The Steelers have won four of their last five against the Cleveland Browns, and it certainly looks like it will be five of six this Sunday as they will take on rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson after Deshaun Watson was shut down for the season.
Ahead of the Week 11 matchup, we spoke with Chris Pokorny of Dawgs By Nature to get behind enemy lines with these five questions.
1. Let’s address the elephant in the room- how confident are you that the Browns can make the playoffs without Deshaun Watson?
Obviously, that confidence ticks down a bit and now hinges on the performance of Dorian Thompson-Robinson to a degree. However, my confidence is still high because the defense can carry this team. On top of that, Cleveland has already made it past the “tough” stretch of their schedule, and have one of the league’s softer schedules coming up in opponents like the Broncos, Rams, Bears, and Jets. With other teams like the Bills and Bengals struggling, the door is open for the Browns to stay competitive and snatch one of those wildcard spots.
2. Why do you think the team opted for Dorian Thompson-Robinson over P.J. Walker?
We see the ceiling of P.J. Walker. The team still squeaked by with a couple of victories under his watch, but he was a hindrance to the offense for much of the game. Dorian Thompson-Robinson (DTR) won the backup quarterback job in the preseason with some impressive efforts, both throwing the ball and using his legs. His performance was the reason the team traded Josh Dobbs away. DTR had an awful start against the Ravens earlier this season, but the circumstances of that start were that he did not practice as the starter all week, and didn’t know he was starting until like an hour before gametime. Head coach Kevin Stefanski didn’t have time to modify the gameplan, so the playbook was geared toward Watson’s strengths and didn’t play to DTR’s abilities. It was a disaster, and the team went with Walker after that just to have more of a veteran presence. Now that the team has had time to groom DTR, they think he gives the team the best chance to win among the quarterbacks currently on the roster.
3. What do you think the point threshold will be? In other words, what is the maximum number of points the Steelers could score where you would still feel comfortable in the Browns’ chances of winning?
This Browns team somehow scored 39 points against the Colts in a game where their quarterbacks didn’t throw a touchdown, so there has been a degree of unpredictability. The general consensus, though, is that the Browns’ defense should get Cleveland in good field position pretty often, which helps set our kicker, Dustin Hopkins, up for success. If you factor in three field goals for him and one or two touchdowns, you’re sort of around 20-23 points. I would say 20 points is the maximum allowed to where I’d still feel pretty confident with a victory.
4. Who is one player that has made a bigger name for themself and may play a bigger role in this game compared to the Week 2 matchup?
I won’t include DTR, but the obvious answer besides him is running back Kareem Hunt. Nick Chubb suffered his season-ending injury against Pittsburgh, and Hunt was signed after that to take his place. As the backup, Hunt is averaging 10-14 carries per game and has a 5-game touchdown streak going. He hasn’t been a factor as a receiver like I anticipated, but that’s an element of his game that you can never discount either.
5. DraftKings has the Browns as one point favorites. Do you think they win the game?
Yes, I’m still feeling good about the Browns. It still drives me nuts how the Browns had the lead against Pittsburgh in Week 2 and the Steelers were helpless on offense in the fourth quarter, and yet Pittsburgh still pulled ahead because of a defensive touchdown. Those woes could very well come up again when you think about a rookie quarterback, but hopefully things are different for the sake of Browns fans this time in winning the turnover battle.