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The Steelers are back on the road for an AFC North showdown against the Cleveland Browns.
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This series began in 1950 and the Steelers lead, 77-60-1, after most recently beating the Browns 27-19 in Week 17 last season to complete a sweep of Cleveland in 2021. The Browns won the first eight meetings and 16 of the first 18 games these two teams played. In fact, of the first 41 games in this matchup, the Browns won 32. But then the 1970s arrived and the tides drastically turned. There was a stretch from Dec., 1972 until Oct., 1983 that Pittsburgh was victorious in 18 of 22 games played. After that, Cleveland won 10 of the next 12. During a 50-game period from 1994 through 2020, Pittsburgh had winning streaks of seven, 12, four, four and eight games. In those 50 games, Cleveland won just seven times and lost both playoff games. The Browns and Steelers have surprisingly only played three playoff games. Pittsburgh has won two of them, but of course, the Steelers lost the most recent matchup to finish their 2020 season.
The Steelers won both meetings against Cleveland last season by a total of 17 points. Pittsburgh ran 148 plays in those two games compared to 125 by Cleveland. And Pittsburgh possessed the football for 66:10 compared to 53:20 for the Browns. The Browns produced 4.3 yards per play to 4.5 by Pittsburgh. Third-down efficiency was a problem for both teams, however. The Steelers converted nine of 31 against eight of 27 for Cleveland.Six of the Browns eight wins last year came at home, but they did lose in Cleveland last week in a game in which they were leading by 13 points with under 2 minutes remaining. Since 2000, teams winning by exactly 13 points with between 2:00 and 1:30 remaining had a 201-0 record.The Steelers and Browns each won in Week 1 and lost last week. The Steelers have scored as many points as they have allowed and Cleveland has scored just one point more than it has given up.The Browns offense is producing 5.5 yards per play. Pittsburgh's is at 4.3. The Steelers defense is giving up 5.1 yards per play while Cleveland's defense allows 5.7. The Steelers' 4.3 yards per play is better than only Houston after two weeks.The Steelers' offense is producing a first down or touchdown on 26 percent of its snaps and allowing a conversion rate of 33.8 percent.Conversely, Cleveland's offense is converting in this metric 41.7 percent of the time. The Browns defense is allowing a 35 percent first down/touchdown conversion rate.No offense in the NFL has produced more first downs (52) than the Browns. The Bears are the only offense in the league that has produced fewer first downs (29) than the Steelers. And the Steelers defense has allowed more first downs gained than any defense but three.Mitch Trubisky is now 30-22 as an NFL starting quarterback. Jacoby Brissett's career record sits at 14-24. Brissett has been in the league one year longer than Trubisky.Pittsburgh's plus-4 turnover differential is better than every team in the league except for Jacksonville. Cleveland is at plus-1.The Steelers defense has seven sacks. Cleveland's has six. The Browns quarterbacks have been sacked just twice. Trubisky has been sacked four times.In terms of time of possession (excluding overtime), the Browns are third (35:20) in the NFL, while Pittsburgh is 30th, possessing the football for just 24:28.
WHEN PITTSBURGH HAS THE BALL
Najee Harris racked up 279 rushing yards against the Browns in his rookie season, including 188 yards on the ground in their most recent meeting. In those two games, the Steelers ran the ball 63 times, with 54 of those carries by Harris.Last week, Harris was on the field for 42 snaps compared to 17 for Jaylen Warren. Through two games, they have maintained a two-to-one ratio, with Harris playing 79 snaps compared to 40 by Warren.Harris has gained 10 yards before contact on his 25 carries in 2022, compared to 62 yards after first contact. Harris has just one run of 10 yards or more.Pittsburgh averages just under 2.9 yards per rush on first downs, the lowest mark in the league.In Week 1, Cleveland held Christian McCaffrey and the Panthers running backs to 41 rushing yards on 13 carries. Last week, the Jets took a similar approach and only rushed the combination of Breece Hall and Michael Carter 14 times, resulting in just 73 yards.Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson caught 14 passes against Cleveland in 2021. Tight end Pat Freiermuth caught nine.The Steelers' offense played 59 snaps on Sunday. Chase Claypool was on the field for 54 of those plays compared to 51 for Johnson and 50 for George Pickens. All three wide receivers ran at least 30 routes on the Steelers' 38 pass plays.Claypool's average depth of target is just 5.7 yards downfield compared to 9.7 for Johnson and 21.5 for Pickens.Pickens was targeted three times and has one catch in each of his two NFL games. However, only 25 NFL wide receivers have run more routes in 2022 and his 21.5 yards average depth of target is second in the league among receivers with five or more targets.The tight end snap distribution was 48 for Freiermuth compared to 20 by Zach Gentry. Through two games, Freiermuth has been on the field for 104 of a possible 122 snaps compared to 39 by Gentry. Freiermuth now has back-to-back games with a 23 percent target share, a high number for a tight end. Only two tight ends in the league have a higher target share thus far.Claypool played 92 percent of the snaps in Pittsburgh's win over the Bengals and has only missed 10 offensive snaps all season.In its first two games, Cleveland has allowed two wide receivers (Garrett Wilson and Robbie Anderson) to eclipse 100 receiving yards and surrendered 83 yards to Corey Davis. They Browns also have allowed both tight ends they have faced to gain 40 or more yards.Opposing wide receivers are catching just 56.1 percent of their targets. That is fifth-best in the league. However, they have allowed four touchdowns to the position and the highest yards per catch to wide receivers.The Browns had four sacks in Week 1 and two last week. Myles Garrett already has three sacks in 2022.Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Anthony Walker have dominated the Browns' linebacker snaps this season with 100 and 89 snaps played, respectively. No other second-level defender has played more than 47.Trubisky has attempted 71 passes this season. Just 10 of those have traveled over 20 air yards. He has 15 passes at or behind the line of scrimmage. Last week, 21 of Trubisky's 33 attempts were under 10 yards downfield. On the passes past 10 yards downfield against New England, Trubisky was 5-of-12 for 74 yards and an interception. He averages just 5.1 yards per pass attempt, which is next-to-last in the NFL.Cleveland's defense has given up 7.6 yards per attempt (24th) and a league-high 12.9 yards per completion to the combination of Baker Mayfield and Joe Flacco. Only eight defenses allow a higher completion percentage.Only five of Trubisky's 33 pass attempts were inside the numbers against the Patriots.Flacco threw for 307 yards against the Browns last week, with Wilson, a rookie, accounting for 102 of that yardage. Eight different Jets players caught a pass in Week 2.Defining explosive plays as any gain of at least 20 yards, the Browns defense has allowed the most yardage (269 yards) on such plays in the NFL.The Steelers offense averages 21.4 yards gained per drive. That is the lowest number in the league.Pittsburgh's offense has produced 30 points in nine quarters this season.
WHEN CLEVELAND HAS THE BALL
In the two matchups last year, the Steelers defense recorded 13 sacks, with 5.5 of those coming from T.J. Watt.Last week, the Steelers failed to record a sack.In their two 2021 meetings, Pittsburgh held Nick Chubb to just 119 rushing yards. Chubb carried the football 28 times in those games. No other Browns ball carrier received more than five carries in either game.Week 1 in Carolina, the Browns passing game produced just 3.9 yards per passing play.Cleveland is averaging 200.5 rushing yards per game, the best in football. In fact, no other offense is even producing 190 yards per game on the ground in 2022.Although he "only" ran for 87 yards last week, Chubb has rushed for at least 100 yards in 23 games since 2018, tied with Derrick Henry for most in the NFL during that timeframe. Including the playoffs, Chubb has only received 20 or more carries in a game 12 times in 61 games. He had 17 carries last week, but Chubb did find the end zone three times and had another 33-yard would-be touchdown called back because of penalty.Cleveland ran for 184 yards last week and 217 in Week 1 in Carolina.Chubb has produced 228 of those rushing yards. Chubb has 256 total yards, and his seven rushes of 10 yards or longer lead the league.Chubb played 36 snaps last week vs. 31 by Kareem Hunt. Chubb ran a pass route on 15 plays. Hunt did so on 16. The Patriots had Rhamondre Stevenson on the field for 42 snaps compared to 27 by Damian Harris in Pittsburgh. New England's running backs averaged 4.9 yards per carry in that contest. For the season, Chubb is only out-snapping Hunt 78 to 76.Collectively, the Browns' running backs are getting 37.5 touches per game, the most in the league.Only four defenses have faced more rushing attempts this year than the Steelers. Only two offenses are running the ball at a higher percentage of their snaps than Cleveland.The Browns have 254 more rushing yards than their opponent, the biggest gap in the league.Donovan Peoples-Jones was targeted 11 times in Week 1, but just once last Sunday.Amari Cooper got nine of Brissett's 27 potential targets in Week 2, catching all of them for 101 yards and a touchdown. His 37 percent target share was the sixth-most last week.Cooper and Peoples-Jones both played 54 snaps last week. David Bell was the next highest wide receiver in snap counts at just 20. Cooper ran a route on 29 plays last week. Peoples-Jones and tight end David Njoku were both at 28 routes run. This season, Cooper and Peoples-Jones have dominated the wide receiver snap counts. Those two are at 120 and 118 respectively. No other Browns wide receiver has even seen the field for 43 snaps in 2022.The Steelers have already allowed three wide receivers (Ja'Marr Chase, Nelson Agholor, and Jakobi Meyers) to reach at least 95 receiving yards in a game.The Browns have generated just 74 yards on explosive plays this year, defined as gains of at least 20 yards. That is the fewest yards on such plays in the league.In Carolina to start the season, Njoku was on the field for 89 percent of the Browns' offensive snaps. He ran a route on 74 percent of Brissett's dropbacks. There have only been 13 snaps this year in which Njoku hasn't been on the field. He leads all the Browns skill players on offense in snaps played.Njoku was on the