STEELERS @ BROWNS PREVIEW – THURS. (11-14-19)

RED HOT STEELERS GO 130 MILES TO FACE RIVAL BROWNS IN HUGE THURSDAY NIGHT CLASH FOR BOTH!

VEGAS ODDS:  PITTSBURGH STEELERS @ CLEVELAND BROWNS (-3)  ~  TOTAL: (41 1/2)

PITT OFFENSE (#28)  vs. CLEVELAND DEFENSE (#17)

CLEVELAND OFFENSE (#19) vs. PITT DEFENSE (#12)

Well folks this is a very interesting game and possibly the biggest game for the Browns ever facing their rival Steelers, who they haven’t beaten since 2014, and they have only 6 total wins in the last 41 meetings with the Black and Gold. The Browns entered this season hyped more then an UFC Match with Conor McGregor, but now at (3-6), they have no more room for losses as they look to break their Playoff drought dating all way back to 2002. Last season at the Dawg Pound the game ended in a (21-21) Tie. The Steelers won the other meeting easily (33-18). The Steelers have now won 4 straight and moved to (5-4) and Playoff hopes very bright. The Browns season almost ended last week, but after 100 miscues and terrible play calls, they won and stopped a 3 game losing streak, and at same time finally won a Home game after losing it’s first 3 at the Pound. 

This game will feature two young QB’s who starred in College and faced each other a few times, their last match up was epic and both had gigantic passing games (Mayfield and Rudolph). It’s highly doubtful either comes anywhere close to the 500 pass yard range tonight and heck the likely winning QB will probably be lucky to hit 250 pass yards. The Browns have scored 13, 13, 28 and 19 points at home, having really zero home field advantage thus far this season. Last week they did something on Offense I don’t think I’ve ever seen in my 30+ years covering NFL. They failed to score a TD from the one yard line, on 8 plays straight. That’s right EIGHT tries from the goal line and no score. The OL got pushed back hard by the Bills Def front and got smothered on all 8 plays. The Browns are now #26 in the Red Zone and 3rd worst at the Goal line. They have all the talent at RB and WR but they simply struggle to make “BIG” plays. Last week was the Browns first game with ex KC Chiefs stud RB Kareem Hunt. He was on field with one of my favorite RB’s in the NFL, Nick Chubb (a Pro Bowler), for 28 snaps. I felt Hunt played well for a guy missing over a year. Look this Browns team to me is the worst coached team I’ve maybe ever seen. Browns HC (and Off Play caller Freddie Kitchens is so far over his head it’s almost scary to watch. He makes no adjustments and thinks he must go for a TD in every situation. His Play calling is simply the worst of all 32 teams, and that’s saying a lot with Jets and Dolphins and Redskins Offenses. He’s worst because he is loaded with star talent at RB and WR. He rarely is able to take advantage of key mismatches. QB Baker Mayfield has 9 TD passes but 12 interceptions. He simply doesn’t read Defenses well and feels he must make a big play every time. The good news for Browns fans is last week, although it wasn’t a blowout or a pretty win, the team won with no turnovers and only 4 penalties. This team is one of the most undisciplined I’ve watched all year. Hence the 3-6 record. It’s not been by bad luck. 

The Steelers have won 4 straight. They have lost 3 heart breakers on the Road, by 2, 3 and 4 points (opener loss to Pats by 30). So they have not been stymied much by opposing fan bases/crowd noise. They have gotten not spectacular play from young QB Rudolph, but I love how he’s progressed. To me he has had very little to work with as far as star power around him as run game is really bad, and the top WR JuJu Shuster-Smith has not performed at a high level now being covered by opposing Defenses best cover cornerback. The Steelers are hoping #1 RB J. Conner can suit up tonight (missed last 2 games) and give run game a chance to succeed. Backup J. Samuels is averaging a horrific (2.2) yards per carry. It’s a miracle the Steelers have won 4 straight, and they beat a really good Rams team last week proving they can compete with any team in league, even without a formidable rush attack. The Steelers Defense is now looking like one of Top 5 in NFL, as since trade for Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, the D has been deadly. Fitz has 2 touchdown returns, 5 interceptions and a fumble recovery. Once he was added, the D was allowed to put extra man in box and blitz more often as they knew he could help with the coverages. TJ Watt has been a monster rushing the passer (9 1/2 sacks), and Rookie D. Bush has 69 tackles (most as a Rookie). The Defense has (33) sacks and 12 fumble recoveries. The key test tonight will be the Steelers slowing a good Browns Rush attack (#2 in yards per rush). That too was before the Browns added stud RB Hunt, so Steelers could have hands full tonight. Bad news on Steelers D tonight is stud CB J. Haden may miss (illness). That would be a gigantic loss as the Browns do have two stud WR’s in Beckham and Landry. This could cause the Steelers to rush one less Passer and help out more in the secondary. I’ll take Beckham or Landry all day vs. Steelers CB Artie Burns. In this 4 game win streak the Black and Gold have gotten 14 turnovers. They are clearly salivating to get some more tonight vs. Browns/Mayfield who will turn over ball a lot.

