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Steelers Vs. Browns Week 2 Pregame Stats Outlook


Following the tough Week One loss for the Pittsburgh Steelers, their next challenge comes against divisional opponent Cleveland Browns, who are coming off an impressive 24-3 win against the Bengals. Let’s dive into the matchup.

  1. RB. Coach Mike Tomlin emphasized Nick Chubb justly as one of the biggest challenges the Browns present on offense. Cleveland’s running game came out of the gates strong, including Chubb’s Week One performance:

The Browns’ lead back ranked fourth in rushing yards in the season opener with 106 on 18 attempts (5.9 per carry), one of only four running backs to eclipse 100 yards. As a team, Cleveland had 206 rushing yards, which ranked second on the week, and I highlighted further in this rushing article. We also see Pittsburgh’s defense allowed the most yards in Week One to Christian McCaffrey, who led the pack comfortably with 152 yards on 22 attempts (6.9 per attempt).

Very concerning heading into the game, especially with defensive lineman Cameron Heyward sidelined. The Steelers’ running game was non-existent on offense in Week One, with only 10 attempts as a team and 41 yards. This must obviously change moving forward, and hopefully we see it early and often against Cleveland.

  1. QB. Kenny Pickett will be looking to rebound from a poor performance, which I highlighted deeper in my passing locations this week. He had the second-most attempts (46), 232 pass yards (11th), one touchdown, and two interceptions.

Cleveland’s Deshaun Watson is a threat to run as well and was second on the team with 45 rushing yards. He was asked to do much less as a passer given the Browns’ successful ground attack, with 29 attempts (T-23rd), 154 yards (24th), with a touchdown and interception.

Here’s a look at something that played out similarly for the quarterback’s last game. Next Gen Stats provides a metric it calls “aggressiveness,” which is a percentage of attempts that are thrown into tight windows (defender within one yard at the time of completion or incompletion), along with passer ratings:

We see the two quarterbacks in the matchup on the lower left of the chart, meaning they threw into tight coverage often compared to their peers and had below-average passer ratings in the process. Pickett had the fifth-highest aggressiveness at 21.7 percent, with some forced throws, poor decision-making, and the two turnovers. His 68.4 passer rating reflects the poor results, ranking 26th out of 32 qualifiers.

Along with improved play, hopefully the game script plays into a more balanced offensive attack for Pittsburgh, with more ideal situations in the passing game for Pickett to rebound this week.

Similarly, Watson’s 17.2 aggressiveness rate was ninth highest, while his 67.3 passer rating was a notch below Pickett at 27th. If this holds true against the Steelers’ defense, we will hopefully see the team’s first interception of the year.

Time-to-throw numbers could be key, with Watson at a whopping 3.21 seconds (fourth longest) while Pickett’s 2.89 was 10th, against the potent pass rush from both defenses. Watson also had the third most intended air yards in week one (11.0), with Pickett tying for 16th at 7.1. Not ideal from Steelers’ lenses considering the outcomes of the games and the deep attack the Browns could employ off their strong run game.

  1. Let’s see how the position fared in cushion (distance in yards from the receiver and the defender they’re lined up against at the snap on targets) and separation (distance in yards from the nearest defender at the time of completion or incompletion):

The Browns’ separation jumps out from Week One. No. 1 WR Amari Cooper (questionable-groin) was given an average amount of cushion compared to the 62 qualifiers at the position, and 4.0 yards of separation, which was sixth best. Elijah Moore was given just 4.1 yards of cushion (eighth least), and still created an impressive 4.2 yards of separation that ranked third.

The connection between Watson and both receivers was an issue though, with each getting seven targets and just three catches. The unit could definitely be a challenge for Pittsburgh’s secondary, and hopefully the defensive backs are ready after getting torched in Week One. Will be interesting to see if adjustments are made (the Steelers played a lot of zone against the 49ers), how they fare, and if Cooper is able to play.

The blowout Pittsburgh suffered allowed the opposing defense to play conservative, hence the large cushion numbers. That’s a factor in separation of course, with all four Steelers above the league mean.

