An AFC North matchup that sees no love lost between the two franchises and a game where we should see defence to the fore and it will be a surprise if we get a repeat of the Week 2 26-22 result in favour of the Steelers.
On that occasion, they returned a brace of Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson’s turnovers for touchdowns but with Watson ruled out for the season this week in what must be one of the worst for season-ending QB injuries that I can remember in the NFL, the Browns offence will be marshalled by 5th round rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson (DTR, for short) this time around.
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During that tough loss for the Browns back in Week 2, not only did they outgain the Steelers 408-255 in yards, but they lost Nick Chubb to a season-ending injury. Since then, the Browns have gone 5-2 and beaten two potential Super Bowl contenders in the shape of the 49ers and the Ravens., coming back from 24-9 down against Baltimore. Sitting at 6-3 in the AFC North this is a vital game for both sides especially with division leaders Baltimore about to enter a tough phase of their schedule.
Pittsburgh are also sitting at 6-3 and that record has a lot not only with their defence but also their ability to find a way to win. No other way to say it, they aren’t statistically or, on film, one of the top teams in the league, but they have a 6-3 record and are in the thick of the AFC playoff race. That’s all despite having a negative-26-point differential this season. Since 2022, the Pittsburgh are 15-11 despite being outscored by 64 points, this season the Steelers have had fewer yards than their opponent in every game and are still 6-3, which has never been done before since stats were first recorded in 1933.
The fact that they are playing great defence and winning the turnover battle has a lot to do with their winning record, the Steelers just want to protect the ball, get the game close into the 4th quarter, win it on one great drive, and trust the defence to have their back with the final stop. That’s been the template for their last two wins and it won’t be a surprise if this game follows the same pattern although the Browns can lay claim to having an even better defence than the Steelers.
Given the defensive qualities in these two sides it’s hardly a revelation that we find the game priced up at 7-2 in the starsports.bet special market for the Lowest Scoring Game On Sunday with perhaps only the Jaguars/Titans game at 6-1 looking better value.
In fact, such is the reliance that these two have on their defence the total points for the game is pitched at what must be a low for the season (so far) by starsports.bet at +/-32.5.
Another factor in that low points line is likely to be the negativity surrounding the two offences and the opposing quarterbacks. The Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett has been inconsistent at best this season and is averaging only 6.4 yards per attempt with 11 TD passes. He’s thrown for more than one score in a game once in his 22-game career and has just 13 TD passes in those games.
He is 2-0 against Cleveland but it is hard to be impressed by either performance. Pickett is 12-1 when the Steelers score at least 16 points, so the bar is low for this offence to clear if they want to win the game on their terms. In fact, there is only one team that Pickett has beaten by more than 10 points in his whole career – and it’s the Browns. Last Sunday against the Packers was what you would call a typical Pickett game completing 14-of-23 passes for 126 yards without a touchdown. When these teams played in Week 2, Pickett was 15-of-30 for 222 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
The Steelers backfield this year has gradually moved from Najee Harris to being in favour of Jaylen Warren and last week Warren was named the stater and responded with his best game of the season rushing 15 times for 101 yards and his second touchdown of the season. He tacked on two receptions for nine yards. Over the past two weeks, Warren has 113 and 110 total yards. Warren has had double-digit rushing attempts in each of the past two games after averaging 6.4 per game before.
Over the past two weeks, Warren has had a league-high nine runs of 10 or more yards. Harris has 11 runs of 10 or more yards on the season. Clearly the more dynamic and versatile back and he’s expected to play a far bigger role in this Week 11 matchup than he did back in Week 2 when he rushed six times for 20 yards, catching four passes for 66 yards. This is a tough matchup for either back against a Browns defence that are excellent against the run but Warren’s +39.5 (10-11) rushing yards line with starsports.bet looks an inviting play. Warren is also expected to produce in the passing game also.
The evidence is there for the Steelers to stick with their conservative gameplan and not try and force the issue against one of the top NFL defences. Therefore, in this scenario there doesn’t appear to be a lot of upside in siding with the Pittsburgh wide receivers especially when you take into consideration the numbers that Pickett has been putting up and he will be facing a fierce Browns pass rush led by Myles Garrett who is tied for the leading sack artist in the NFL with 11 sacks so far to his name. If Pickett can get the ball to his wide receivers such as Diontae Johnson and George Pickens it will be on quick throws to the outside with deep throws at a premium against the ball hawking Browns secondary.
It could well be back to basics this week for the Browns offence that will see Dorian Thompson-Robinson under centre for just the second time as a starter and he’ll be operating behind an offensive line that has lost some important pieces over the course of the season. In a Week 4 start versus Baltimore, Thompson-Robinson went 19-of-36 passing (53%) for a meagre 121 yards (3.4 YPA), zero touchdowns, and three interceptions.
He was sacked four times and fumbled once on 40 dropbacks. When these teams played back in Week 2, Pittsburgh blitzed Watson 34.7% of the time, the highest rate the Browns have been blitzed this season and we can expect more of the same here. When Thompson-Robinson was pressured in Week 4 by Baltimore, he was 4-of-14 for 14 yards with all three of his interceptions and four sacks.
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All of the above will make it very important for the Browns to get their ground game going to take the pressure off DTR and running backs Jerome Ford and Kareem Hunt should both get a ton of work in this game. Ford kept himself well ahead of Hunt last week in the lead RB role out-snapping Hunt 50 to 28 while out-touching him 18 to 10 and rushing 17 times for 107 yards. It was the first time that Ford reached the century mark in yards from scrimmage since facing the Steelers in Week 2. Ford gained 53 of his yards on three explosive runs, which has been his calling card this season.
The one area where he has been frustrated by Hunt is in scoring opportunities, Hunt played the lone snap inside of the 5-yard line on Sunday, cashing in his sixth touchdown of the season. Hunt has now scored in five straight games which even in a low-scoring affair that this is expected to be makes Hunt an interesting play at the 13-5 to score an anytime TD that starsports.bet have posted.
With DTR at quarterback it’s hard to see much upside for the Brown receivers led by Amari Cooper who had been establishing himself as a solid option with the far more experienced if rather erratic Watson at the position. n his lone game with Thompson-Robinson, Cooper caught 1-of-6 targets for 16 yards.
Both teams will enter this game with conservative thoughts in their heads focusing on protecting and limiting mistakes from their quarterbacks and relying on their strong defences. Games involving the Browns are averaging a league-low 336.4 combined passing yards per game and the Browns in particular have concentrated on ball control having run 166 more plays than their opponents this season, the most in the league. The next closest teams have run 83 more plays than their opponents.
It’s hard not to see the game developing into a contest of who can run the ball best with both offences having running back duos that they trust and can rotate in, which will keep either of them from feeling forced to throw more. Seeing four running backs in this game surpass 15 touches each won’t be surprising. This certainly feels like a game where if either team gets to 20 points, they will win and it may well be important to score first and get in front as getting behind will force either team away from their likely run first policy. Cleveland and Pittsburgh are both 4-0 this season when scoring first. Unders are 51-24-1 in Steelers road games in the past 10 seasons, including 3-0 this season.
This shapes up as an NFL throwback game in the days before the passing game took over, with defence on top, the run game the principal way of moving the ball and points at a premium.
BACK Kareem Hunt to score a score a TD anytime 1pt at 13/5 (⭐
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BACK Jerome Ford over +57.5 rushing yards 1pt at 10/11 (⭐
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BACK Jaylen Warren over +39.5 rushing yards 1pt at 10/11 (⭐
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