- Steelers have been feasting off of opponent turnovers all season
- Browns should continue to use Kareen Hunt and Nick Chubb together in formations
- I like under 41.5 in a tight battle of division rivals
PIT Offense vs CLE Defense:
- The Steelers have been living off of turnovers created by their defense since Mason Rudolph took over.
- With Rudolph at QB, the Steelers have averaged just 5.0 yards per play against a schedule of defenses that have allowed 5.6 on the season (11% worse than opponents have allowed on average). They have created first downs on 29% of their plays against a schedule of defenses that on average have allowed 32% (8% worse than opponent average).
- The Steelers have a 41% success rate on offense which ranks 29th in the NFL in the weeks that Rudolph has played.
- Rudolph ranks 20th in DVOA among QBs and 28th in QBR. He has averaged 6.6 yards per attempt, ranking 32nd in the NFL. The 6.6 YPA comes against opponents who in aggregate have allowed 6.8 YPA.
- In the passing game, Rudolph has targeted RBs out of the backfield on 27% of his attempts, which ranks fifth-most in the NFL. He has targeted TEs 18% of the time and WRs 56%, both below league average.
- When he has targeted RBs, the yards per attempt have been poor at 4.9 which is 27th in the NFL. When targeting TEs the numbers are just as bad, resulting in a poor 4.9 YPA which ranks dead last.
- The biggest beneficiary from Rudolph in the passing game has to be RB Jaylen Samuels. Samuels has received 33 targets in five games with Rudolph under center. He has caught 28 of those passes for only 165 yards. Samuels has clearly served as an outlet for Rudolph and is an extension of the run game. The Steelers are 27th in yards per carry on the ground while facing a schedule of opponents that has allowed the sixth-highest YPC in the NFL. They (James Conner) have been awful against a very easy run schedule. The Browns’ run D certainly isn’t great, ranking 22nd in the NFL, but Conner has essentially only been able to run effectively against one defense this season, the 30th ranked run defense in the Dolphins.
- Seeing as how Pittsburgh has been awful running the ball, ranking 29th in DVOA run offense, having Samuels in the passing game has been important for Rudolph.
- Rudolph has received excellent protection, with an OL that has allowed the seventh-lowest pressures per dropback in the NFL. He will be facing a strong Browns front which has generated the seventh-most pressures in the NFL. The Browns ability to put pressure on Rudolph will be huge as he is 31st in the NFL in passer rating when facing pressure but has the sixth-highest rating with a clean pocket. That change in QB rating when facing pressure is the fourth-most among all NFL QBs.
- Expect the Steve Wilks to send lots of blitzes at Rudolph, as the Browns have blitzed at the fifth-highest rate in the NFL. And in turn expect the Steelers to combat the blitz with screens to Conner, Samuels, and their WRs.
- There’s not much to say about the Steeler WRs, especially JuJu Smith-Schuster, as they have not been involved as much as many Steeler fans would have hoped. The Browns defense ranks 19th against the pass according to DVOA and has allowed the ninth-fewest of yards to No. 1 WRs. The Browns are also 14th in defending the deep ball and with the conservative nature of Rudolph and this offense I wouldn’t expect a lot of deep shots tonight.
CLE Offense vs PIT Defense
- As bad as the Browns offense has been this year, they still possess electric weapons in Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Jarvis Landry, and Odell Beckham Jr. They will be facing a hot Steelers defense that ranks third in DVOA, fourth against the pass and 11th against the run.
- The Steelers have generated a completely unsustainable 26 turnovers this season with 24 of those turnovers coming in just the last seven games alone. They have two defensive TDs in the last two games as well.
- It does help that they have generated the most pressures per snap in the NFL on defense. The Steelers have four defensive players (T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Cameron Heyward, and Javon Hargrave) who all rank in the top 44 in the NFL in total pressures. Watt leads the team with 44 pressures (seventh-most in the NFL) and 11 sacks.
- Watt will be going up against Browns RT Chris Hubbard, who is graded at 48.5 according to PFF. This is the definition of a mismatch. Browns will/should be helping on Watt all night.
- Baker Mayfield ranks 30th in the NFL in QB rating no matter if he has a clean pocket or is pressured. He has already faced defenses that rank second, third, and fifth in pressures this season in the Niners, Rams, and Patriots. In those three games, Mayfield has completed 46 passes on 89 attempts (52%) for 489 yards (5.5 YPA), 2 TDs and 4 INTs. He also took 12 total sacks in those three games. He threw for less than 200 yards in all three games.
