CLEVELAND, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – Are you ready for some football?
The Browns, who seek their first 2-0 start to a season since 1993 when the team began 3-0 before finishing that year 7-9, are in search of their first regular season win in Pittsburgh since 2003.
Cleveland, which also seeks just their 10th regular season victory over the Steelers since 1999, also aims for the first 2-0 start within the AFC North since 2019 with a win.
Here’s what we are watching for Monday night in the land of three rivers.
After getting slapped around for four quarters by Super Bowl contending San Francisco in a 30-7 Week 1 loss, expect the Steelers to come ready to play in primetime.
Is this the night Deshaun Watson finally throws for at least 300 yards? Limited by soggy conditions in Week 1, weather should not be a factor in Week 2. Watson and the Browns seemed excited about the opportunities down the field that presented themselves despite a heavy football factoring into the inability to connect on them last week against the Bengals. Look for Watson to take some more deep shots down field.
Receiver Amari Cooper, who is two catches shy of 600 for his career, suffered a groin injury Saturday, and he is officially questionable. Should Cooper be unable to play, rookie Cedric Tillman or David Bell could see some opportunities for targets. Elijah Moore led the Browns with 43 yards receiving last week while being targeted a team-high seven times.
The Browns defensive front only tallied two sacks in Week 1 but they registered 10 quarterbacks hits led by defensive ends Myles Garrett and Za’Darius Smith, who had four each. Garrett also became the fifth-fastest in NFL history t 75 career sacks and he did it in 85 games. Garrett has a at least a sack in each of his last six AFC North games and has seven sacks in 10 career games against Pittsburgh.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin attributed Cleveland’s Week 1 dominance to the secondary. Cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Greg Newsome II along with safety Grant Delpit collected pass breakups against the Bengals. Quarterback Kenny Pickett, who beat the Browns in the 2022 season finale by throwing for 195 yards and a touchdown, played from behind for Pittsburgh last week where he completed 31 of 46 passes in the blowout loss but also threw a pair of interceptions. Steelers receiver George Pickens, who had five catches in Week 1 and caught a TD pass in the 2022 finale, worries Browns defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz with his propensity to make ridiculous catches and win 50-50 balls.
Nick Chubb bested Bengals running back Joe Mixon with a 106-yard effort on 18 carries last week and this week features another marquee matchup between backs. Steelers rusher Najee Harris has racked up 477 scrimmage yards in four career games against the Browns and has rushed for a touchdown in each of them as well. Will Chubb outrun Harris?
Even with Cameron Heyward out for the Steelers for the foreseeable future, Cleveland will still have to contend with sackmaster and former defensive player of the year T.J. Watt along with Alex Highsmith. Browns rookie right tackle Dawand Jones, who has replaced Jack Conklin following a season-ending knee injury, likely will be tasked with slowing Watt, who has 15 sacks, a fumble recovery and an interception in 10 games against Cleveland in his career and is coming off a three-sack performance in Week 1, while Jedrick Wills Jr. will be matched up with Highsmith, who has seven sacks in six games against the Browns, including at least 1.5 sacks in each of the last four meetings.
Steelers safety Mikah Fitzpatrick is a playmaking machine. Fitzpatrick, who had 10 tackles the last time these two teams played, has 33 tackles and a pick-6 in eight games against the Browns.
Browns kicker Dustin Hopkins had a perfect debut in the rain last week making all three field goals and a PAT, but the longest kick was 43 yards. Like his new home turf, Acrisure Stadium has been a nightmare to kick in over the years and his range will be tested.
Last week – Browns beat the Bengals 24-3; Steelers lost to the 49ers 30-7
The last time – January 8, 2023: Steelers 28, Browns 14
Series – Steelers lead all-time 78-61-1; 38-9-1 since 1999
By the numbers – A look at how the two teams match up statistically.
Browns offense vs. Steelers defense:
Scoring: Browns 24.0, Steelers 30.0
Total yards: Browns 350.0, Steelers 391.0
Passing: Browns 144, Steelers 203.0
Rushing: Browns 206.0, Steelers 188.0
Browns defense vs. Steelers offense:
Scoring: Browns 3.0, Steelers 7.0
Total yards: Browns 142.0, Steelers 239.0
Passing: 67.0, Steelers 198.0
Rushing: Browns 75.0, Steelers 41.0
Sacks: Browns 2, Steelers 3
Takeaways: Browns 0, Steelers 1
Turnover differential: Browns -2, Steelers -1
Projected Browns starters – Offense: WR Amari Cooper, LT Jedrick Wills Jr., LG Joel Bitonio, C Ethan Pocic, RG Wyatt Teller, RT Dawand Jones, TE David Njoku, WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, QB Deshaun Watson, RB Nick Chubb, WR Elijah Moore
Defense: DE Myles Garrett, DT Dalvin Tomlinson, DT Jordan Elliott, DE Za’Darius Smith, LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB Anthony Walker, CB Denzel Ward, CB Greg Newsome II, CB Martin Emerson Jr., SS Grant Delpit, FS Juan Thornhill
Injury report – QUESTIONABLE: WR Amari Cooper (groin), S Juan Thornhill (calf), DT Siaki Ika (foot); EXPECTED TO PLAY: LG Joel Bitonio (rest), DE Myles Garrett (rest), LB Anthony Walker (rest), DT Shelby Harris (Achilles), DT Maurice Hurst (hamstring)
Uniforms – White helmet, white 1946 throwback jersey, white pants
Broadcast info – Radio: 92.3 The Fan, 98.5 WNCX; TV: WEWS TV-5 (ABC)
Kickoff – 8:15 p.m. Acrisure Stadium; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Prediction – Browns 23, Steelers 20
Our 2023 record – 1-0