The Pittsburgh Steelers are on a roll, reeling off four victories in their first four games. The Cleveland Browns are currently on a four-game winning streak. This figures to be the most competitive game these two teams have played in years in which the stakes are actually equitable.
Pittsburgh is looking to go 5-0, something that they have only achieved once before in franchise history, in 1978—the year that they secured their third Super Bowl trophy. But the Browns pose the biggest threat toward victory that they have faced so far this season, and the Steelers will be down two starters.
Right guard David DeCastro has been ruled out, as has wide receiver Diontae Johnson. DeCastro has missed most of the season, out for the first two games due to a knee injury. He is now out with an abdominal injury, and rookie Kevin Dotson will be making his second start in his place.
Johnson is missing the first game of his career, but he has also been absent for the majority of the past two games, first with a concussion, and then with a back injury that he suffered in the first quarter last week on a punt return.
In the past two games, that has simply meant more opportunities for rookie Chase Claypool, and that figures to translate into more of the same today. He was targeted 11 times last week, catching seven passes for 110 yards and three touchdowns, adding a fourth touchdown on the ground.
But when you pair an inexperienced right side of the offensive line with the absence of arguably your favorite hot read in Johnson, who has a knack for getting open, it could spell trouble facing Myles Garrett, who has been playing at an All-Pro level this year. Ben Roethlisberger has had the quickest release in the game so far this season, but getting the ball out quickly and not getting sacked may prove difficult today.
Conversely, the Steelers have been generating more pressure than anybody in the league, and doing so quickly. The Browns will be without their starting right guard, Chris Hubbard filling in for his first start at guard of his career. Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward need to get home and into the backfield quickly, both against the pass and the run.
And needless to say, Joe Haden and Steven Nelson will have their hands full against Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, particularly in terms of staying disciplined and not biting against the play-action pass, which the Browns employ more than a third of the time.
The role of the tight ends could be big on both sides in today’s game. Eric Ebron will stress B.J. Goodson and Mack Wilson in coverage, but Austin Hooper and David Njoku will do the same for Vince Williams and Devin Bush.
One thing of note is that the Browns will be without both Karl Joseph and Ronnie Harrison, so they are thin at the safety position. This is an area the passing game and the running game can exploit. Add in Greedy Williams’ continued absence.