This isn’t the high-profile kind of matchup we had in the first two weeks of the season, but it’s an important game for both teams. The winner will have a share of the AFC North lead and some important divisional leverage moving forward as the Steelers head to Cleveland to take on the Browns on Thursday Night Football.
(+170) Pittsburgh Steelers 1-1 at (-205) Cleveland Browns 1-1 (-4, O/U 38)
This is a weird one to put my finger on because both teams are very clearly mediocre and both are coming off losses in winnable games. Plus, it’s tough to say who had a worse go of it in Week 2. Sure, the Browns blew a 13-point lead inside the final two minutes to lose to the Jets 31-30, but at least Cleveland put up 30 points and had a lead to blow. They were in control of that game. The Steelers offense looked abysmal, putting up only 152 yards of offense at home vs the Patriots last week in their 17-14 loss and they trailed the whole way.
I didn’t have a clearly-defined idea of what I was expecting to see from the Steelers’ offense this season, but it wasn’t this. As a Bills fan, I was happy for Mitch Trubisky when he got a contract and an opportunity to start somewhere in the league. However, I also didn’t see anything from him during his backup duty in Buffalo that impressed me. When Pittsburgh signed him, it felt like a good fit with their run game and defense being the focal points and I figured they would open up the passing game some considering the seemingly obvious limitations of Ben Roethlisberger’s arm in his final season. That hasn’t been the case at all.
It is obviously a small sample size at this point in the season but their passing game (and the entire offense as a whole) has been significantly worse than last season. Mitch is 42/71 for 362 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT on the season. That’s in the bottom-10 in the league or worse in every meaningful passing category. For throwing the ball 35 times per game, they aren’t getting much out of it and it’s a waste of the talent they have in Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, George Pickens, Pat Freiermuth, and a dual-threat back who caught 74 passes last year in Najee Harris. It came out after the New England loss that Mitch doesn’t have a ton of freedom to use his experience at the line under offensive coordinator Matt Canada. Maybe he’s throwing shade or just trying to defend some criticism being lobbed his way, but something has to change in a hurry as rookie QB Kenny Pickett waits in the wings.
While I’m talking about QBs, it’s only fair to point out that Jacoby Brissett hasn’t been much better for the Browns. In fact, he has been very comparable to Mitch going 40/61 for 376 yards 2 TDs, and 1 INT. The primary difference is that it’s understood that Brissett is the backup for the Browns and there is no real threat of Joshua Dobbs stepping in to take that job from him. The Trubisky situation will be interesting to watch over the course of the season but, for the purposes of giving context to this game, the QB play is basically a stalemate of mediocrity.
Regardless of the QB position, these are two teams that ideally want to play ground-and-pound football. That kind of physicality is what tends to make these matchups worth watching. It’s old-school football but it still works…mostly.
It’s no surprise to see Nick Chubb with 228 yards and 3 TDs through the first two games of the season, or his backfield mate Kareem Hunt with 144 scrimmage yards and 2 TDs of his own. The Browns are first in the league in rushing because that is what they do and with the Steelers’ defense giving up 128.5 rushing yards per game there’s little reason to doubt Cleveland continues to have success there.
What is surprising is the lack of production from Najee Harris out of the Pittsburgh backfield. He got off to a slow start last season as well but finished the season with 1,200 rushing yards and 467 receiving yards, so you’d expect more than what they’ve gotten out of him so far. Through the first two games, Harris has 25 carries for just 72 yards and 7 catches for 43 yards and one score. Right now he’s on pace for about 100 fewer carries and 15 fewer receptions. While I sort of understand wanting to throw the ball a bit more in this offense, Pittsburgh can’t lose sight of who they are and they can begin to rectify that by getting Najee 20 touches in this one.
|Points Per Game||18.5||28.0|
|Points Allowed Per Game||18.5||27.5|
|Pass Yards Allowed||295.0||279.5|
|Rush Yards Allowed||128.5||73.5|
Both of these teams used to hang their hats on their defenses as well, but through two weeks neither has been stellar. The good news for the Steelers is they giving up only 18.5 points per game. The bad news is that they are getting gouged in yardage, giving up the 6th most yards. That tells me the offenses they are playing haven’t been great and that’s held true as we’ve seen both New England and Cincinnati be fairly stagnant.
The good news for the Browns is they are surrendering nearly 100 yards less per game, and give up fewer both through the air and on the ground. The alarming thing for them is that they have still given up 27.5-PPG anyway. Joe Flacco had an exceptional game against them in Week 2, so there is some hope for Mitch and PIT offense to find success through the air.
This is a hard-fought rivalry and this is a big early-season game, so I am not expecting a blowout. There are enough differences in key positions where I don’t expect much of last season to have an effect on this but an interesting thing to keep an eye on will be the kickers. Browns’ rookie Cade York hasn’t missed a FG this season and hit the game-winner against Carolina in Week 1 but he also missed the extra point in Week 2 that allowed the Jets to win by 1. Chris Boswell has been a reliable kicker for PIT for a long time and while he hasn’t missed a PAT this season, he did miss a FG in Week 1 in OT. In a close game, I wouldn’t be surprised to see special teams loom large at some point.
Pick: CLE | ATS: PIT +4 | O/U: Over 38 | FINAL: CLE 23 – 20 PIT
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