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Cheat Sheet: Steelers at Browns

How to Watch/Listen

  • TV coverage: Broadcast locally in Pittsburgh on CBS (KDKA-TV)
  • Steelers Radio Network - Game coverage begins at 1:00 p.m. ET; Pregame programming begins at 9:00 a.m.; Postgame coverage starts immediately following the game.
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Injury Update

The Steelers preparation for Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns continued at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, with an addition to the injury report.

Check out the most updated Injury Report: Click here >>>

Series History

This historic rivalry began back in 1950. The Browns won the first eight meetings and 16 of the first 18 games these two teams ever played. In fact, of the first 41 games Cleveland and the Steelers played, the Browns won 32. But then the 1970s arrived and the tides drastically turned. There was a stretch from December of 1972 until October of 1983 that Pittsburgh was victorious in 18 of 22 games played. After that though, Cleveland won 10 of the next 12. During a 50-game period between January of 1994 to October of 2020, Pittsburgh had winning streaks of seven games, six games, 12 games, four games, four games, and an eight-game stretch in which the Browns were only able to muster up one tie, but no wins in that period. In those 50 games, Cleveland won just seven times and lost both playoff games. The Browns have won three of the last five though, including the most recent game, a 48-37 Cleveland victory in last year's AFC Wild Card game. As it stands now, Pittsburgh leads this series 75-60-1.

Take a look at Karl's best photos from the Wild Card Round matchup against the Cleveland Browns. The Browns defeated the Steelers 48-37

The Teams So Far

If the playoffs started today, the Browns would qualify for the final wild card spot in the AFC. The Steelers would be the first team on the outside looking in as the eighth ranked team in the conference.

Steelers Offensive Overview

  • The Steelers possess the ball for 30:01 while their opponents are two seconds less at 29:59 per game.
  • 31.1% of Roethlisberger's passing attempts have come on first down. That is the lowest percentage in the league.
  • Over the past two years, Diontae Johnson has played 20 games with Roethlisberger. He was injured in five of those games and was sat on the bench in another last year after a major case of the drops. If we still include the two games he was banged up this year, but remove the three from last year as well as the game he was benched, that leaves us with 16 games. Well, Johnson has gotten double digit targets in 15 of those games and averages the ball thrown his way 12.1 times per game in that sample. He has produced just under 80 receiving yards in those games. And this year, Johnson's deep targets have increased dramatically.
  • The Steelers tight end snaps counts so far are as follows: Pat Freiermuth at 201, Eric Ebron at 185 and Zach Gentry with 97. Gentry has only run 13 routes this year. On pass plays, Freiermuth and Ebron have only stayed into block on six snaps apiece. Freiermuth has been on the field for 115 pass plays and Ebron for 134. However, Freiermuth played a career-high 60% of snaps in the Steelers most recent game.

Run game

  • Najee Harris averages 5.7 receptions per game. That is the second most amongst all NFL running backs. Harris' 7.7 targets per game average is first. Over the past four weeks, Harris has averaged 26 touches per game. He has been on the field for 86% of the Steelers snaps. That is the highest percentage of all NFL running backs.
  • Derek Watt has been used on 28 snaps of offense. He has run blocked on 22 of those opportunities.

Steelers Defense

  • Joe Schobert has rushed the quarterback on 25 snaps this year and Devin Bush has been a blitzer 12 times. Arthur Maulet leads the Steelers defensive backs with 11 opportunities to rush the passer in 2021.
  • TJ Watt, Alex Highsmith, and Melvin Ingram have collectively played 733 snaps. They have dropped into coverage a total of just 43 times between the three of them.
  • The Steelers and Browns are both at the bottom of the league with just five takeaways. Only Jacksonville, San Francisco and the New York Jets have fewer. Cleveland and Pittsburgh have also turned the ball over 7 times apiece. Eight teams have fewer giveaways.

