On paper, the Cleveland Browns defense has the advantage of dominating the Pittsburgh Steelers offense on Sunday.
After a well-deserved and gritty victory over the Denver Broncos, the Cleveland Browns are now entering the Steelers’ week after a long ten-day hiatus. This was much needed for their battered roster, and as they look to enter another cold-weather aerial fight against their division rivals.
The Browns will always be an offensive wildcard given the health of their offensive tackles, the play of their wide receivers and the looming shoulder injury from Baker Mayfield. A healthy Nick Chubb and returning Jack Conklin will give this attack a good buffer as they work through the passing attack on Sunday.
Defensively, however, this Browns unit is not only designed ideally to take on that Pittsburgh offense, but also designed to dominate that side of the ball.
This is where we shift our attention.
Looking at this Pittsburgh attack, there isn’t much to impress. As of quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger’s decline is no surprise to anyone, as he is currently the 19th quarterback overall in DVOA efficiency measurement. For reference, Baker Mayfield (in all his ups and downs) currently sits at # 11.
Where Roethlisberger has always thrived, however, is his ability to get the ball out quickly and not give up unnecessary sacks. It’s no different this year, as Roethlisberger finds himself at the top of the list in pitching time.
To some extent, it doesn’t matter how good your defensive line is or how bad the opponent’s offensive line is when your quarterback is dismissed as quickly as Roethlisberger. On paper, the Browns’ defensive line should have a day in the field against a poorly constructed Steelers offensive line.
However, they won’t make it home unless the back of the defense shows up and does its job against the skillful players dressed in black and yellow. It’s a good thing the Browns came out and made the investment they made in high school at the time.
Even if Denzel Ward is set to miss the game, the Browns will still be able to field Greg Newsome and Greedy Williams, with their addition of free agent Troy Hill patrolling the nickel. The Browns still have three good safeties, but they haven’t played well collectively by unit in recent weeks.
With the resurgence of John Johnson III and the stability of Ronnie Harrison against Denver, however, it would be a great week for the whole unit with Grant Delpit included to return to dominance. This unit compares well to the Pittsburgh receivers.
Expect this defense to be mostly nickel and dimes, considering Pittsburgh doesn’t play much under center with Roethlisberger’s aging limbs and near zero mobility. A week ago, the Browns proved they can stop the race just with a nickel fin (if not better) compared to the base.
Without Juju Smith-Schuster, the Browns would face the trio of Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool and James Washington. While the Browns never tied cornerbacks to specific assignments, it would be a good week to do so.
Johnson is not only perhaps the best road racer in the division, but also one of the most nervous in the AFC as a whole. Matching your nervous first round in Newsome to Johnson would add up like a fantastic back-and-forth. That would leave a deep threat to Chase Claypool with Williams’ size and length, another big clash on paper.
If the secondary can come in and punch their assignments in the mouth of the line of scrimmage and force Roethlisberger to look away from his place and hold the football, then look for the defensive line to feast on.
Starting offensive tackles are still pending for the Steelers, as former Brown Zach Banner returns from injury. Will they stay with rookie Dan Moore on the left tackle or will they insert Banner into their starting lineup. Either way, the Browns will face Chukwuma Okorafor against one of those tackles.
Even the Okorafor veteran is struggling, leaving Moore or Banner’s rookie in his first game in over a year with another unfavorable clash in front of him. Myles Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney and the surprisingly successful Takk McKinley will have plenty of opportunities to play.
But again, that’s only if high school can step up and force Roethlisberger out of his original spot.
Where the Steelers could attack and find success, however, is in the space where the injured and frankly lacking second-tier talent will be forced to play in the open field. With Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah still in the injured reserve, and with rookie running back Najee Harris already receiving the second touch from any running back out of the backfield, look for the Steelers to put the ball back to him out of the backfield. a receiver.
This is the week when Malcolm Smith and Anthony Walker, the two linebackers on the field in nickel lineups, take good angles of pursuit, failure and space, and prove to be solid tackles. Troy Hill will also be forced into individual opportunities in space.
Even with a first round back on their roster, it doesn’t have the makings of a massive battle in the trenches. The Steelers’ peak offense is ranked 23rd in DVOA and is slightly more effective in the air. The struggles of the Pittsburgh offensive line are a major reason for this.
The success of this defensive performance falls in the high school rounds. On paper, this Browns defense looks set to dominate the Steelers offense. It’s time for them to get out on the pitch and prove it.
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