The Steelers head into Thursday night desperately needing a victory over the Browns. Here are the intimidating players they must game plan for.
The Steelers are reeling a bit from a rough showing against the Patriots last week, and they have a short turnaround time this week to boot. They are facing the Cleveland Browns on Thursday in a battle for at least temporary first place in the AFC North. The Browns are coming off their own terrible showing, so both teams should be even more motivated to put week 2 behind them.
That being said, several of the Browns top players are dealing with injuries that may limit their effectiveness. Myles Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney, Joel Bitonio, and Jack Conklin are either out or have been limited in practice this week. Despite that, they have plenty of players the Steelers need to be game planned for. Let’s start with a running back duo that has had a hot start to the season.
Steelers must focus on Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt
The Steelers run defense will have their hands full this week with the Browns electric backfield duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. They have combined for 332 rushing yards and four touchdowns, while also chipping in 68 receiving yards and another score. They have accounted for all but one of the Browns offensive touchdowns so far this season.
It’s no surprise that they have been the focus of the offense. The Steelers have to be prepared to counter by bringing more bodies into the box to help prevent chunk plays on the ground. Myles Jack, Devin Bush, and the other backers will need to be on their game to keep both of them in check. They can’t stay in heavy packages all day, but we should see more of them this week than we have so far.
Steelers must double Amari Cooper
If the Steelers are going to win Thursday night, it’s going to be because of the defense’s ability to shut down the Browns passing game. Their top receiving threat by far is Amari Cooper, their big trade addition from this offseason. He was brought in to help prop up a very inexperienced receiving room, and so far, he has led the team with 118 yards and a touchdown. Most of that came last week during his nine-catch, 101-yard performance.
Cooper has six 1,000-yard seasons in his career, and he still has plenty in the tank at just 28 years old. The Steelers need to roll coverage his way early and make Jacoby Brissett look elsewhere. That should force him to rely more on their unproven receivers. They especially need to be careful of him winning vertically off of play-action. That’s the kind of impact play he has made everywhere he has played.
Steelers must confuse Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah has had an excellent start to his 2nd season, leading the Browns in tackles and providing excellent coverage from his linebacker spot. He was a player I had on my radar as a good option for the Steelers last year, but he ultimately fell to Cleveland in the draft. He is the prototype modern linebacker with elite athleticism and instincts.
Even though he is a smaller player at just 6-2, 221, he is so explosive and quick to diagnose where the play is going that he isn’t a liability against the run. For the same reasons, he is an asset in coverage for the middle of the Browns defense. The Steelers will have a hard time avoiding him, but Mitch Trubisky needs to locate him every play and avoid throwing late over the middle. He is too quick breaking to the ball and could easily break up or intercept passes. Running multiple routes towards him and making him have to choose who to cover may be the best way to throw him off.
Steelers must be careful throwing at Denzel Ward
Denzel Ward and the rest of the Browns defensive backs have had a rough start to their 2022 season. They nearly lost to their former QB Baker Mayfield in week 1, then let a Joe Flacco-led Jets team beat them in a massive comeback. Despite that, Ward is still one of the premier corners in the NFL when healthy.
The Steelers love for targeting their receivers outside towards the sideline could be a major issue. Ward is super athletic and hard to separate from, making timing routes riskier than normal. All it would take is one inaccurate or late throw to the sideline for Ward to intercept it and take it the distance. With how the offense is playing right now, they can’t afford to give up points on a defensive score. Using more in-breaking and vertical routes should help them avoid that, but it feels like the middle of the field is a dead zone for this offense. That will have to change.