The Steelers Defense to me on my film watch has been #1 in the past 4 games. They have rushed passer hard, gotten tackles in backfield, caused penalties to make opposing Offenses go 15-20 yards to move the sticks instead of normal 10. This will be one of Browns Offensive Line tests of the season. Right now no Defense is wreaking more havoc at the line and in the secondary than the Steelers Defense. With the Steelers Offense still a huge work in progress (#28 in NFL), the D must play not just very good, but great to win. This Defense in this 4 game win streak has allowed 17-14-24-12 points. Keep in mind though they have faced only one Offense in Top 12 (Rams last week at #12). Cleveland Offense is (#17) overall, but has underachieved to me more than any other Offense, due to their very solid core of play makers. HC Kitchens has called plays so badly so often, I would be scared to bet the Browns (and worse lay 3) tonight vs. this really meshing and dominant Steelers D with him calling plays so poorly. 

Thursday Night games are unfair to both teams, with just a few days rest off the Sunday game, and it’s usually worse for the Road team due to travel added to the short week. But in Steelers case tonight, it’s only 130 mile trip and really the easiest Road trip they make all year. Huge break in that regard for Pittsburgh. Home teams on Thursday night have won at (58%) clip so slight edge to Brownies for that. Since 2016, 1st year Head Coaches are just (8-15) on the Thursday night game. When you eliminate two 1st year HC’s facing off (meaning one had to win), it’s really only 5 wins by the 1st year HC (huge disadvantage to Browns 1st year HC Kitchens). It makes it 100x worse knowing Kitchens is facing one of the best HC’s all time in Mike Tomlin, who has faced this situation many times and knows now how to fully have his team prepared on this shorter week. Oh and only one of those 1st year HC wins on a Thursday night came over a winning record (at time of game) team. Also, QB’s playing in one of their first 10 career start on a Thursday night game are just (17-38). Not good if you like Steelers as QB Rudolph is in this spot.

GAME NOTES TO WATCH:

Cleveland has allowed 5 teams to rush for over 100 yards. Just don’t think this Steelers team will tonight. This Cleveland Defense simply has to avoid penalties. They seem to go off sides every series and you can’t make it easier on Rudolph. They must smother the run and make Rudolph beat them passing ball. It’s really exact same game plan for Steelers D vs. Mayfield. Just smother run game and force him to pass ball to beat them. Mayfield has been terrible this season and had missed open receivers way too often. He has seemed rushed and the OL has been very spotty. It’s a mismatch right now the Browns weak OL vs. Steelers awesome Pass Rush so the Browns (who are 4th worst on 3rd downs) must be RUN HEAVY tonight and less Pass happy. They are the 2nd best in my ranking rushing it, 4th worst passing it (making way too many negative plays). I’d run Chubb 25x and Hunt 12. The Browns need to grind this win out. If Steelers Conner not playing, I think Steelers will have to still try to run it, but will likely try more screens (my fav play) and also some trick plays to help lessen pressure on young Rudolph. This is the game Browns DE Garrett must have his best game of season. He usually wins his match up, but he’s off sides and makes late hits too often so he’s actually hurt team more than he’s helped team. Tonight he MUST play big or the Browns likely lose. 

Both teams have conceded more yards than they have gotten, so it’s a miracle the Steelers have a winning record. I’ve always said when one team can’t beat another team for years and years, you can never say they are “DUE TO WIN” (finally). I’ve seen it as more often they are more “DUE TO LOSE (AGAIN)”. With the game temps at 32 and a very strong 13-15 mile hour winds facing both teams, this is a huge advantage to the Defenses. The Steelers vs. Pass are 6th best in my Pass Defense rankings, so Mayfield needs to be smart, take the short passes and grind the Steelers Defense out for 4 quarters. I have no idea how the Browns score in close though, as they simply do not get any Offensive Line push. They may need some huge pass plays to Beckham and Landry and more so from Chubb (who I feel can get two runs of 25+ tonight). 

FINAL THOUGHTS:

This one is a very tough game to bet for many reasons. The Browns are simply not as good as advertised. Their HC is a joke and will likely be fired at seasons end unless this team runs the table rest of way and finally makes Playoffs. The Steelers under HC Tomlin have always been a streaky team and when Hot, they somehow play games where they totally dominate as the team is meshing in full throttle, especially on Defensive side. You look at last week’s Browns win: close and win by only 3 in game they dominated really in all phases but inside red zone, and especially near goal line. They are just (1-3) at Home, with win by 3, losses by 4, 7 and 30. That is no home field advantage at all to me. But even though Pitt has won 4 straight and I do like Rudolph’s week to week progression, I can’t bet on him on the short week vs. a team like Browns just so hungry to final beat their cross town rivals and also in “must win” spot to keep any Playoff hopes alive. One thing to also ponder: Browns face very easy schedule rest of way, so getting a win tonight, with some much needed REST for the final run, a Win tonight could really completely change things in Brownsville. I doubt either team goes up more than a TD in this game. Tomlin will play more “NOT TO LOSE” now that his Defense is playing ELITE level. Tomlin is no dummy, he knows more great pressure he puts on Mayfield, more likely he makes the key turnover that could decide the game.

I won’t be in action tonight, but if Total hit 42, I could see value in “UNDER 42” as cold temps and wind and really Browns failure to pile points up and Steelers still struggling in run game, this game should be a chess match and a grinder all way. If nobody turns it over on Offense giving up a Defensive score, hard to see how either Offense lights up scoreboard to make this a high scoring affair.

Enjoy the game and best of luck on whatever side or total you wager on.

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