Browns Offensive Overview

  • Cleveland's 33:43 average time of possession in the highest in the league by a very wide margin over the Titans (32:55) in second place.
  • Cleveland's offense has the highest percentage (15.9%) of runs that go for 10 or more yards and are second (44.9%) in rushing attempts that go for five yards or more.
  • Cleveland's offense plays at a very slow pace and only three teams average fewer plays run per minute of play.
  • The Browns have run the football 227 times this year. Tennessee is the only team with more rushing attempts. Only 35 of those attempts have come from non-running backs. That averages out to 27.4 running back carries per game. The Saints and Bears are the only offenses that run the ball at a higher percentage than Cleveland, who pass the ball just 54.7% of the time.

Passing game

  • Baker Mayfield's average depth of target is 9.6 yards downfield, which is the 10th highest in the league. Case Keenum's is just 7.0, which is 45th.
  • Cleveland has 10 players that have been targeted between 12 and 33 times. Beckham leads the team in targets but has only appeared in five games.
  • Keenum threw the ball 33 times in his first start of the year. He targeted Jarvis Landry eight times and Odell Beckham on six occasions. However, what is more noteworthy is that Keenum distributed multiple pass targets to nine different Browns receivers. And a 10th pass catcher, Johnny Stanton, was targeted just once but it resulted in Keenum's only touchdown throw of the night.
  • Cleveland's wide receiver snap distribution was interesting last Thursday. Donovan Peoples-Jones was inactive for this game. Landry and Beckham were battling injuries and only saw the field for 38 and 43 snaps respectively. That left the door open for Rashard Higgins to play 42 snaps and Anthony Schwartz to see the field 29 times. Demetric Felton is a running back/receiver hybrid and played 22 snaps for Cleveland, finishing the game with two carries and three receptions.
  • Even though he didn't play last week, Peoples-Jones has played the most snaps (287) of the Browns wide receivers this year. Beckham has seen the field for 247 snaps and Higgins for 241, while Schwartz has been involved for 168 plays and Landry for just 91. Landry has suited up for just three games in 2021.
  • The Browns love using all three of their tight ends. In fact, they utilize 13 Personnel (1 RB/3 TE) a whopping 21% of the time. No other team in the NFL even uses 13 Personnel on 10% of their snaps. League average is just 4%. Last week, Austin Hooper played 46 snaps, David Njoku was on the field for 42 plays and Harrison Bryant chipped in with 30 snaps as well. As for the season, these three have appeared in all seven of Cleveland's contests. Hooper leads the way with 327 snaps played followed by Njoku at 287 and Bryant at 190.

Browns Defensive Overview

  • On a very short week of preparation, the Browns played eight defensive linemen over 10 snaps apiece against Denver. Jadeveon Clowney (39) and Myles Garrett (33) led the way, but still were used in a rotation with Cleveland's defense seeing the field for 50 snaps in that game.
  • Clowney has missed a game, but he is still one of four Browns defensive linemen to log at least 281 out of a possible 438 defensive snaps this year. The others are Garrett (343), Malik Jackson (312), and Malik McDowell (284).
  • Clowney and Garrett can kick inside here and there, but for the most part, Cleveland's defensive tackle situation has been Jackson and McDowell dominating the snaps. Jackson and McDowell are the only two true interior defensive linemen with more than 146 snaps played thus far. Garrett (9.5) and Clowney (3.5) are the only Browns players that have recorded two sacks or more.
  • At linebacker, with Jeremiah Owusu Koramoah out of the lineup last week, Anthony Walker never left the field for Cleveland's defense. That was Walker's fourth healthy game of the year and thus far, he has played 226 snaps over those four games played.
  • Injuries have factored in, but the Browns have given at least 99 snaps this year to five different linebackers. Mack Wilson is the only one of those five to appear in all seven of Cleveland's games this year.
  • Along with Walker, Greg Newsome and John Johnson were the only Cleveland defenders never to exit the game last week. But four other defensive backs in addition to Newsome and Johnson were in the game for at least 58% of the time. Johnson has played 76 more snaps than any other member of Cleveland's defense this year. Denzell Ward is second, having seen the field for 357 snaps, but it is very clear that Cleveland is a defense that wants to play with a lot of defensive backs on the field. Including Johnson and Ward, nine defensive backs have played at least 21% of the defensive snaps and seven have played at least 39%.
  • Cleveland's defense is giving up 2.3 passing touchdowns per game. Atlanta and Washington are the only defenses giving up more. And over the past three games, the Browns are giving up 3.3 passing touchdowns per game.