Calvin Austin III was given the second most cushion at a whopping 8.4 yards, 3.2 in separation (13th), and catching all six of his targets. Allen Robinson II’s separation came in at 3.0 (22nd) despite seeing the least 6.0 cushion of any Steelers receiver, and he led the team with 64 yards. George Pickens (questionable-hamstring) had 2.8 yards of separation (29th), good to see after ranking in the bottom five of the league last year. Diontae Johnson is out with a hamstring injury, and hopefully the group can fill the big void for Pickett and the passing game, which needs redemption.

TEs. When looking at receiving stats, the position was quiet overall in Week One:

The dot sizes (targets) highlight the Steelers being the most targeted, but the plot points emphasize the passing game woes once again. Pickett targeted each four times, connecting with Connor Heyward twice for 19 yards, and Pat Freiermuth just once for three yards. The encouraging part was the latter went for Pittsburgh’s lone touchdown just before halftime, on a great throw and catch. Expecting more of an impact on MNF.

Harrison Bryant had a similar opener, with a low two catch, five-yard quantity, and caught Cleveland’s lone passing touchdown. David Njoku is a challenge, though his stat line was modest on three targets, two receptions, and 24 yards, which led the matchup.

Here are OL PFF grades from week one:

The visual emphasizes that Cleveland’s strong offensive line performed up to standard, while Pittsburgh underachieved in its expectation of improvement out of the gates. Left guard Joel Bitonio had the most balanced grades in the opener (88.2 PBLK, 67.9 RBLK). Right guard Wyatt Teller tied him for the best PBLK, along with a 63.5 RBLK. Center Ethan Pocic (66.5 PBLK, 62.2 RBLK) rounds out the Browns’ strong interior, and Pittsburgh’s defensive line better be up for the challenge sans Heyward.

Right tackle Jack Conklin was the final player above the mean in both, but he suffered a knee injury that landed him on injured reserve. Insert Browns rookie Dawand Jones (77.8 PBLK, 38.4 RBLK), filling in and drawing the tough matchup against T.J. Watt. Hopefully he dominates similar to the season opener, when he had three sacks (T-second in NFL), two forced fumbles (T-first), six pressures, two quarterbacks hits, a batted down pass, and four stops, wow.

Left tackle Jedrick Willis (58.1 PBLK, 36.6 RBLK) is Cleveland’s final starter. Hopefully advantage to edge rusher Alex Highsmith, who is coming off a strong game particularly in run defense, which would be huge against Chubb and company.

Steelers right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor was the only Steeler with an above the mean grade (65.7 PBLK) but a low 47.1 RBLK. He’s been limited (concussion), sustained late in the opener, and the good news is he trended positively with a full practice on Saturday.

Steelers right guard James Daniels earned the highest 82.1 RBLK, but a painful 20.9 PBLK. This was a struggle for the unit overall, largely due to the one-dimensional game circumstances. Particularly Dan Moore Jr. (22.8 PBLK, 51.6 RBLK), who tied for the most pressures allowed in the NFL. Here’s to hoping the group has a much better showing, including guard Isaac Seumalo (54.6 PBLK, 38.3 RBLK), and center Mason Cole (27.9 PBLK, 59.8 RBLK).


Very telling visual, with Cleveland stifling the Bengals and holding them to the second-least passing and ninth-fewest rushing yards. In comparison, Pittsburgh’s poor showing against the 49ers included a 21st rank in passing yards, and atrocious 30th in rushing yards. The latter is paramount to improve, or we’re likely in for another painful game.

Browns edge rusher Myles Garrett is a handful, coming off of a six-pressure, one-sack, two-quarterback hits, and two stops as a tackler performance. His running mate Za’Darius Smith will also be a challenge, with six pressures, a whopping four quarterback hits, and solid run defense in his debut. If Pittsburgh can’t keep Pickett upright, look out. The Browns’ secondary had a strong game as well, particularly safety Grant Delpit He led the team with eight solo tackles, five of which were stops, along with a quarterback hit, pass breakup, and just 3.5 yards per reception.

Most Steelers defenders had below the line performances, but players I haven’t mentioned who can hopefully stack another good game come on the defensive line, which would be huge in Heyward’s absence: Keeanu Benton, Larry Ogunjobi, and Markus Golden.

Health Advantage: BROWNS.

Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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