CLEVELAND, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – Losses like the one the Browns suffered Sunday against the Jets can derail a season.
But for as soul crushing as the 31-30 defeat, which saw Cleveland bowl a 30-17 lead in 1:55 and lose 31-30, they had no time to dwell on it with the rival Steelers rolling into town for Thursday night football.
Pittsburgh, which has dominated this series since 1999, is also 1-1 on the season, and like the Browns, coming off a loss at home Sunday.
What to watch for – Communication breakdowns have cost the Browns defense five touchdowns in two games. With three of those breakdowns coming in a stunning loss to the Jets – two in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter – all eyes are on Cleveland’s secondary. Defensive players held a player’s only meeting earlier this week to discuss the problems. We’ll see if the corrections are made this week.
Defensive end Myles Garrett, who landed on the injury report and did not practice Tuesday due to a neck injury, comes into the game a sack away from surpassing Clay Matthews Jr. for the official franchise record of 62 career sacks. The NFL began recognizing the statistic in 1982 and the unofficial Matthews team record is 75. Garrett has three sacks in the first two games this season.
Garrett won’t have his bookend, Jadeveon Clowney, who is out after suffering an ankle injury during the third quarter Sunday. The loss of Clowney made getting to the quarterback tougher on Garrett. Rookie Alex Wright is being called upon to step in after Chase Winovich was placed in injured reserve this week due to a hamstring injury.
Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett is coming off an outstanding performance against New York that saw him complete 22 of 27 passes for 229 yards with a touchdown and a late interception on a desperation throw at the end of the Jets game.
Nick Chubb scored a hat trick of touchdowns, even though he took the blame for scoring the third to put the Browns up 13 with 1:55 remaining which forced the Browns to kick of instead of running out the clock. Chubb has been a force through two games averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Last week the Browns went back to alternating series with him and Kareem Hunt, who has 144 scrimmage yards and two scores through two games. The duo saw several snaps together in Week 1 and head coach Kevin Stefanski could call on the combination at any time.
Mentor native Mitchell Trubisky is essentially playing for his job with rookie Kenny Pickens looming according to folks in Pittsburgh. Trubisky ranks 32 in yards per attempt through two weeks and hasn’t pushed the ball down field much in the first two games. The Steelers are ranked 28th in passing at 172.0 yards per game through the air. With Cleveland’s secondary appearing discombobulated, Thursday night could provide them the chance to get the pass game on track.
Steelers running back Najee Harris has yet to score this season and he has just 72 yards on 25 carries. The Browns run defense has been pretty stout despite questions about their young defensive tackles as Cleveland ranks fourth against the run allowing 73.5 yards per game.
Steelers perennial defensive player of the year candidate TJ Watt remains out with a pectoral injury suffered in Week 1. Alex Highsmith already has 3 sacks for the Steelers.
Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is a one-man wrecking crew in the secondary. Fitzpatrick picked off a pass for the second straight week against the Patriots and he’s broken up two other passes this season.
The Browns special teams will be under the microscope after a poor showing last week that saw them get beat on a fake punt and fail to recover an onside kick with the game on the line. Rookie kicker Cade York also missed a late PAT. The lone bright spot was a 44-yard kickoff return by rookie Jerome Ford.
Last week – Steelers lost to the Patriots 17-14; Browns lost to the Jets 31-30
Last Time – January 3, 2022: Steelers 26, Browns 14
Series – Steelers lead all-time regular season: 78-60-1; 37-8-1 since 1999; 1-1 in playoffs
Rankings – Points scored: Steelers T-21 (18.5), Browns 7 (28.0)
Yards: Steelers 30 (255.0), Browns 10 (380.0)
Rushing: Steelers 26 (83.0), Browns 2 (200.5)
Passing: Steelers 28 (172.0), Browns 26 (179.5)
Points allowed: Steelers T-12 (18.5), Browns 26 (27.5)
Yards allowed: Steelers T-27 (404.0), Browns 14 (331.5)
Rushing yards allowed: Steelers 22 (128.5), Browns 4 (73.5)
Passing yards allowed: Steelers 30 (375.5), Browns 26 (258.0)
Turnover ratio: Steelers T-2 (+4), Browns T-9 (+1)
Projected starters for Browns – Offense: WR Amari Cooper, LT Jedrick Wills Jr., LG Joel Bitonio, C Ethan Pocic, RG Wyatt Teller, RT Jack Conklin, TE David Njoku, WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, QB Jacoby Brissett, RB Nick Chubb, TE Harrison Bryant
Defense: DE Myles Garrett, DT Jordan Elliott, DT Taven Bryan, DE Alex Wright, MIKE Anthony Walker Jr., WILL Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, CB Denzel Ward, CB Greg Newsome II, SS Grant Delpit, FS John Johnson III, S Ronnie Harrison
Injury report – OUT: DE Jadeveon Clowney; EXPECTED TO PLAY: LG Joel Bitonio (biceps), DE Myles Garrett (neck), TE Harrison Bryant (thumb/thigh), RT Jack Conklin (knee), OT Chris Hubbard (illness), DE Isaiah Thomas (hand)
Uniforms – Brown jerseys, orange pants
Broadcast – Radio: 92.3 The Fan, 98.5 WNCX and the University Hospitals Cleveland Browns radio network. Streaming: Amazon Prime. TV: WEWS TV-5.
Kickoff – 8:15 p.m. FirstEnergy Stadium – Cleveland, Ohio
Prediction – Browns 23, Steelers 20
Our record – 1-1