The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing for their 2022 regular season finale in Week 18 by hosting the Cleveland Browns at Acrisure Stadium. A tough task for the Browns who are facing a Steelers team who have won three straight games.
With this being such a big game for the home team, 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 for all your betting needs this season.
Deshaun Watson now has had several starts for the Browns after waiting out his suspension. Have fans been pleased with what they’ve seen so far, or are they regretting the trade?
I have tried not to answer the hypothetical “do-over” question when it comes to Deshaun Watson, but I will say this: I wouldn’t have made the trade at the time, but now that he’s here, I think he can help elevate the Browns’ offense in 2023. The problem? Jacoby Brissett was already basically leading us to a Top-10 offense in the league, and yet we gave up such valuable draft capital that could have been used toward building a more complete team.
Speaking on Watson’s performance so far with the Browns, we’ve seen a nice progression over the past few weeks. The most frustrating aspect has been the ultimate lack of points on the board. For example, there were a couple of halves in which I thought to myself, “Watson did pretty good, he looks comfortable,” and yet there would be 3 points scored at halftime. When you pay for Watson to be the top player in the NFL, you want better results than that obviously. The second half of last week’s game against Washington was encouraging, as he threw for three touchdown passes. However, all three of those touchdowns involved significant yards after the catch by his receivers. Beggars can’t be choosers though, I suppose.
Speaking of the trade, the Browns gave up valuable draft capital to acquire Watson. What are some of the biggest needs the Browns face this offseason, whether it be in the draft or free agency?
The Browns had the misfortune of losing their starting center (Nick Harris) to injury right out of the gate this year, but also the luxury of stumbling into their backup signing, Ethan Pocic, playing at a very high level. I don’t think Pocic will require a huge contract, but retaining him figures to be pretty important, especially when you consider how lackluster the team’s running game became when he was hurt for a month.
Besides that, defensive tackle has to be the number one position to upgrade. Cleveland does not have a first-round pick for awhile, and their lower-round picks have not worked out very well at the position. If at all possible, signing a defensive tackle in free agency seems like the biggest priority. Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney also indicated this week that he most likely will not return, airing a laundry list of complaints (and he will be benched against the Steelers). Although the team has a couple of options at defensive end opposite Myles Garrett, they don’t yet have that player of the future who they are convinced should start opposite Garrett. I think defensive end is a spot where you can take a couple of fliers on with the draft picks you do have remaining. And then linebacker would be the other position to address, as it’d be nice to add another veteran presence to the group.
The Browns are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but still have a lot to play for in the fact they can single-handedly knock the Steelers out of playoff contention. Has this been a rallying cry with the team, or are they already starting to look forward to the offseason?
I made the mistake last week of predicting that the defense would not be motivated enough to play against a team (Washington) that needed a victory to stay in the playoff race. I was dead wrong on that, as there was no lack of motivation evident at all. Of course, it helps that Carson Wentz is flat out terrible, because then the defense feels confident that they can possibly get a turnover on any given play. Even though the offense has struggled in the scoring department lately, it hasn’t been for a lack of motivation, and I think the players want to build as much as possible with Deshaun Watson so that things are crisp next year. Therefore, I think the team will be eager for this final game and finishing the season on a high note. The difficulty with that could be that right tackle Jack Conklin is out, so Watson’s timing could be thrown off all day with T.J. Watt going up against James Hudson. Hopefully Cleveland offers up a tight end to help double team him when possible.
Who are some free agents/players who could be gone from the Browns this offseason? What are the prospects of the 2023 Browns looking like before the new league year begins?
Almost all of the Browns’ key players will remain in tact on both sides of the ball. Earlier, I mentioned the need to re-sign Ethan Pocic at the center position. Running back Kareem Hunt will likely depart the team to seek a starting role elsewhere; as much of a luxury as he has been at times, Nick Chubb is the bread-and-butter of the ground game, and the team can groom another person to be his backup.
Again, as mentioned earlier, Jadeveon Clowney is set to depart this offseason. As far as other players go, linebackers Anthony Walker and Sione Takitaki, safety Tonnie Harrison, and cornerback Greedy Williams are the biggest names. But Walker is coming off of a season-long injury, Williams is a former first-round pick who has fallen to the back of the depth chart, and Harrison has been the third or fourth safety this offseason. Takitaki started to show off his potential before getting hurt and would be nice to re-sign, but these names are not anyone you would break the bank for.
The Steelers are 2.5-point favorites at home this Sunday, per the DraftKings Sportsbook, what do you think about that spread, and how do you see the game shaking out?
I think the spread is fair — the Browns won the first matchup, have the bigger-named quarterback, and are still a competitive team. Pittsburgh has been rolling, are at home, and deserve that little edge in the point spread. As for how the game shakes out, I see it being a close and sometimes ugly game by both teams offensively, with Cleveland’s running game being the difference down the stretch in a 23-20 victory.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for their Week 18 game vs. the Browns this Sunday in Pittsburgh.