Scouting Report: Browns, Week 17

Posted Dec 29, 2017

Cleveland's lineup has changed since opening day.

A look at what the Steelers will be up against on Sunday afternoon against the Cleveland Browns:

ONE-SIDED RIVALRY: The Browns are 6-31 against the Steelers since Cleveland’s franchise resurrection in 1999, including the Steelers’ 21-18 season-opening victory on Sept. 10 in Cleveland. Since last winning consecutive games against the Steelers (Nov. 14, 1999 and Sept. 17, 2000), the Browns have dropped 30 of the last 34 decisions.

CH-CH-CH-CH CHANGES: Cleveland’s depth chart has undergone some significant alterations since September. On offense, Josh Gordon (reinstated from suspension) is starting at wide receiver instead of Kenny Britt (released, signed with New England) and Spencer Durango has taken over at left tackle for Joe Thomas (reserve/injured list).

On defense, No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett is healthy after missing the first five games of the season (Carl Nassib started at defensive end for Garrett the first time against the Steelers). This time, defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah is unavailable (IR) and has been replaced by Nassib. Defensive tackle Danny Shelton played in the first meeting but didn’t start while working his way back from injury (he’s listed with the first team this time).

At linebacker, James Burgess Jr. has replaced Jamie Collins (IR).

In the secondary, rookie safety Kai Nacua has replaced Derrick Kindred (IR).

And on special teams, rookie safety Jabrill Peppers is listed No. 1 on punt returns but not on kickoff returns (rookie running back Matthew Dayes is now listed as the No. 1 kickoff returner).

TURNOVER TROUBLES: Cleveland has thrown an NFL-high 27 interceptions, has committed an NFL-high 39 giveaways and is an NFL-worst minus 28 in takeway/giveaway (No. 31 Denver is minus 16). The Browns are tied for the fewest fumble recoveries in the league (five, along with the Vikings, Saints and Steelers) and have an NFL-low 11 takeaways.

MORE BAD NEWS: The Browns are No. 31 in third down offense (32.8 percent), No. 32 in points per game (14.0) and No. 30 in points per game against (25.5). They’re also No. 27 in red zone offense (having scored touchdowns on 45.9 percent of their red zone possessions) and No. 32 in red zone defense (opponents cross the goal line 68.2 percent of the time).

SOME PROGRESS APPARENT: The Browns were No. 31 in rushing defense and in total defense  last season. This season they’re No. 7 against the run and No. 12 in total defense.

NOT WHAT YOU’D EXPECT: The leading receiver is a running back (Duke Johnson has a team-high 68 catches for a team-best 618 yards). The leader in rushing touchdowns is a quarterback (DeShone Kizer, with five). And the player with the most receiving TDs is a tight end (rookie David Njoku, with four).

KEEPING BUSY: Linebackers Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey are two of three players in the NFL who have played every defensive snap for their team this season (along with Jets linebacker Demario Davis).

MAKING CARRIES COUNT: Cleveland is second in the NFL since 2016 with a 4.70 average per rushing attempt (fifth this season at 4.51).  

FLASH IS BACK: Gordon, who led the NFL in receiving yards with 1,646 in 2013 and last played in the league in 2014, has 14 catches for 220 yards and a touchdown in four games this season since being reinstated. His 15.7-yard average per catch leads all Browns with at least 10 receptions.

PLAYING CATCH-UP: Garrett has 27 tackles and six sacks in 10 games. He’s tied for second among rookies in sacks (with the Steelers’ T.J. Watt and the Falcons’ Takkarist McKinley) behind the Bengals’ Carl Lawson (8.5).

SPECIAL EDITION: Punter Britton Colquitt has two touchbacks on 75 punts (he’s also had one blocked). Rookie kicker Zane Gonzalez is 14-for-19 on field goal attempts (5-for-8 from 40-plus yards, including 1-for-2 from 50). Nassib blocked an extra point in last week’s 20-3 loss at Chicago.

STAT THAT MATTERS: The Browns are 1-30 in two seasons under head coach Hue Jackson.

HE SAID IT: “I’m playing, I don’t know about anybody else. Whatever we do, we have the team to go out there and control the game. To say that we’re going in there with one arm tied behind your back and playing it safe, that’s a slap in the face to (backup quarterback) Landry Jones and the other guys. These guys are starter-capable and I think it should reflect. Any given Sunday anybody can get beat. We can’t be that team this Sunday.” _ Steelers offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert on potential lineup changes with a first-round playoff bye already secured prior to the regular-season finale against the 0-15 Browns.