With that game on the horizon, we went behind enemy lines to discuss the Cleveland Browns with Chris Pokorny of Dawgs By Nature to get the answer to five questions before Monday’s contest.
1. How confident are you in Deshaun Watson actually looking like his former self?
I was hoping to get a little bit of clarity on that in Week 1, but the rain factor kind of threw a wrench in that evaluation. He was skipping balls in the dirt to open receivers quite often, and he couldn’t connect on two bombs to Marquise Goodwin as they were well off target. Is that the same rust factor that we saw from a year ago, or was it just the weather conditions? When you look at how Joe Burrow threw the ball in Week 1, it was worse than Watson — it was like he lofted or shot-putted every pass. So maybe it was just the rain.
Despite the weather conditions, on a few of Watson’s misthrows, I think even a non-technical person could see that his mechanics were all twisted in ways they shouldn’t be when trying to throw an accurate ball, so there’s that too. However, from a mental standpoint, I thought that Watson’s decision-making on where he was going with the football and when he was going to take off to run were good, which is a positive. We’ll see how he does this week with his offensive tackle situation being a little suspect.
2. Who is the Browns player that could quietly have a good day against the Steelers defense?
I will go with wide receiver Elijah Moore. In training camp this year, we saw how the Browns want to utilize him as a Swiss army knife on offense — third down plays from the slot, going downfield in early downs, playing running back, end arounds, etc. They tried that with him a little in Week 1 to some success, but the rainy conditions led to some hiccups on Deshaun Watson connecting with him more often. Another reason that I’m picking Moore is that no one else on the Browns’ offense (i.e. Nick Chubb, David Njoku, Amari Cooper) would really constitute as the type of player having a “quiet” day, as they are pretty well-established.
3. Outside of Myles Garrett, who should the Steelers keep tabs on in the Browns defense?
I’m tempted to say “everyone,” because good lord, that was a heck of a defensive performance in Week 1 by the Browns. One thing that has killed me since I started watching football around the year 2001 is that the Browns’ defense has never really been “fast” — you’d see a notable difference between the speed they’d play with versus what many other teams play with. Last week was the fastest I’d ever seen my Browns defense play — their instincts, pursuit, anticipation. It was all around from the defensive line, linebackers, safeties, and cornerbacks. Since you asked for one specific player, though, I will single out safety Grant Delpit. He was terrific in Week 1, flashing up to consistently deny receivers in third down passing situations. PFF also had him on their Team of the Week for the first week.
4. Fill in the blank: The Steelers win if ___
The Steelers win if the Browns’ offensive tackle situation is too broken against the pass-rushing threat of T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. Pittsburgh needs this to be a grind’ em out type of game, as I wouldn’t expect their own offense to put together lengthy drives against the fast Browns defense that I saw a week ago. We already know the threat that Watt always presents, but Highsmith had 4 sacks in 2 games against Cleveland last year. Left tackle Jedrick Wills is the shakiest member of the Browns’ offensive line, and at right tackle, Jack Conklin suffered a season-ending injury last week. Taking his place is Dawand Jones, the massive 6-8, 374 pound rookie out of Ohio State. He was very good this preseason and last week in pass protection, looking above average for a rookie. But, he’s still a rookie, so you have to factor in him going against tougher competition this week, or chemistry issues. If Pittsburgh can find enough flaws in that to create turnovers and generate points with their defense, they can win the game.
5. The Steelers are 2.5 point underdogs. Do the Browns win and cover, or are you leaning toward the Steelers?
I’m definitely not leaning toward the Steelers in the spread. First, I’m expecting a Browns victory, which I’d aim for being by a field goal or more, so they would cover with that. Second, Pittsburgh is coming off of a game where they had poor run defense, Kenny Pickett not looking sharp, and their top receiver and defensive lineman out to injury. The Browns had one of the best defensive efforts I’ve ever seen from them, a solid running game, and a so-so passing game. The Browns can stick to the ground game and their defense alone to get the win this week, and anything they do in the passing game for improvement will just be gravy.