For all intents and purposes, the Cleveland Browns are an old-school, physical, smash mouth football team, turning back the clock seemingly every week to bludgeon teams on the ground.
It helps having an elite-level running back like Nick Chubb and a terrific offensive line featuring pieces like left tackle Jedrick Wills, guards Wyatt Teller and Joel Bitonio, and center J.C. Tretter.
The Browns have a clear identity and will not be changed by any team or personnel week to week. Knowing just how thin the Steelers are at linebacker this week with Joe Schobert and Devin Bush both on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, and backup Buddy Johnson out with a foot injury, the Browns will undoubtedly want to run the football downhill against a porous rush defense in Pittsburgh that is also missing starting defensive tackle Chris Wormley, who is also on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
Despite all that, Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin has his attention on stopping the Browns’ successful rushing attack right in its tracks.
Appearing on his weekly Mike Tomlin Show, presented by 84 Lumber, Tomlin stated that the key to beating the Browns a second time in the 2021 season is minimizing the rushing attack, forcing Baker Mayfield to throw the football.
“You know, with all due respect to Baker, man. He’s a challenge to us. I think the number one thing is Nick Chubb and Kareem hunt and what they do with that running game,” Tomlin said, according to video via the Steelers’ official YouTube page. “One of the reasons why we were successful up there is I think we held him [Chubb] to 3.8 per per carry, and obviously Hunt was unavailable. And I think that that really was the catalyst, kind of, for what transpired in that stadium.
“We gotta minimize the run game. I think the run game is the catalyst for everything that it is they do,” Tomlin added. “Baker is awesome in the play action passing game; that gets minimized when you’re slowing the run game down. It gets highlighted when they’re running the ball effectively. And so, we recognize the challenge that is stopping the run this week. We got a ton of respect for Nick Chubb and Hunt and their run game. And it starts there for us this week.”
The last time the Steelers and Browns matched up was on Halloween, a game in which the Steelers prevailed with a 15-10 win in FirstEnergy Stadium, thanks to — as Tomlin mentioned — slowing down the Browns’ rushing attack after a rough first drive. In that win, the Steelers held Chubb to just 61 yards on 16 carries, though they did allow a 21-yard run in the first quarter that set up the Browns’ first score of the game — a 30-yard field goal by Chase McLaughlin.
Being so shorthanded in the front seven this week could make stopping the run an exceptionally difficult task, but the Steelers are familiar with the Browns’ scheme and are making it a point of emphasis this week ahead of a pivotal AFC North battle at Heinz Field with playoff implications on the line.
Will the Steelers be able to rise to the challenge and slow down the Browns’ rushing attack? Unlikely, but they have had success before against Cleveland. They’ll need that success to show up in a key situation this week.