The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing for Week 3 of the 2022 regular season with a trip to Cleveland, OH to play the Browns. A tough task for the Steelers who are coming off a loss to the New England Patriots in Week 2, and have to travel on a short week.
With this being such a big game, not like every game isn’t a big game, I was able to ask Chris Pokorny of Dawgs By Nature, SB Nation’s Cleveland Browns website, five questions leading up to the game.
Check out the Q&A below, and be sure to check out DraftKings Sportsbook — where the Steelers are 4.5 point underdogs — for all your betting needs this season.
The Browns are 1-1, and as we all know this is without Deshaun Watson. What has the vibe been around the fan base for this start of the 2022 regular season?
It has been a bit of a weird vibe leading up to the season where we were still excited about football, but it felt like the team was going to have to punt on their 2022 season (as far as being a serious playoff contender goes) because of having Jacoby Brissett as their starting quarterback for 11 games. The hope we had was the thought of starting the season 4-0 or 3-1 against the Panthers, Jets, Steelers, and Falcons, which is certainly one of the easiest schedules a team could ask for. Cleveland looked like they were on their way to that 2-0 start this past Sunday against the Jets, which would’ve been the first time that’s happened for Cleveland since the 1993 season. Even with all of the headaches associated with the quarterback position all offseason, it was exciting to taste that type of start to the year, so I think the fan base was hooked again — only to, in typical Cleveland fashion, have it ripped away in unfathomable fashion, collapsing to the Jets. I think the vibe is still strong simply because we’re here in the moment and football is back, but we know the media storm that will resume once Watson returns later this season.
After 2021, and Baker Mayfield gone, are hopes high for the Browns this season, or is it more of a question mark considering the big money quarterback Watson won’t be playing for quite a while?
As I alluded to in the previous question, I think the thought process for me was, “if we can get to 4-0 or 3-1, then let’s hope we can be 6-5 or 5-6 by the time Watson comes back.” Our schedule gets tougher after Week 4, and with the way our defense is playing, our offense and Brissett isn’t built to go score-for-score with high-powered offenses. When Watson comes back, the dynamic of the offense changes completely, to where we can start thinking about that playoff push. However, I wouldn’t be confident in Watson thriving right away, because not only are we talking about a guy who essentially will have missed two seasons of live game action, but the background noise has to play a bit of a factor too in distracting his preparation.
What are the weaknesses of the Browns offense and defense? Any specific areas of concern?
On offense, the Browns’ weakness is our receiving talent after Amari Cooper. Last week, we were able to get away with it because Cooper had a great day, the running game was on point, and Brissett had about as efficient of a day as one could ask from him. However, if the Browns get down on offense and Cleveland needs to start going through the air, needing those second-, third-, and fourth-receiving options to make a play, I’m not too confident in it due to the lack of separation they get and/or their lack of reliable hands.
On defense, Cleveland’s pass rush was thriving with Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney, but now that group takes a hit with Clowney out on Thursday to an ankle injury. But the bigger concern, by far, is the defensive backs. It’s not a case of individual talent, but one of those “only in Cleveland” type of things where the players are letting receivers run wide open for touchdowns because they are confused as to what coverage they are in. We’re talking about NFL players who have been in the league for awhile, and it’s crazy how many complete breakdowns we’ve had the past two weeks that you don’t see from any other team. If the Browns didn’t have those huge lapses, then instead of needing a game-winning field goal against the Panthers and collapsing to the Jets, we’d be talking about two 14- to 21-point victories to begin the year.
Likewise, what are the strengths of the Cleveland offense and defense? What areas of the team do they hang their hat on?
The strength of the Browns’ offense remains their running game. It’s only two games, but the Browns lead the NFL with 200.5 rushing yards per game. Nick Chubb has 39 carries for 228 yards (5.8 YPC) and 3 touchdowns, while Kareem Hunt has 24 carries for 104 yards (4.3 YPC) and 1 touchdown. Both players have been doing well in the screen game too.
On defense, I’ll go with a bit of a surprise and that is the team’s top two linebackers through two games: Anthony Walker and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, both of whom have graded above 90 by Pro Football Focus. In fact, PFF pointed out that Cleveland, with Walker, Owusu-Koramoah, and Myles Garrett, have three of the top eight defensive players in the NFL this season as far as grades go.
As you mentioned in your questions, the day the Browns announced Clowney and Winovich won’t be playing, the line jumped to favor the Browns even more. In fact, DraftKings Sportsbook currently has the Browns -4.5 as the spread for the Thursday Night Football game. What do you think of this, and how would you be putting your money down?
I’m a little puzzled as to why the line is so much (Browns by 4.5 as of this writing) coming off a loss to the Jets, and not having Jadeveon Clowney available. The Steelers have only lost by 3 in their first two games, so with the chances of the outcome being that close again, I would take the Steelers against the spread. For the moneyline pick, I’d still take Cleveland, just not against the spread.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for their season opener vs. the Bengals this Thursday in Cleveland.