The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their second game of the 2023 regular season at home on Monday night against the Cleveland Browns and they’ll enter that contest listed as a slight underdog again. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do on Monday night to come away with their first win of the 2023 season.
Zone In On Mr. Chubb – The Browns obviously like to run the football and with that offensive line they have, combined with RB Nick Chubb, there’s no reason not to. While the Browns use all the run-play schemes, the way they execute outside zone stands out. In Week One, Chubb had six outside zone carries for 42 yards. His other 12 carries totaled just 64 yards. Last season, Chubb had 64 outside zone runs for 360 yards. Two of those for 12 yards came against the Steelers.
On Monday night, the Steelers won’t have defensive tackle Cameron Heyward anchoring the unit and you can bet the Browns will look to run early and often. How the Steelers’ defensive line is able to handle Mr. Chubb and the Browns’ running attack Monday night could wind up being the difference in the game.
Rookie Watt-ching – Monday night, Browns rookie tackle Dawand Jones will make his first NFL start and he’ll do so on the right side. That means he’ll draw Steelers OLB T.J. Watt all game, and that’s a tall task. Jones is a huge tackle with massive reach. He might very well be the largest tackle that Watt has ever faced before and that even includes former Steelers LT Alejandro Villanueva. Watt is coming off a three-sack game in Week One as he had no issues handling San Francisco 49ers RT Colton McKivitz. Watt forced two fumbles on his three sacks, and he recovered one of them.
The Steelers could use another three sacks from Watt Monday night in addition to another forced turnover or two. Sure, Jones will get help throughout the game, just like McKivitz did in Week One, but even so, the rookie will have plenty of snaps without help as well. Watt is a game-wrecker, and the Steelers need him to wreck Jones Monday night from the start of the contest until the end of it. Watt is paid big money to make rookie tackles look bad.
Aust In Space – The Steelers won’t have WR Diontae Johnson on Monday night as he’s going to miss the contest because of a hamstring injury. With Johnson out, the Browns are likely going to focus on not letting WR George Pickens take over the Monday night game with fantastic catches and explosive plays. Should Pickens wind up being the focus of the Browns defense in this prime-time affair, the goal on offense for the Steelers should be to get the football in the hands of WR Calvin Austin III in space as many times as possible.
Austin has the kind of speed and agility that can turn a 4-yard slant route into a 60-yard touchdown. He can also make triple-explosive plays happen via deep passes as well. At Memphis, Austin recorded an explosive play once nearly every four touches. To be more precise, once every 3.8 touches. He needs those touches, however. He had six of them in Week One with most of his work coming on the outside. He needs at least eight total touches on Monday night. If he gets that many, or more, and he gets space to work with, he might just deliver a few explosive plays. Maybe even a few double or triple-explosive plays. Curls and comebacks just aren’t going to cut it. He needs his touches on the move and with some space to work with.
Mount Washington Rides – With Johnson out, the Steelers are probably going to want to try to run early and often on the Browns. They weren’t able to run worth a lick in Week One because the game got away from them so quickly. Nine runs in total in Week One with five of those coming in the first half. While the Steelers were able to get massive rookie tight end Darnell Washington on the field for 24 offensive plays in Week One, it’s obvious that most of those snaps came on passing plays. In seven of those offensive plays, Washington was paired with fellow TE Pat Freiermuth. Only three of those plays were running plays, however.
Against the Browns, it would be nice to see what more 12 personnel, including Washington and Freiermuth, could maybe generate when it comes to the running game. At the very least, it would be good to see more than eight runs Monday night with Washington and Freiermuth both on the field. If the Steelers want to start having a bully-ball identity on offense, they need to have their big bully in Washington on the field more as part of the rushing attack.
Desist Dashing Deshaun – Browns QB Deshaun Watson is still very mobile at this stage of his career, and he showed that in Week One as he rushed five times for 45 yards and a touchdown. He even converted a two-point conversion in Week One with his legs. The Browns roll Watson out quite a bit in their offensive scheme and a lot of times off play action. If he gets outside the pocket and doesn’t like what he sees down the field, he has no issues taking off with the football. In just six games last season, Watson rushed 36 times for 175 yards and a touchdown. Six for 44 yards came against the Steelers in Week 17. That’s an average of six scampers per game.
The Steelers’ defensive line must be sound with their pass rush plan especially when it comes to allowing escape lanes for Watson. Additionally, if the Steelers’ coverage plan Monday night includes much man-to-man, the defensive backs need to be cognizant that Watson will likely be on the hoof three seconds after the football is snapped.