the Steelers.
- Now, this is still a rivalry game. I’m sure we’ll see some players mixing it up during the game, but I don’t expect it to be about any form of retaliation for the Garrett incident.
- Speaking of Garrett, let’s talk about the match-up he faces this week. Alejandro Villanueva is Pittsburgh’s starting left tackle, and Chukwuma Okorafor is filling in as the starting right tackle. With how dominant Garrett has been playing, I don’t think either player is going to have a clean game against the Defensive Player of the Year candidate. However, the Steelers’ offensive line, despite having quite a bit of shuffling, has played above expectations. The Steelers are being sacked on 4.2% of their passing attempts, the 7th-best mark in the NFL. They are also averaging 4.55 YPC on the around, which ranks 10th in the NFL.
Pittsburgh’s Offense vs. Cleveland’s Defense
- Let’s talk about the Steelers’ offense a little. Ben Roethlisberger has been playing very efficient football. Through four games, he is completing 70% of his passes, has thrown 10 touchdowns to 1 interception, and has only been sacked 6 times. He has not been taking off to scramble: on the season, he has 1 run for 11 yards, but beyond that, his season totals are 13 rushes for 2 yards.
- With all those impressive stats in mind, he is doing it without effectively throwing the ball downfield. Cleveland’s defense has to keep that in mind — and you know how much I’ve complained bout the linebackers and safeties allowing the catch-and-runs; although the linebackers have been doing better in that area.
Ben Roethlisberger ranks 30th in average completed air yards this season, per @pfref, and has the highest off-target rate (59%) and fourth-worst completion rate (24% for 4-of-17) on throws 20-plus yards downfield this season, @ESPNStatsInfo. #Steelers still 4-0!
— Steelers Depot (@Steelersdepot) October 15, 2020
- Big runs are definitely part of a team’s yards per carry average, but it’s important to understand context. James Conner has had runs of 59, 25, and 25 yards this season. Take those away, and he’s averaging 3.05 YPC instead of 4.90 YPC.
- By comparison, Kareem Hunt is averaging 5.0 YPC, but if you take away his three biggest runs of the season, he’s still averaging 4.15 YPC. Nick Chubb was averaging 5.9 YPC, and if you take away his three biggest runs, he’s still averaging 4.7 YPC.
- Meanwhile, the Browns’ run defense has been terrific at not allowing “the big run.” In each game this season, the longest runs that Cleveland has allowed are 13, 9, 13, 24, and 10 yards, respectively — and I believe that 24-yard run was one in which the running back ended up fumbling on.
- If you didn’t know where the last three bullet points were going at first, now maybe you can see the picture forming: even though Pittsburgh appears to be doing really well on the ground, most of it has been via one big play per game, as opposed to consistently running well — and Cleveland’s defense to this point has not allowed the big run. Is that an advantage for Cleveland?
Injury Concerns & Other Notes This Week
- My biggest concerns this weeks stem from injuries. Baker Mayfield winced on his final throw last week, as if there was no way he could muster enough strength to get a throw off without excruciating pain. It was a positive sign that he was a full participant in Friday’s practice, and I’m sure whatever treatment he is receiving is taking away a lot of the pain. But he’s also not getting hit and crunched in practice.
- Pittsburgh blitzes on nearly half of their snaps, and have a league-high 42.9% pressure rate. Mayfield is almost sure to take some hits — how will he respond to them physically, and will the thought of getting hit make him less composed in the pocket? This front seven of the Steelers is athletic enough to chase him down outside the pocket too.
The Browns and Steelers matchup features two of the best pass rushes in the NFL, but they get pressure in different ways.
➤ 42.9% pressure rate (1st), 46% blitz rate (2nd)
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 15, 2020
- Pittsburgh is allowing just 64 yards rushing per game. Now, you may say that the Colts’ run defense had a similar ranking last week, and the Browns’ offense still moved the ball pretty effectively. Yes — but it was mostly through the air, until the fourth quarter. Wyatt Teller is out this week, and I think the Browns’ running game will be grounded again. That will put the pressure on Baker Mayfield to throw a lot of passes again, which isn’t the best thing given his injury situation and Pittsburgh coming hot-and-heavy. If they go for it, Odell Beckham needs to have a big day against a secondary that allowed 10 catches for 152 yards to Travis Fulgham of the Eagles last week.
- For all the good numbers the Steelers’ defense has, one negative stands out: they’ve allowed a 50% conversion rate on third down, which is 27th in the NFL. Pittsburgh says they’ve addressed it this week, but we’ll see.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “This is a tough one. I don’t like making my prediction early in a week, because I like taking my time to evaluate some more pros and cons. Earlier in the week, I told our Steelers affiliate that at that point, I was leaning toward Pittsburgh to win 27-24. My concerns then are the same ones now: Mayfield’s injury, combined with Pittsburgh bringing heavy pressure and their solid run defense, throwing off the Browns’ offense. I know the passing game thrived in the first half last week, but it also went dead cold in the second half.