field for 63 of a possible 67 snaps against the Jets.Harrison Bryant was the Browns second-highest involved tight end, playing 32 snaps. Against the Steelers last week, New England had Hunter Henry on the field for 34 snaps while Jonnu Smith was involved in 39 plays. Opposing tight ends have just 48 receiving yards against Pittsburgh this season.Cleveland's offense has scored on 52.4 percent of its drives this year, trailing only Buffalo and Kansas City.The Patriots were extremely heavy in their usage of 11 Personnel (1 RB/1 TE) against Pittsburgh. In fact, excluding kneel-downs, New England was in 11 Personnel for 60 of a possible 62 offensive snaps against the Steelers defense.For the second straight week, Pittsburgh has rotated its big people on defense. In Week 2, Cameron Heyward played 52 of a possible 68 snaps.Larry Ogunjobi played 43, while Tyson Alualu was on the field for 32 snaps. Chris Wormley played 22 snaps, and rookie DeMarvin Leal was called upon for 16 plays in his second professional game. Montravius Adams rounded out that rotation by chipping in with 11 snaps against the Patriots.Last week, Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor accounted for 15 of Mac Jones' 21 completions. The previous week, Ja'Marr Chase and Joe Mixon hauled in 17 of Joe Burrow's 33 completed passes.Brissett's 2.9 seconds average time to throw is the sixth-most in the league.Only the Chargers and Jaguars have begun their drives this year with better starting field position than Cleveland.Cleveland's offense is converting on 53.3 percent of its third down attempts, the fourth-best in the league. The Steelers defense is allowing the opponent to convert on third downs 51.5 percent of the time, which ranks 28th.
After two games it is apparent who Pittsburgh's core special teams players are. The following Steelers have played 38 snaps on special teams: Connor Heyward, Benny Snell, Jamir Jones, Derek Watt, and Miles Killebrew. Miles Boykin has been called upon for 33 special teams snaps.James Pierre, Tre Norwood, and Marcus Allen have each played 22 or more snaps for special teams coordinator Danny Smith.Pressley Harvin's 49.6 punting average is the eight-highest in the NFL.Cade York is a perfect 5 for 5 kicking field goals this year. Chris Boswell is 5 for 6. York did miss one extra point.
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MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT
January 10th, 2021: Wild Card Game: Browns 48, Steelers 37, Heinz Field
This one of course didn't go as the Steelers would have liked it and started in tragic fashion when Maurkice Pouncey snapped the ball over Ben Roethlisberger's head on the first play from scrimmage. Cleveland recovered for a touchdown, which put the Steelers behind the eight ball from the start. Cleveland took a 35-10 lead into halftime. But Pittsburgh outscored the Browns 27-13 in the second half. Roethlisberger threw for 501 yards, but the Steelers came up just short. The irony of this game is if the Steelers had won in Week 17 in Cleveland, a game in which Pittsburgh rested many key starters and still only lost 24-22, the Browns don't get in the playoffs to begin with. The following Sunday, the Browns traveled to Kansas City and lost a close game to the Chiefs.
FACTS FROM NFL RESEARCH
WR Diontae Johnson led the team with six catches last week, his 14th-consecutive game with at least five receptions, the second-longest active streak in the league (Cooper Kupp- 23 games)S Minkah Fitzpatrick is one of two players in the league (Marcus Williams) with an interception in each of the first two weeks of the seasonLB Myles Jack leads the team with 23 tackles and is one of seven players in the league with at least 10 tackles in each of the first two weeksCB Cameron Sutton had an interception in Week 1 and has recorded an interception in each of his past two division games
Browns RB Nick Chubb vs. Steelers LB Myles Jack - Chubb already has 228 rushing yards through two games. There is an extremely strong case to be made that he is the best pure ball carrier in football. Chubb has a rare combination of balance, power, speed and vision. He churns out the tough yardage, but also is extremely dangerous when given a sliver of daylight, as Chubb can take it to the house from anywhere on the field. Of course, it won't just fall on Jack to slow down Chubb in Cleveland, as Pittsburgh's defensive front must be very stout at the point of attack, show great gap integrity and funnel the Browns outside-zone running game back to Jack and the other second level defenders. Oh, Cleveland also might have the NFL's best backup running back in Hunt as well. And Hunt is the better receiver of the two.
Steelers LT Dan Moore vs. Browns DE Myles Garrett - Garrett only recorded one sack against Pittsburgh in 2021 but has three so far in 2022. Garrett rivals Watt (and maybe Micah Parsons) for the honor of being the NFL's best edge defender. The former first-overall draft pick looks as though he was made in a lab to play defensive end. Garrett has it all and looks as though he might be advancing in his career in terms of stringing pass-rush moves together and really having a plan for attacking his opponent. It would be very surprising if the Steelers didn't help Moore with running back chips or tight end help against Garrett, especially in crucial down and distance situations. Garrett looks better than ever, though he is dealing with a neck injury of some type.