Steelers vs Browns: Predictions and expectations in Week 11 AFC North showdown

What to anticipate in Sunday's upcoming AFC North matchup
Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers
Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers / Joe Sargent/GettyImages

The Steelers kick off their Tour of Ohio this Sunday, meeting the Cleveland Browns for the second time this year in a pivotal AFC North showdown. The outcome of this Sunday's match may decide the current leader in the AFC North, contingent on the result of Thursday night's Ravens vs. Bengals game.

Fresh off a nail-biting victory against the Packers, where they secured a 23-19 win, the Steelers prepare to face the Browns, who clinched a comeback win against the Ravens with a last-minute field goal, securing a 33-31 victory.

How the Steeler's offense needs to attack the Brown's defense

In last Sunday's game against the Packers, the running game had another standout performance, racking up over 200 yards on the ground for the second consecutive week. This reflects the Steelers' commitment to their brand of football—emphasizing a strong running game while minimizing turnovers. This approach, evident in the past two weeks, is expected to continue. Looking back to Week 2, the Steelers struggled offensively, particularly with their rushing attack.

As the season has progressed, the Steelers' offense has found its identity compared to nine weeks ago, prompting an anticipated shift in the game plan. The Browns have a formidable defense, arguably the best in the NFL, making it a significant challenge to move the ball. Recognizing Mike Tomlin's typical approach in such games, the focus will be on a physical battle in the trenches to determine which team can impose their will for victory.

The offensive line needs to bring a determined mindset on Sunday to ensure success. The overall effectiveness of the offense throughout the season relies on their ability to run the ball effectively. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada faces the task of creatively identifying weaknesses in the stout Cleveland front 7.

Preventing Myles Garrett from dominating requires a strategic game plan, which needs to include sliding protection, using additional personnel to chip and double-team, and coming up with schemes to get him out of position.

The Browns' elite secondary presents a challenge for the struggling Steelers passing attack. As a response, early throws to Kenny Pickett are expected to establish a rhythm. Emphasizing the advantage of the running game, Canada needs to consistently integrate play action, given Pickett's proficiency in this aspect. Utilizing the middle of the field becomes crucial, steering away from the Browns' talented cornerbacks and allowing playmakers like Diontae Johnson and George Pickens to win matchups in space and use their ability after the catch to create big plays.

A conservative approach is unlikely to find success against the Browns' defense. To keep the Browns on their toes, the Steelers must allow Pickett to be aggressive and take control. Removing any constraints on the quarterback is essential for an offensive breakthrough against this formidable defense.

The Steelers' defensive approach to restrain the Brown's offense

Defensively, the Steelers face a crucial task: stopping the run, a key element of the Browns' offense. While the Browns have historically leaned on a strong running game, the absence of Nick Chubb for the entire year has led them to adopt a committee approach in the backfield. Failing to contain this run-heavy strategy could make for a challenging game for the Steelers.

The recent Achilles injury to Kwon Alexander puts added pressure on the Steelers' linebackers to step up. Fortunately, Elandon Roberts and Mark Robinson bring solid run-stopping capabilities, even though their weakness lies in pass coverage—something shared by much of the Steelers' defensive lineup.

With Deshaun Watson being out for the year and Dorian Thompson-Robinson taking over, I still expect the Browns to still try to test the Steelers' secondary, looking to exploit vulnerabilities in the linebacker core's coverage.

The impact of Minkah Fitzpatrick, contingent on his availability, carries significant weight in this game. Fitzpatrick, a valuable asset both in the run game and coverage, has been sorely missed by the team thus far. If he's sidelined again, the responsibility falls on the Steelers' pass rush to replicate their dominance from the first matchup.

Facing a Browns offensive line missing both starting tackles, TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith must be relentless disruptors throughout the game. A repeat performance of the Packers game, where the pass rush faltered, revealed the vulnerability of the Steelers' defense without effective pressure.

How I expect Tomlin and Austin to gameplan versus this Browns offense is to let Dorian Thompson-Robinson beat you. Stop the run and force the Browns to have to throw the ball. If the pass rush manages to disrupt Dorian Thompson-Robinson and make his day difficult, the Steelers hope to capitalize on potential mistakes, leading to turnovers. This has been their tried-and-true strategy in past matchups, and there's no indication that it's going to change in this critical game.

Final thoughts and predictions

In conclusion, this game is going to be your typical AFC North game with a physical tone and relying on the defenses to prevail. This game is huge for both teams, so this one is going to be close the whole game. Their first matchup was as ugly of a game as you could hope for.

Luckily, the Steelers got a fluky win that they had no business winning. With this game being on the road and the Browns playing their best football so far, I think they prove that Week 2 was a lucky win even without Deshaun Watson.