The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their tenth game of the 2023 regular season on Sunday afternoon, and this week it will be a road contest against the Cleveland Browns. This week the Steelers will enter their game as slight road underdogs once again. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do Sunday afternoon at Cleveland Browns Stadium to come away with their seventh win of the 2023 season.
Pound Ground In Dawg Pound – In the Week Two game against the Browns in Pittsburgh, the Steelers offense only managed to compile 63 rushing yards on 16 total carries by their two running backs, Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren. And 38 of those yards came on two runs by Harris which means the other 14 carries the two running backs recorded averaged just 1.79 yards. To make matters worse, seven of those other 14 running back carries failed to gain any yardage at all. A repeat of that Week Two rushing effort from Harris and Warren just can’t happen again on Sunday in Cleveland.
While the Browns do have a stout defense, they can be run on just the same. Additionally, the Steelers offense has started to run the football much better these last few games. To run on the Browns on Sunday in Cleveland, 16 total rushes from Harris and Warren isn’t likely going to cut. For the Steelers to win, it might take at least 23 total runs and with only two or three resulting in no yards gained. Running to the right side where rookie T Broderick Jones and veteran G James Daniels reside on the offensive line might do wonders Sunday afternoon.
Moore Of Less Garrett – Browns DE Myles Garrett is having a fantastic 2023 season to date. Even so, and while he did have a high pass rush win-rate back in Week Two against the Steelers, he wasn’t allowed to make any game-changing plays. Sure, Garrett still pressured Steelers QB Kenny Pickett quite a bit in that game in Pittsburgh, but as far as the stat sheet went, he only managed one total tackle and one quarterback hit, which was quite an accomplishment in and of itself.
Steelers LT Dan Moore Jr. has now faced Garrett several times and while the Browns’ defensive end will move around quite a bit on Sunday, Moore is likely to be the one to see him the most. It’s imperative that Moore and Jones handle Garrett effectively off the edge on Sunday and at the very least, don’t allow him to get to pressure or hit Pickett more than a few times. Garrett will also attempt to rush a few times up the middle from a standing position so that means the Steelers three other offensive linemen will be called upon to hold their own against him as well.
Pickett Up Your Thirds – So far this season, Pickett has been great at all on third downs when it comes to his overall completion rate. In fact, Pickett has completed just 48.2 percent of all third down pass attempts of his and just 46.7 percent of his pass attempts when the offense needs five or more yards. As you would probably imagine, those completion percentages rank him need the bottom of the NFL. Only 27 times has a completed pass from Pickett on third down resulted in a first down or a touchdown on 89 total dropbacks (30.3 percent) and only 16 times on 65 total dropbacks (24.6 percent) has Pickett completed a pass on third down when five or more yards were needed that resulted in a first down or touchdown. Not great.
On Sunday, the Steelers will face a Browns defense that so far this season has allowed just a 23.6 percent conversion rate on third pass attempts when five or more yards were needed and when seven or more yards were needed their defense has allowed just a 21.3 percent conversion rate. In short, how Pickett performs on all third downs on Sunday when having to drop back and pass will likely go a long way in determining the outcome of the game.
Leg Watching – The Browns will start rookie QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson on Sunday against the Steelers and because of that, we’re likely to see Pittsburgh play a lot of zone defense throughout the afternoon. Even so, the Steelers must be on the lookout for Thompson-Robinson to take off with the football on scrambles and especially in the few instances he faces man-coverage.
In college at UCLA, Thompson-Robinson rushed 471 times for 1826 yards and 28 touchdowns. In total, 24 of those runs went for 20 yards or longer in college as well. Oh, 25 of his 28 rushing touchdowns in college came in the red zone. That’s really where the Steelers defense needs to be on the lookout for the rookie quarterback using his legs on Sunday. In his lone start earlier in the season, Thompson-Robinson rushed four times for 24 yards against the Baltimore Ravens defense that played zone nearly 75 percent of all snaps. He’s going to run some on Sunday, so the Steelers defense better be ready for that and especially on third downs and inside the red zone.
Turn Mistakes By The Lake Into Takes – The Steelers defense has been very opportunistic so far this season as evidenced by their league-leading 18 takeaways. On Sunday against the Browns, the Steelers’ defense figures to have a few more opportunities to turn mistakes by an opposing offense into takeaways.
In his first NFL start back in Week Four, Thompson-Robinson threw three interceptions. If that wasn’t bad enough, two or three of his other pass attempts in that game against the Ravens probably should’ve been intercepted as well. Thompson-Robinson also fumbled once in that Week Four game but lucky for him, the Browns retained possession. That fumble came via a sack, by the way.
In closing, look for Thompson-Robinson to throw a few passes on Sunday that he’d likely like to have back. When and if those passes happen, the Steelers defense must make sure they secure the takeaway. The same goes with any Thompson-Robinson fumbles that might be forced as well. I’m looking at you, T.J. Watt.