My inkling to switch the pick stems from looking more at Pittsburgh’s offensive formula. It’s another non-mobile quarterback, and Philip Rivers was the first kind of quarterback like that who the team has faced this season (Dwayne Haskins also typically doesn’t run that much), and the team had Rivers flustered all afternoon. Pittsburgh doesn’t go downfield that often, and if Larry Ogunjobi is set to return, the Browns’ run defense would be in better shape this week for another solid outing. I’m also intrigued again to have a safety like Sheldrick Redwine in the starting lineup, and I think Kevin Johnson’s return to his role last week at nickelback was a quiet upgrade for the defense. Plus, what can I say — I freaking want to root like hell for the Browns, so I’m taking the Browns now.” Browns 27, Steelers 20
Thomas Moore: “Much like last week, the Browns are facing a defense that has put up solid numbers but has yet to face an offense as talented as the Browns. Would I feel better if Nick Chubb and Wyatt Teller were playing, and if Odell Beckham Jr. was not ill, and Baker Mayfield and Jarvis Landry were not carrying injuries into the game? Sure. But the offense should still be able to play well enough for the Browns to have an opportunity at victory.
The defense could be another story, however, as injuries continue to weaken the defensive line and ravage the secondary. To have a chance at a win, the defense will likely need to come up with yet another opportune turnover or defensive stop at just the right time. They have done that four weeks in a row, so asking for a fifth consecutive week might be a reach.
Still, challenges present opportunities, and the Browns are looking to bust a 16-game road losing streak to the Steelers. As hard as it may be to believe, this is the second time in franchise history that the Browns have put together such a streak against the Steelers. The last one was broken in 1986 after 16 games, so let’s go with history repeating itself and the Browns finally breaking the latest jinx.” Browns 24, Steelers 21
Barry Shuck: “Wow. Undefeated Pittsburgh vs. the one-loss Browns. This game will mean more to Cleveland because a loss will make the Browns 1-2 in the division. I am going to do my prediction strictly on stats, so here goes.
The Steelers are the sixth best passing team in the NFL. The Browns passing defense ranks Number 13. That tell me Pittsburgh will throw a lot and we all know our pass defense can be had for large numbers like the Dallas game. The Browns passing game is ranked 19th whereas the Steelers are Number 6. Again, a disadvantage.
Pittsburgh has the 16th rushing offense against the Browns Number 1 rushing offense. As far as rushing defense, the Steelers are Number 1 while Cleveland is Number 5. Plainly put, this will be just like going against the Colts with a very reliable pass defense and a stiff run defense. The Steelers can’t run and the Browns can’t stop the pass. So, according to statistics, there is your storyline.” Steelers 38, Browns 24
Ezweav: “The defense stepped up against the Colts in ways that suggests the lack of preseason made the situation up to that point look worse than it actually was. Excepting Andrew Sendejo. I legitimately can’t say whether his performance is better or worse than Jabrill Peppers’ rookie year so far (if you don’t remember how that went, consider yourself lucky). Otherwise, guys were in better position and made plays. Tremendously encouraging.
The gameplan offensively was brilliant, and will need to be again in order for us to have a chance. The Pittsburgh front is formidable, but because of last week they won’t be able to focus only on the run. We should be able to score some points, but getting over 30 for a FIFTH(!) straight week is a tall order. Thus, the D will need to have their game of the year.
Normally I like to remain safely pessimistic, but my hatred for the Steelers is such that I’ll make the exception: Myles Garrett has the best game of his career, further cementing the well earned animosity Pittsburgh fans have for him. He causes 2 turnovers – including one late, and the good guys come home 5-1” Browns 25, Steelers 19
rufio: “I would trade Sendejo for Peppers straight up. I’d include a draft pick. Especially with Joseph and Harrison out this week, we need safety help in a big way.
It is really not worth criticizing a coaching staff who has done what was needed to win 4 straight, but not giving playing time to players like Redwine, Harrison, and Higgins has been a bit puzzling. They have earned my trust, and we are all biased because the safeties came in and immediately benefited from Rivers’ mistakes last week. But I’ve seen Sendejo get torched one too many times thus far.
The defense as it is currently constructed will likely need to continue to force turnovers for us to win. We just won’t likely be a team that is more talented than the opposition at enough spots to force a lot of 3 and outs, and we don’t have the experience in this system to make complicated adjustments and disguises on the fly. Denzel Ward and Myles Garrett will help us shut down one WR and force the opposing QB into getting the ball out quickly, which should help. When Larry and Sheldon have been healthy, they have been really helpful as well.
In this game, I think we give up some big plays through the air. Ben is just too smart and has seen too many things for us to keep him fully contained. But I think Myles is able to wreak some havoc in the backfield and we get a few picks due to pressure. Meanwhile Baker and company continue to find ways to put up points in bunches, and this time we don’t take our foot off the pedal in the second half.” Browns 33, Steelers 30
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.