Thursday Night Preview: Cleveland Browns vs Pittsburgh Steelers Breakdown and Predictions
Week three of the NFL season kicks off with a Thursday night showdown between the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both teams currently have a record of 1-1 and are coming off losses to an AFC East opponent. The Browns fell to the New York Jets and the Steelers came up short against the New England Patriots. Let's take a look at each team’s previous loss and how they fare for this primetime matchup.
Browns lose in a disastrous fashion
The Browns are coming off one of their most embarrassing losses in recent history, which is saying a lot about a franchise who was winless in 2017. Cleveland was up 30-17 against the Jets as Nick Chubb ran in his third touchdown of the game with just 1:55 left on the clock. Chubb had the opportunity to officially end the game by going down short of the end zone but opted to score and increase his team's lead. The next play would haunt the Browns further, as kicker Cade York missed the PAT. While at the time this may have seemed miniscule, this touchdown and missed PAT would come back to haunt them.
The Jets would come back to win the game 31-30 due to the late game heroics of quarterback Joe Flacco and wide receiver Garrett Wilson. Flacco found wide receiver Corey Davis for a 66-yard touchdown the following drive. This was followed by a successful onside kick by New York. Flacco yet again orchestrated a scoring drive, finding the rookie Wilson for the go-ahead score with just :22 on the game clock. The Browns tried to get into field goal range on their final drive, but Jacoby Brissett was intercepted by Ashytn Davis on the final play of the game to seal a Jets Victory.
Steelers offensive struggles continue
The Steelers fell to the Patriots by a score of 17-14, as quarterback Mitchell Trubisky struggled mightily against a solid Patriots defense. The Steelers offense was anemic for most of the afternoon and really struggled in the ground game. Their promising young running back, Najee Harris, had another rough afternoon as he carried the ball 15 times for a measly 49 yards. Trubisky was outdueled by second year quarterback Mac Jones, who tossed for 252 yards along with a touchdown and an interception. Meanwhile, Trubisky was only able to manage to throw for 168 yards but also had one touchdown and an interception. If Trubisky continues to struggle, the Steelers may look to rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett to give this offense some life.
How it can turn around
Cleveland will need to rely on their rushing attack if they want to come out on top of this Thursday night showdown. Despite their Week 2 loss, running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, one of the league's best duos, combined for 145 yards on 30 carries while also adding 3 scores. This is no small feat, as the Jets were able to hold one of the best rushing offenses in football, the Baltimore Ravens, to just 61 yards the week prior.
If the Browns want to have a chance to win this game, they will need to take the ball out of Brissett’s hands and rely on the ground game. The Steelers allowed the Patriots to rush for 124 yards on 31 attempts and struggled to stop the Patriots on their final drive of the game. If history repeats itself, the Browns should have a ton of success on the ground and this should lead them to a victory in this matchup. On the defensive side of the ball, the Browns will most likely look to force struggling quarterback Mitchell Trubisky to beat them through the air, as their stout defensive line, led by Defensive Player of the Year Candidate Myles Garrett, should easily shut down the Steelers run game.
Pittsburgh will need to find an identity on offense if they want a chance in this matchup. While they do not match up well with a strong Browns defense, they should look to establish a run game early on so they do not have to rely on Trubisky to try and win them the game.
Najee Harris has yet to have a productive game through two weeks, so his emergence would be a huge uplift for a struggling Steelers offense. This will be a huge challenge for Harris, but the former first round pick will need to elevate his game, which he was able to do last year at times. In his only matchup against the Browns the year prior, Harris was able to rush for 91 yards along with adding 29 yards in the receiving game. The former Alabama standout also got into the endzone once.
Although the run game will be key for the Steelers, the Browns secondary, which is usually a solid unit, struggled to stop Joe Flacco and the Jets passing attack as they allowed Flacco to throw for 307 yards and 4 touchdowns. If the Steelers see this version of the Brown defense, they might have some success through their aerial attack for the first time this season.
Ultimately, despite the absence of Quarterback Deshaun Watson, the Browns are the better team on paper and are my pick to win this matchup. Their strong rushing attack should keep the Steelers offense off the field and make it hard for them to find any sort of rhythm. I expect this matchup to be a close game as both offenses have struggled heavily early on this season. I have the Browns coming out on top with a score of 20-17. This would leave Cleveland with a 2-1 record and first in the AFC North (for the time being). Pittsburgh would fall to 1-2 and last in the division.