J.D. Bagley, @jdbagley5
Following a narrow victory over the Bills on Sunday, the Browns are back in action at FirstEnergy Stadium on just 3 days rest as the Pittsburgh Steelers come to town for a Thursday night divisional showdown. After starting 1-4, the Big Ben-less Steelers have won 4 in a row and 5 of their last 6 to boost themselves back into playoff contention. As for Cleveland, their season has not gone the way many had anticipated, but hope still lies ahead with the easiest remaining schedule in the NFL. The history of these two teams heavily favors the Steelers as they are 11-1-1 in their last 13 meetings with the Browns.
The key for the Cleveland offense in this one is to take care of the football. Baker Mayfield has gone two straight games without a turnover, but this Steelers defense has been rebuilt on the fly and they are for real. 3rd in the NFL in sacks and 2nd in takeaways, giving Pittsburgh short fields will doom the Browns chances in this one. With his lack of experience, Cleveland should look to force Mason Rudolph to win this game himself, not letting the defense have too much say in the outcome. Another big part of the Browns game plan will likely be to feature Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, using them in a similar way that they did against Buffalo. After just one game together, it’s no secret these two backs are extremely dynamic and have the ability to feed off of each other.
Both are selfless individuals on the football field who are willing to contribute in any way possible, whether that’s running, catching, or blocking. Two potential milestones to keep an eye on that could be achieved Thursday night. Chubb needs 81 rushing yards to hit 1,000 for the season and Jarvis Landry needs 3 catches to become the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions through a player’s first 6 seasons.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Browns need to slow down the Steelers’ rushing attack and put the game in Mason Rudolph’s hands. Cleveland has yet to allow a 300-yard passer this year even without their top two corners, Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams, for a 4 game stretch earlier this season. With James Conner, a full participant in practice this week after missing the last 2 games, Cleveland’s run defense which ranks 27th in the league will be tested. In 3 career games against the Browns, Conner averages 138.3 scrimmage yards per game along with 4 touchdowns. With Olivier Vernon out for the second straight game nursing a knee injury, the Browns will once again rely on Myles Garrett to lead by example, taking on one of the best offensive lines in football.
This one is shaping up to be a prime time AFC North classic, featuring two teams fighting to make a playoff run after disappointing starts to their seasons. Divisional games always mean something, but they are even more important in November and December as the postseason is approaching. FirstEnergy Stadium will be rocking all night as the Browns try to save their season, one game at a time.