- As bad as Mayfield has been this year, he, unfortunately, has had to face the toughest pass defensive schedule in the NFL. His yards per attempt rank 19th in the NFL, which isn’t terrible considering the circumstances. He is averaging 7.1 YPA against a set of defenses that have allowed just 6.19 YPA on the season (15% above expectations). In tonight’s game he has to limit the mistakes, which has helped propel the Steelers to points during their win streak.
- Mayfield has spread his targets around pretty well, targeting RBs 12th most in the NFL and WRs at a rate that is eighth-highest. With a revolving door at TE, I can’t blame Mayfield for only targeting them at only a 13% clip.
- Last week, Mayfield clearly welcomed the addition of Hunt, targeting him nine times for seven catches and 44 yards. Buffalo came into the game ranking 15th in target share allowed to opposing RBs at 20% but the Browns targeted their RBs 13 times on 38 attempts (34%).
- What’s most interesting about what the Browns did last week versus prior weeks is they played much less 11 personnel and instead utilized Hunt more in 21 personnel (2 RBs/1 TE) and 20 personnel (2 RBs/0 TEs). Prior to last week, the Browns were running 11 75% of the time and had only run one play each in 21 and 20 personnel. Last week they ran 21 13 times and 20 15 times. They had extreme success from both, resulting in a 54% success rate from the 21 personnel and 67% from 20. Combined, they ran the ball 13 times for 126 yards and 9.7 YPC out of both formations. They were successful on 10 of the 13 runs (77%). Expect to see much more 21 and 20 tonight with Hunt’s role continuing to increase.
- The Steelers have allowed a 22% target share to RBs although their opponents only target RBs 19% of the time on average. My guess is a lot of those are desperation throws or dump offs due to their heavy pass rush, but it is something to look for tonight from the Browns. Hunt only played 38 snaps, or 54% of all total offensive snaps, and still received those nine targets. Hunt should be heavily involved in the passing game tonight
- I can see Baker force-feeding OBJ like he did last game against Buffalo. The Steelers are 14th in yards per game allowed to No. 1 WRs. But who have the Steelers secondary really gone against in this recent streak? I bet the Steelers last week against the Rams because of the huge mismatch along the lines and Goff never had time to find his WRs. Before that they faced Brian Hoyer and Ryan Fitzpatrick in the game prior to that one. They have not really faced anyone of the caliber of OBJ all season.
- The one area in the pass game that the Browns could have an advantage is in the slot. Terrell Edmunds and Mike Hilton rank 67th and 31st in passer rating allowed, respectively, out of 72 slot DBs. The two have combined to allow 30 catches for 346 yards and 3 TDs on 42 targets in the slot. Jarvis Landry has run 66% of his total snaps and received 21% of his total targets from the slot. Depending on how often the Browns go 3 WRs, Landry could be the beneficiary.
Total I like tonight: (Under 41.5 -110 5Dimes)
I think the line is about right. If this were a Sunday game, I think I’d lean to the Browns but seeing as how coaching matters the most on Thursday nights, I am not advising to take either side tonight. We have seen it way too often over the years how rookie head coaches struggle the most on TNF. Also seeing as how Freddie Kitchens is either the worst coach in the NFL or close to it, I wouldn’t feel comfortable laying a full 3 points here.
Instead, I am taking under 41.5. As discussed above, the Steelers have installed a very conservative game plan around Rudolph, which consists of inefficient runs and extremely short dump offs to Samuels and Conner. I think on a short week in a hostile environment, Mike Tomlin will do his best to limit any potential mistakes for Rudolph and instead let his defense do the work. On the other side of the ball, it may have taken the return of Hunt to do it, but Kitchens ran much fewer spread formations and 11 personnel and instead utilized more multi RB packages. I think we will see more of the same tonight and include Hunt in the passing game as much or more than against Buffalo. A few shorter throws could set up a wheel route of two to Hunt but in general, I think Kitchens has to not let Baker cost him this game with dangerous throws.
As long as the Browns limit the turnovers to 2 or less, they should come out on top in a really low scoring, tight game. A pick 6 or turnover deep in their own territory would put this under at risk but both teams rank in the bottom 10 in red zone TD% as well so hopefully, the mistakes don’t turn into 6. I have the Browns winning something like 20-17.