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The Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers matchup on Halloween in a game that finally takes on meaning after the 2020 season. For decades, the Steelers have controlled the rivalry between the two teams with many (annoyingly accurate) stats to back that up including Ben Roethlisberger’s record in the Browns stadium versus the home team’s record there.
The 2020 season saw a turnaround for Cleveland which included a late-season, playoff-clinching victory over Pittsburgh and then a wild card round playoff victory over Pittsburgh as well.
The rivalry has been renewed.
Now the two teams meet in Cleveland for what should be a raucous crowd at First Energy Stadium. The Browns come in with a lot of injuries but at 4 – 3, sit only a game behind the top record in both the division and conference. The Steelers visit the shores of Lake Erie with a .500 record, 3 – 3, coming off their early-season bye week.
Starting Steelers week, we take a quick look at how the visitors have won and loss each of those three games this year to see what we can learn about them:
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Pittsburgh has one quality victory on their resume. In Week 1, the Steelers took out the Buffalo Bills in an ugly game that had many questioning the talent of both teams. The game itself has very little excitement.
The Steelers struggled to run the ball with Najee Harris having only 45 yards on 16 carries. Roethlisberger threw for 188 yards and one touchdown. The defense did force one turnover, a Josh Allen fumble, but gave up over 110 yards rushing while fallen threw for 270 yards and one touchdown.
The Steelers won in Week 1 with no turnovers and their defense keeping Allen from creating big plays.
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After three losses, Pittsburgh defeated the Denver Broncos in Week 5. Unlike their first victory, the Steelers were able to get their running game going with over 140 yards on the ground with Harris getting 122 and a touchdown himself. Roethlisberger increased his production to 253 yards and two touchdowns with two plays of 50 yards or more. He did lose a fumble for the team’s only turnover.
The Pittsburgh defense balanced the turnover margin with an interception of Teddy Bridgewater. The Broncos ran for over 100 yards but 49 came on one carry. The Steelers defense was once again able to minimize big plays in their second victory on the season.
Chase Claypool had a huge game with five catches for 130 yards and a touchdown. While Dionte Johnson had the other long reception and Roethlisberger spread the ball around to seven receivers.
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Prior to their Week 7 bye, Pittsburgh matched up with the Russell Wilson-less Seattle Seahawks. Seattle was able to rush for over 140 yards while Geno Smith didn’t throw an interception stepping in for Wilson. The defense gave up a couple of longer plays including a 41-yard reception by TE Gerald Everett but harrassed Smith with five sacks.
The Steelers offense was balanced but lacked explosiveness. Harris had 81 yards but took 24 carries to get there while Roethlisberger completed 29 passes for only 229 yards and a touchdown.
Pittsburgh had to pull out a victory in overtime against the Seahawks with a TJ Watt strip-sack putting them in position for the field goal for the win.
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Following their big Week 1 victory, Pittsburgh suffered their first loss of the season against the Las Vegas Raiders. The team’s offense was more explosive in the passing game, with 295 yards and a couple of plays over 40 yards, but the run game was close to non-existent. Harris carried the ball 10 times for only 38 yards.
The defense was able to stop the run but allowed Derek Carr to throw for 382 yards and two touchdowns. The Raiders were able to force two Roethlisberger turnovers (INT, fumble) and only gave up two sacks to the Steelers tough pass rush.
This was the first of three straight losses for Pittsburgh.
(AP Photo/Kirk Irwin)
At the time of their Week 3 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, it was considered a bad loss. Now, with the Bengals tied atop the AFC North and the conference as a whole, the loss is viewed differently.
The Bengals were able to keep QB Joe Burrow mostly clean, giving up no sacks, and rode their run game and defense to a victory. Burrow completed 14 of 18 passes with three touchdowns while Joe Mixon rushed for 90 yards.
The Steelers gave up four sacks and Roethlisberger threw two interceptions. Harris struggled to run the ball once again, 14 carries for 40 yards, but was targeted a whopping 19 times in the passing game. With the run game struggling, the Steelers threw 58 passes on the day but failed to hit on any pass longer than 29 yards with the Bengals getting pressure and forcing short, quick throws.
Watt being out with an injury played a big role in the defense’s struggles but the hot and cold nature of the rushing attack and Roethlisberger’s limitations were bigger problems.
(AP Photo/Don Wright)
In the third straight loss, Pittsburgh once again faced a quality opponent. The Green Bay Packers were methodical in controlling the game. Their two backs combined for 129 yards on 30 carries while Aaron Rodgers threw for 248 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. The Packers defense forced two more Roethlisberger turnovers (INT, fumble) despite only getting two sacks.
The return of Watt helped the Steelers defense. He contributed two of their three sacks but the offense was still limited. Harris rushed for 62 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown while Roethlisberger threw 40 passes but only accumulated 232 yards. Claypool’s absence was felt on offense but Johnson had 92 yards receiving with eight different players catching passes.
The Steelers were able to right their ship with two lower-level opponents after this three-game losing streak but the losses were telling.
In Victory, the Steelers...
(AP Photo/Justin Berl)
Rushed the passer well
Didn’t turn the ball over
Were able to run the ball
Often had big plays on offense
Were balanced on offense
Big Ben didn’t lose the game for them
While these are overly simplified statements, they are keys for almost every game in the NFL.
The Browns must protect Case Keenum (assumed to start) or Baker Mayfield (unlikely) while getting pressure on Roethlisberger. Stopping the run on the way to the quarterback will be important.
In Losses, the Steelers...
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Had minimal rushing attack
Limited big plays
Limited pressure on the quarterback
Forced to have Big Ben try to win the game
If Cleveland can stop the run and stop the big plays over the top, a victory seems certain given the home team’s great rushing attack. Making tackles in space on the many screens likely thrown their way will be important. With Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah out for a couple more games, the linebackers and safeties will play an important role.
After a quality win in Week 1, Pittsburgh struggled even in their Week 5 victory over the Wilson-less Seahawks. While their three losses are to teams with good records early in the season, their last two victories were not overly encouraging.
At 3 – 3, the Steelers are very beatable and the Browns have the ingredients to get the victory. The injuries to the home team will make a victory much harder to accomplish but it is still within reason.