For the Pittsburgh Steelers as a team, this Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns isn’t a must-win. But it’s a key litmus test for what kind of team they’ve put together. Are they legitimate contenders in the AFC, a group that’s righted the ship? Or just a squad that eked out two wins against lackluster Denver and Seattle teams? On a more micro-level, the same could be applied to second-year players Chase Claypool and Alex Highsmith, two players who have flashed their sophomore season but will be counted on to beat the Browns.
Mike Tomlin outlined as much for both men during his Tuesday press conference. Here’s what he had to say on Claypool.
“He’s very much still writing that story,” Tomlin said via the team’s YouTube channel. “We are only about a-third of the way through the season. I’ve liked some of the things that he’s done. He’s doing really well in all areas. He’s getting better in all areas. But the games that lie ahead will ultimately determine the question that you ask in terms of the significance. Stepping up in stages like the one we’re about to go to on Sunday will be a significant component of it as well. Divisional road game play is big.”
Statistically, Claypool has been the team’s best downfield threat this season, averaging over 16 yards per catch. But he’s left plays on the table and hasn’t always played to the great physical traits he has: His size, speed, and strength. Not all the issues fall on him; Ben Roethlisberger’s passes haven’t always been kind to him, but dating back to training camp, Claypool hasn’t quite taken the jump expected. Of course, a big-time performance to beat the Browns Sunday would quickly change that narrative.
Tomlin offered similar comments for Highsmith.
“He’s playing well. And we need him to. Much like the conversation we’re having regarding Chase Claypool, what lies ahead is definitely going to write his story. I like what I’ve seen but stay tuned. Divisional road game play, guys looking to take a step. That’s a good environment in which to do it.”
Highsmith is coming off his best game of the season in Week 6’s win over Seattle. Playing 100% of the defense’s snaps, he put up big numbers across the board.
Alex Highsmith vs the Seahawks.
4 QB hits
100% of the defense's snaps.
Needless to say, his best game of the year. Fully healthy after battling a groin injury. #Steelers
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) October 24, 2021
Whether it’s against Baker Mayfield of Case Keenum, Pittsburgh will look to continue the pressure they generated against Seattle, sacking Geno Smith five times. Highsmith will have a tough test against left tackle Jedrick Wills, though Highsmith got the best of him last season.
It’ll be all hands on deck to beat the Browns and get over .500 for the first time since Week 1. That means everyone has to step up. But big performances by Claypool and Highsmith will go a long way for Pittsburgh to come away victors.