The Steelers and Browns clash this week in an AFC North matchup that could have playoff implications. The two teams met previously this season in Week 2, with the result being a 26-22 thriller with Pittsburgh emerging as the winner. This time around, both teams enter the game with identical 6-3 records and some key injuries, pointing towards what should be another tight rivalry game.
Here are seven players on the Cleveland Browns’ roster you should be aware of heading into the game.
QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson
There probably isn’t a player with more pressure on his shoulders for Cleveland this week than rookie passer Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Following starting quarterback Deshaun Watson’s surprise season-ending injury earlier this week, the young man known as DTR has been thrust into the leading role on a team with playoff aspirations.
Thompson-Robinson has started one game this year for the Browns, a 28-3 loss against the Ravens in Week 4 in which the rookie was 19/36 for 121 yards, no touchdowns, and three interceptions. But one game is a small sample size, and looking back on DTR’s college days, there’s a lot more to get excited about. Thompson-Robinson was seen as a late-round steal by many heading into the 2023 NFL Draft out of UCLA. In his final season in college he passed for 3,154 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions, adding on 646 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. He’s a dynamic runner at the quarterback position with a good-not-great arm capable of putting plenty of zip on short-to-intermediate level passes. However, he was also noted to have a below-average deep ball, some decision-making issues, and mechanics that are still a work in progress.
In short, Thompson-Robinson was a boom-or-bust pick who could do either this week against a Steelers defense that’s given up a lot of yardage through the air, but still finds ways to pressure the quarterback and create takeaways. With only one start under his belt, it’s yet to be seen whether this is the week DTR saves the Browns’ season, or if this game is the beginning of the end of Cleveland’s playoff hopes.
OT Geron Christian
Last time the Browns faced the Steelers, they were without one of their starting tackles. This time around, they’ll be without both. Browns’ starting left tackle Jedrick Wills was placed on injured reserve following Week 9, meaning his backup, veteran Geron Christian, will be matched up against Steelers’ pass-rusher Alex Highsmith on Sunday.
On paper, it looks like Highsmith will be set up for a big day against the Browns. But Christian played very well in Week 10, with some even saying he’s outperformed Wills this season. Per PFF, Christian has allowed one sack in 111 offensive snaps this season.
If LT Geron Christian continues to play as well as he did on Sunday, I don’t see how the #Browns can give the job back to Jedrick Wills.— Matt Wilson (@CoachWilson66) November 14, 2023
His PFF Grade of 69.6 was the highest graded performance of any CLE LT this season. #DawgPound pic.twitter.com/0OVmfxTT5l
Despite being down both Wills and starting right tackle Jack Conklin, the Browns still rushed for 178 yards last week in their big win against the Ravens. It will be interesting how Christian and the Browns’ patchwork offensive line will perform against the Steelers’ defensive line, who recorded six sacks last time the two teams met.
WR Elijah Moore
Browns’ wide receiver Elijah Moore hasn’t had the most productive season for Cleveland this year, but he’s been a steady presence on their offense as their WR2 behind Amari Cooper. Moore is one of the fastest players on Cleveland’s roster, as the receiver ran a 4.35-second 40-yard dash coming out of college. His speed could play a big factor in the Browns’ gameplan against the Steelers on Sunday, as Pittsburgh’s secondary has been noticeably lacking athleticism all year, and it’s only gotten worse with star safety Minkah Fitzpatrick out with injury.
The Steelers will be starting practice squad safety Trenton Thompson on Sunday, while two of the team’s top three inside linebackers are out for the season. Moore sees a lot of snaps in the slot, setting him up for a potentially big game against the Steelers.
TE David Njoku
The Steelers’ top two coverage linebackers, Cole Holcomb and Kwon Alexander, are out for the season. In their place, the Steelers will be starting run-stuffers Elandon Roberts and Mark Robinson. Neither are known for their coverage ability, and in their first week as the Steelers’ linebacker pairing, communication could still be a work in progress. That sets up Browns’ receiving tight end David Njoku up for a possibly big game as a mismatch in the middle of the field.
The athletic tight end caught all four of his targets against the Steelers in Week 2 for a solid game-total of 48 yards. The Steelers haven’t struggled against tight ends this year as much as they have in the past, but with Holcomb, Alexander, and Fitzpatrick all out, the team’s middle-of-the-field coverage has taken a massive hit. Rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson will likely look Njoku’s way a lot on Sunday, and the Steelers’ will have to scheme well to ensure he isn’t open every time.
EDGE Myles Garrett
You can’t talk Steelers/Browns without mentioning Myles Garrett at least once. The All-Pro pass-rusher has been at the center of a number of controversies between the two fanbases, whether it’s the TJ Watt vs. Myles Garrett debate or the time he decided to turn Mason Rudolph’s helmet into a weapon of mass destruction. But whether you respect or despise the guy, the stats don’t lie: Garrett has been excellent this year. He’s one of the two defenders in the NFL with 11 sacks this season, just 0.5 ahead of Watt.
On the surface level, Week 11 could be a battle between the AFC North’s two best pass-rushers to determine the league lead in sacks. It’s an interesting storyline for sure, especially as Watt tends to outperform Garrett when the two are on the same field.
Myles Garrett has 7 sacks against the Steelers in 11 career games.— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) November 14, 2023
T.J. Watt has 16 sacks against the Browns in 11 career games.
But Garrett will also be the first truly elite pass-rusher Steelers’ rookie phenom Broderick Jones has faced during his few starts this year. Although Jones will be playing right tackle against the Browns and Garrett usually lines up over the left, the Browns move Garrett around enough that there will definitely be some snaps where the rookie goes up against one of the NFL’s best. The Steelers aren’t stupid — they’ll be doubling Garrett every chance they get, but it’ll still be interesting to see how Jones holds up against Garrett in what will likely be the first of many battles between the two.
RBs Jerome Ford and Kareem Hunt
The Browns lost one of the NFL’s best running backs in Nick Chubb to a gruesome knee injury in Week 2. However, their running game has remained one of the NFL’s best despite losing its best player, as the Browns’ one-two punch of Jerome Ford and Kareem Hunt have proved to be a formidable duo this season. The Browns are still averaging just under 150 rushing yards a game this season, with Ford recording most of the yardage and Hunt having contributed at least 30 yards and a touchdown for five consecutive games. Not to sound like a broken record, but the middle of the Steelers’ defense is beat up, and with a rookie quarterback in his second career start, the Browns are going to lean on the power run game against the Steelers on Sunday.
If Pittsburgh can stop the Browns’ run game, they’ll be well on their way to an important divisional victory. If not, it might be a long day for Steeler Nation.
Although the Browns are banged up with injuries, there’s still plenty of players to look out for on their roster when they take on Pittsburgh. The Steelers will travel to take on the Browns in Cleveland on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.