Steelers-Browns, AFC North football, primetime.
Does it get any better than this?
It really doesn’t. It’s important to remember that for the Steelers as Pittsburgh enters the Week Two Monday Night Football matchup sitting at 0-1 on the season and looking to regroup in a hurry after a beatdown at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers, while the Cleveland Browns are riding high at 1-0 after thumping the Cincinnati Bengals.
Something’s got to give in Week Two between the two AFC North foes.
Is this the same old Browns that got lucky in poor conditions in Week One? Or are the Steelers actually who they were in Week One, unable to much of anything right?
We’re certainly going to find out Monday night at Acrisure Stadium in primetime. We’ll find out quickly, too, thanks to some key matchups between the Steelers and the Browns on both sides of the football. Let’s take a look at the four key matchups to watch in Week Two.
Steelers iDL vs. Browns’ Wyatt Teller and Joel Bitonio
This matchup would have felt a lot better in the favor of the Pittsburgh Steelers if perennial All-Pro defensive tackle Cameron Heyward were healthy and available for this one. Alas, he is not after having surgery on his groin to fix an injury he sustained early in the Week One loss. He’ll miss up to eight weeks.
That’s a massive blow to the Steelers in Week Two as the Browns ride into town with one of the best offensive line’s in football led by its two standout guards in right guard Wyatt Teller and left guard Joel Bitonio, two key forces in Cleveland’s elite-level rushing attack. Bitonio and Teller have dominated against the Steelers in recent matchups, especially in the run game. Last season, Bitonio graded out at a 71.0 and an 85.9 in the run game in Weeks 3 and 18, while Teller graded out at an 80.6 and a 56.4.
In the two games last season the Browns rushed for 171 and 134 yards in Weeks 3 and 18. Without Heyward in the lineup, the advantage falls to Teller and Bitonio as people moves in the trenches.
For the Steelers, Larry Ogunjobi is going to need to come up large against his former team, while names like rookie Keeanu Benton, veteran Armon Watts, Montravius Adams and Isaiahh Loudermilk are going to need to hold up well in the run game. It’s no secret what Cleveland is going to try and do on Monday night. Pittsburgh is going to get a healthy does of Nick Chubb and backup running back Jerome Ford, at least early on.
If Pittsburgh’s interior defensive line can hold up well against Cleveland’s ground game early on, that could go a long way towards Pittsburgh winning the football game.
Browns DE Myles Garrett vs. Steelers’ OL
It is terrifying just how good Myles Garrett is. This must be the way other teams feel about T.J. Watt every time they match up with him.
Garrett is a freak athlete and is finally with a defensive coordinator in Jim Schwartz that can bring out the best in him. Garrett has already proven to be on the of the best pass rushers in football since the Browns took him with the first pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. In 85 career games, Garrett has recorded 75.0 sacks, 78 tackles for loss, 146 quarterback hits and has generated 366 total pressures in his career. In addition to his four trips to the Pro Bowl, Garrett has garnered All-Pro accolades four times.
Now, with Schwartz, he’s getting the freedom to move all over the defensive front searching for advantageous matchups. That’s a scary thought for the Steelers offensive line as a whole, especially after they struggled in Week One against San Francisco’s dominant defensive line.
As Mike Tomlin stated Saturday during his Mike Tomlin Show ahead of the Monday Night Football matchup, everybody on the Steelers offensive line is going to need to be ready to block Garrett. He’s going to get chances to move all over. He’s a game-wrecker, too, though the Steelers have done a decent job keeping him in check the last two years, allowing just three sacks and 14 pressures in four games.
We’ll see if that continues on Monday night, especially with Cleveland adding veteran pass rushers Za’Darius Smith and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo opposite Garrett, making life all the more difficult for offensive lines.
Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick vs. Browns QB Deshaun Watson
This has the feeling of a true cat and mouse matchup between Steelers star safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson. This will be the second meeting between the two as Watson was suspended for the Week 3 matchup last season. In Week 18, Watson really struggled against the Steelers’ defense, throwing for just 230 yards and two interceptions in the 28-14 loss.
Fitzpatrick didn’t have his best game overall in Week 18, but he allowed just two receptions for 40 yards and has usually been great against the Browns in his Steelers career. In eight carer games against the Browns, Fitzpatrick has a pick-6 and five pass breakups and helped the Steelers close out the 2021 game at then-Heinz Field in Ben Roethlisberger’s final game at home with a hit to force an interception.
With a great piece like Fitzpatrick on the back end, the Steelers will be able to do a number of things against Watson and the Browns. Pittsburgh has had plenty of success in the past against Watson in his time in Houston, making key second-half adjustments in 2020 to beat Houston and shut down Watson, and had a great game against the new Browns quarterback last season.
Let’s see how he handles the Steelers defense in 2023, starting on Monday night.
Steelers WR George Pickens vs. Browns CB Denzel Ward
This was supposed to be Diontae Johnson against Denzel Ward, two great players at their respective positions likely going to face off a ton in man-coverage, one-on-one situations overall. Alas, that won’t be the case Monday night as Johnson is out with a hamstring injury.
Now, the onus is on second-year wide receiver George Pickens to win his matchup against Ward. That’s going to be a big test for Pickens, who is one of the worst receivers in the NFL over the last year against man coverage when it comes to getting open. However, Pickens is great in contested-catch situations, which gives him an edge.
He’s never truly drawn the No. 1 corner assignment in the NFL yet though with Johnson opposite him. Now, it’s all on him. Pickens had some impressive performances against the Browns last season, putting up a three-catch, 39-yard performance in Week Three with an other-worldly 36-yard one-handed catch. In Week 18, Pickens went three catches, 71 yards and a touchdown, helping the Steelers cruise to the 28-14 win.
Ward is a real force though. He allowed just 35 receptions and three touchdowns last season while being targeted 59 times in coverage and had a strong showing in Week 18 against the Steelers last season. He was great in Week One against Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and the Bengals and now gets a shot at another big, athletic, physical freak in Pickens.
Let’s see if Pickens can rise to the occasion with Johnson on the shelf.