The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns are bitter rivals, and their last meeting was way back in Week 6 when the Steelers derailed a red-hot Browns team 38-7 at Heinz Field. A lot has changed since that time. The Steelers are 12-3 and have clinched the AFC North division, while the Browns are still hoping to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
With there being such a long time since these two teams played, I decided to ask Chris Pokorny, editor of SB Nation’s Browns site Dawgs by Nature, some questions about the upcoming game. Mainly, what is different between these two teams.
Here are his answers...
Since the Week 6 matchup between these two teams, how has the Browns’ offense changed, if at all?
There are three big differences with the Browns’ offense since our Week 6 match-up with the Steelers: QB Baker Mayfield isn’t trying to play with hurt ribs, RB Nick Chubb will play, and RG Wyatt Teller is expected to start. Cumulatively, those three things played a major role in why Cleveland’s offense was only able to manage one touchdown pass. From a mental standpoint, Mayfield did not trust his ribs to hold up with the pain he was feeling, and that was a recipe for disaster considering how often the Steelers blitzed, and without Teller in the lineup. Teller’s impact on the Browns’ running game is very profound, as you can see from these stats:
#Browns will get a huge boost with the return of Guard, Wyatt Teller.— The Hottest Take Sports Podcast (@Hottest_TakePod) January 1, 2021
Teller's Run-Block Grade of 93.6 is 1st among Guards in the #NFL.
Without Teller this year (5 Games):
With Teller this year (10 Games):
16 TDs pic.twitter.com/GvPJdTu5oa
Cleveland’s offense is at its best with Teller in the game, and even though the receivers being missing against the Jets was a big reason for the loss in Week 16, I think the Browns would have been able to manage a focused rushing attack to win it if Teller had played. He is trying to come back from an ankle injury against Pittsburgh, so fingers crossed that his return comes to fruition. Beyond Teller, Mayfield’s confidence with his receivers and his accuracy have been much improved over the second half of the season, to the point where I’d say he has played like a Top 5 quarterback in the NFL during that stretch. That’s a far cry from the player Pittsburgh saw in Week 6.
Sticking with the previous theme, how has the Browns’ defense changed, if at all?
The defense has been pretty bad all season, with the defensive stats being misleading. For example, in yards allowed, the Browns are 17th in the NFL, which seems pretty decent. They are not good, though — teams who want to move the ball against them will be able to pick our linebackers and safeties apart. This week, the Browns’ top two linebackers on an already sub-standard unit are out due to COVID-19, and so is our top cornerback, Denzel Ward. That’s why even if Pittsburgh’s offense plays some backups this week, besides the threat of Myles Garrett, I feel like they’ll be facing a second-string defense. That does nothing to ease my anxiety about this week’s game.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the upcoming game in Week 17. Also, if you want to check out the other side of the fence, be sure to visit Dawgs by Nature for the best coverage of the Browns.