The season continues to move on, and we’re heading into Week 3. Now another Thursday night football game is upon us and the Pittsburgh Steelers are taking on the Cleveland Browns. Nothing’s better than a good old-fashioned AFC North divisional battle. The Browns and Steelers have been duking it out in what seems to be forever so this should be an exciting game, to say the least. Both teams’ run games will be on full display tonight as the quarterback play has been less than inspiring.
Both teams heading into the matchup at 1-1 but that doesn’t mean they are the same. The Cleveland Browns enter the game with the 26th ranked total defense while the Pittsburgh Steelers ranked 12th overall. Against the pass, both defenses rank inside the top 10 in passing yards allowed. The Steelers have given up 551 passing yards (third-most), while the Browns have given up 516 (eighth-most). The Browns have also given up five passing touchdowns (fourth-most) to the Steelers three (15th).
When it comes to defending the run, the Browns are doing it better, allowing only 147 yards on the ground (fourth-fewest) while the Steelers have allowed 257 yards (eleventh-most). The players are next up after taking a look at the teams’ respective defenses.
In this kind of matchup, I’d be apprehensive about starting either QB as QB1 or 2 for that matter but I’m sure you’re already aware of that so I won’t go too far into why you shouldn’t. Both Jacoby Brissett and Mitchell Trubisky rank just outside the top 20 among quarterbacks with Brissett averaging 13.2 fantasy points per game (21st overall) and Trubisky ranked right behind him at 22 with 12 fantasy points per game. Needless to say, you don’t want to have either quarterback in your lineup.
Brissett is averaging 6.2 yards per attempt so far this season and will face a Steelers defense that’s giving up 15.45 fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. On top of that, the Steelers are tied for first in interceptions with five. so even though they are giving up yardage, they’re also good at taking the ball away. Conversely, Mitchell Trubisky gets a Browns defense that is allowing the ninth-most fantasy points to the quarterback position and giving up 258 yards per game through the air.
Najee Harris, Nick Chubb, and Kareem Hunt will be the focal points for their respective teams on the ground. Both Harris and Chubb face defenses allowing 4 y/a or lower to opposing running backs. The Browns are allowing an average of 3.8 y/a while the Steelers are giving up 4.
The Browns’ run game has been pretty stout over the first two games of the season. The tandem of Chubb and Hunt have been clicking with Hunt showing efficiency in Week 1 with 70 all-purpose yards on 15 total touches and two touchdowns with Nick Chubb dominating the Jets in Week 2 on the ground for 87 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries at 5.1 yards per clip. The Steelers are allowing just 128.5 yards per game on the ground so there is an opportunity for both Chubb and Hunt to eat.
Najee Harris is a different story. Harris is averaging just 2.9 yards per attempt after two weeks and the Browns are no slouches when it comes to defending the run. The Browns D is giving up 73.5 yards per game on the ground and has given up just one touchdown so far. Another knock on Harris is that he’s only averaging 12.5 carries a game after two weeks. It feels like a lot is stacked against Harris this week but division games aren’t set in stone so it may be best to temper those fantasy expectations against a tough ground defense.
Now here’s where things get interesting. For the Steelers, Diontae Johnson seems to be the only wide receiver Mitchell Trubisky wants to target these days. Johnson so far this season commands a 32% target share amongst the Steelers’ wide receivers. He’s already seen 22 targets over the first two weeks. Chase Claypool has seen 12 targets over that same span, cutting a 17.4% target share for himself. Coming in last is rookie wide receiver George Pickens, who’s seen just five targets as a starter. Pickens boosts considerable talent but seems capped by the lack of opportunity in the Steelers’ current passing attack.
For now, based on opportunity, Johnson and Claypool look to be the only startable wide receivers and even Claypool is a stretch at just six targets a game. Johnson should continue to see the bulk of the targets for Trubisky while Claypool floats around in flex status and Pickens remains untrustworthy for now.
The Browns have a bit of a case with their wide receivers too. Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones are the top “dawgs” for the Browns with hopeful rookie wide receiver David Bell starting as the third. However, Brissett is no passing attempt juggernaut, attempting just 30.5 attempts so far. While Cooper currently leads the team in targets with 16 and DPJ at 12, the numbers don’t shake out that way in this particular situation. Cooper saw a majority of his targets in Week 2 against the Jets while DPJ lead the team in targets and receiving yards in Week 1.
Both have flipped places over the first two weeks so it’s a bit difficult to trust either heading into this Thursday night game. Cooper looks to be a low-end WR1 but gives the feeling of a knuckle-dragging game. The o/u for the game is at 38 points per CBS sports, so Vegas isn’t expecting too high of a scoring game. I would start Cooper and sit DPJ this week.
As far as the tight end position goes, this feels a bit more cut and dry. Freiermuth has been pretty solid over the first two games of the season, seeing a 24.6% target share (17 targets). The Muth is looking like one of Trubisky’s favorite targets underneath and in the red zone as he’s seen the most targets amongst the Steelers pass catchers so far this season with Najee Harris being the runner-up. I would be fine starting Muth in this game.
The Browns’ usage of David Njoku has me baffled. Why did you give him that shiny new contract if you aren’t going to throw him the ball? Fellow tight end Harrison Bryant has seen more targets than David Njoku so far this season. Njoku has seen just five targets so far this season and it seems like the Browns want to leave him in as a blocker as opposed to using him as a pass catcher. Until that changes, Njoku can’t be in your lineups.
If I had to pick a winner for this game, I would take the Cleveland Browns in this one. The run game for them gets the edge and should help them get through this slugfest of a game in this divisional meeting.
Who are you taking in this game? The Steelers or the Browns?