Can Steelers' two-headed monster at running back continue vs. Browns in Week 11?

The Steelers are feeding on the ground, but can it continue against a stout Browns defense?
Pittsburgh Steelers, Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers, Steelers / Nick Cammett/GettyImages
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We've seen this pattern before from the Pittsburgh Steelers. In 2022, the offense couldn't get anything going on the ground in the first half of the season. Following their bye week last year, the rushing attack was firing on all cylinders. The same appears to be happening in 2023.

In Pittsburgh's first seven games this year, the Steelers averaged a mere 79 rushing yards per game and eclipsed 100 rushing yards just twice. Over the past two games, however, the rushing attack is looking as strong as ever.

During this span, running backs Jaylen Warren and Najee Harris helped lead the Steelers to just over 185 rushing yards per game with 3 combined touchdowns (Pittsburgh had just 3 rushing touchdowns all season prior to this).

A big reason for the change has to do with some significant improvements from the offensive line. Now that rookie OT Broderick Jones is finally in the lineup, the Steelers have been steamrolling their opponents on the ground. Jones looks fantastic early in his NFL career. Meanwhile, the rest of the offensive line is finally starting to gel, and they have been a much better unit when you go back and study the film.

Now Pittsburgh's two-headed rushing attack faces a daunting task against an uber-talented Cleveland Browns' defense in Week 11. Will they be able to continue running the ball effectively against one of the league's best defenses?

Steelers should be able to play bully ball with the run game against Browns

Let's start with some numbers. Following their impressive road win over the Baltimore Ravens, the Browns now are 1st in defensive DVOA and 1st in EPA in the NFL, according to FTN Fantasy and rbsdm.com. These are two impressive advanced metrics that show just how efficient and impressive this unit has been so far.

However, the strength of Cleveland's defense is utterly shutting down the opposing passing game, not swallowing up the run. Though the Browns have the 1st-ranked pass defense (allowing just 151.1 yards per game), their run defense hasn't been quite as impressive. Admittedly, Cleveland is still 7th in this category, but they haven't been as dominant against the run as of late.

Over the first three games of the season, Cleveland's defense was an unstoppable force -- allowing a mere 52.0 rushing yards per game, per Pro Football Reference. Since Week 4, however, this team has given up 111.3 rushing yards per contest. Likewise, after not giving up a single rushing touchdown in the first three games, the Browns have allowed a whopping 9 rushing scores over their previous six matchups.

Despite their dominant defensive rankings, the Browns have been an average-at-best run defense in recent weeks. Now they will face the Steelers coming off their best rushing performance since Week 10 of 2022. Against the Packers in Week 10, Jaylen Warren toted the rock 15 times for 101 yards and a score while Najee Harris pitched in 16 carries of his own for 82 yards and a touchdown.

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The Browns have some game-wrecking players on their defensive line -- none bigger than Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner, Myles Garrett. If the Steelers get behind in this contest and are forced to pass the football, Kenny Pickett could get very familiar with the grass in Cleveland.

Running the ball effectively could be the key to the game for the Steelers in what could be a low-scoring affair against a Deshaun Watson-less Browns team in Week 11. If Warren and Harris can continue to steamroll defenses on the ground, it could Pittsburgh in a great position for a road win this week. Based on the recent data, the Steelers' rushing attack should hold the upper hand in this battle.

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