Stopping the Run

  • The Browns defense has been elite in disallowing long rushing attempts. They are first (6.2%) in the league in not allowing runs over 10 yards or more and are second (27.9%) in not allowing runs of five yards or longer.
  • The Browns defense gives up exactly five yards per play this year. That is second best in the league. On first downs, Cleveland is the best in the NFL, allowing just 4.0 yards per play.
  • The Buccaneers defense is the only one allowing fewer rushing yards per game than Cleveland's. The Browns opponents have averaged just 80.4 yards on the ground this year. The Steelers defense is 12th, allowing 107.7 per contest, but Cleveland's offense is the best in the league in this capacity, averaging a whopping 170.4 per game on the ground.

The Advanced Scout Podcast

Check out Matt's podcast preview on the Browns: Listen Here >>>

Matt's Most Memorable Moment: January 5, 2003: AFC Wild Card Game: Steelers 36, Browns 33

This certainly was a wild one in the Wild Card round. Late in the third quarter, Cleveland was winning this game 24-7. Kelly Holcomb finished the day with 429 passing yards, but the Browns could only muster up 38 rushing yards and a lack of a running game made it very difficult to put Pittsburgh away. Tommy Maddux led a furious late game comeback and the Steelers scored 22 fourth quarter points to advance in the next round to take on the Titans in the divisional round, a game Pittsburgh lost in overtime. Meanwhile, the Browns couldn't find their way back into the playoffs after this loss until 2020.

Facts from NFL Research

  • Mike Tomlin & the Steelers are 10-4 in the first game after a bye week, tied for 3rd best record by any team in the Tomlin era (since 2007).
  • The Browns have played with a light box on 53.4% of rushes, the 7th highest rate in the NFL.
  • Najee Harris' 53 rushes vs. a light box are 2nd most by any player this season, averaging 4.5 yards per rush.
  • The Steelers and Browns are the only teams in the NFL to have three different RBs with 100+ rush yards in a game since 2020.
  • Najee Harris leads all rookie running backs and is 3rd among all rookies with 34 receptions this season.
  • Roethlisberger has more wins (23), passing yards (6,507) and passing touchdowns (41) vs. the Browns than any quarterback in NFL history.
  • T.J. Watt and Miles Garrett are 2 of 13 players to have 7+ sacks in each of their first five seasons and the first duo from the same draft class to do so.

Key Matchups

  • Browns RB Nick Chubb/D' Earnest Johnson vs. Steelers LBs Devin Bush and Joe Schobert-In the absence of Kareem Hunt and Chubb, Johnson ripped up the Denver defense last Thursday for 146 yards on the ground. And Johnson did so in very impressive fashion, breaking tacklers and running with authority on his 22 carries. The Browns have one of the NFL's very best running games. Apart from Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh's big men on defense have done a very poor job of keeping the Steelers second level defenders clean of big blockers. That is a huge key to this game as well, as not only do the Browns possibly have the NFL's best interior trio of offensive linemen, but they also employ Johnny Stanton, a downhill blocking fullback. Expect Cleveland to attack the interior of the Steelers defense without relent on Sunday and with all respect to Johnson and what he did last week, Chubb is the far more dangerous runner.
  • Steelers Offensive Tackles vs. Browns DEs Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney-A combination of Zach Banner, Chukwuma Okorafor and Dan Moore will be playing offensive tackle for the Steelers in Week 8. No matter how that plays out, Pittsburgh would be wise to give their edge protectors some help from the running backs and tight ends in pass protection. Garrett and Clowney combined for two sacks in Week 7 and are a very disruptive pairing. Both players were the first overall pick in their respective draft classes and just drip with athletic ability and overall physical skills and Garrett is a potential Defensive MVP candidate. Clowney is also highly disruptive defending the run.