Cleveland Browns offense versus Pittsburgh Steeler defense
In seven words or less, please describe your expectations for Kizer’s first career NFL start.
Gerberry: Manage the game and wins will follow.
Gilbert: Cautiously optimistic, expecting some ups and downs.
Josh: Just don’t turn the ball over.
Bode: Watchable mediocrity sprinkled with some big plays.
Scott: Win or lose, don’t crush our hope.
Craig: Bombs and interceptions.
Dave: Let me google the NFL record for touchdowns in a game… OK, it is seven. He will throw eight touchdowns. (screw your rules!)1
The Browns spent a lot of money upgrading the offensive line and brought in a new coach for the group. Can they handle the Steelers exotic blitz schemes in Week 1?
Gerberry: This is a veteran group that who, especially Kevin Zeitler who played for Cincinnati, has played against the Steelers. While there have been issues before, injuries and missing bodies can be the excuse for those struggles. There are always challenges when adding in players and swapping in new coaches, but this is a group that has been around the game for a long time. I have no worries they will do well here.
Gilbert: I think the Browns offensive line should perform pretty well versus the Steelers. The Browns will face much tougher and more talented front sevens than Pittsburgh will put out there. I think the Browns offensive line has the makings to be a one of the best in the league. Communication will be key against the exotic blitzes, but with the veteran experience on the line, the unit should not have too hard a time handling these situations.
Josh: With all the hype that has surrounded the new-look offensive line in camp, I would hope that they would be able to handle anything, honestly. Then again, it’s the Steelers. But if they are able to give Kizer time in the pocket and open holes for Isaiah Crowell and company, the Browns could put up quite a few points against a mediocre Steelers defense.
Bode: The Browns have many veterans across the line and Shon Coleman has received praise for his preseason performance. However, the reason the Steelers are able to get to quarterbacks is that they put pressure on communication and pre-snap evaluation as well as through ability of an offensive line. It is difficult to believe there will not be some issues in Week 1 with a new group.
Scott: As much as I want to tout the improved offensive line with any sort of potential success against the blitz, the biggest factor—in my opinion—will be DeShone Kizer’s release time. If he holds on to the ball too long and cannot locate his hot reads, it will not matter who’s blocking. I trust Kizer’s ability to audible as he showed flashes of this in the preseason, but the team-wide execution that is required to defeat complex blitz schemes will be key. Three steps and let it rip, kid.
Craig: I think they can. Unfortunately, I think some of that rookie clock could be in effect and Kizer will hold the ball too long and suffer as a result. The sack numbers might defy our eyes for how the offensive line plays.
Dave: One advantage of actually keeping some coaches more than a year is that they build up experience in these sorts of situations. And with the added quality personnel to use that experience, maybe we keep Kizer clean.
What running back ends up with the most yards from scrimmage of the Browns?
Gerberry: Though Duke might see more targets, Crowell will get the most yardage. The Steelers defense can be run on, last year they gave up almost as many yards on the ground as they gained, with a 4.3 YPC average. Get and feed The Crow between the tackles and gash this defense open.
Gilbert: As I wrote earlier in the preseason, I think Duke Johnson will be used even more in the offense with more of his attention going towards slot receiver. With that focus, I think Johnson will have the most total yards from scrimmage both in terms of receiving and rushing. But, I think Isaiah Crowell will have more rushing yards from scrimmage. Johnson should be used extensively all over the offense, giving him more opportunities to get the ball in his hands.
Josh: Crow seems like the easy answer here, but it all just depends on how many touches Hue Jackson gives him.
Bode: Crowell should easily have the most yards from scrimmage as Hue Jackson needs to break in DeShone Kizer by giving him strong run game support. Also, until the Browns actually flex Duke Johnson out and target him more often, it is more of the same rhetoric about getting him involved in the passing game. The tight ends will likely still be the shorter route targets.
Scott: If it’s not Isaiah Crowell, it’s yet another sign of Hue Jackson refusing to stick to the run game despite all of the resources which were poured into the offensive line. Sure, Duke Johnson can rip off a 40-yard screen or something, which I’ll gladly take, but Crowell needs at least 20 carries in this game, regardless of score.
Craig: The Crow should be the answer, but I’m going to go with Matthew Dayes. I’m not betting on this, but I know how the NFL goes, especially at the running back position. The Browns haven’t given Crow big money not because they don’t value him or believe in him. They’re playing the percentages of the position.
Dave: I think one of the big advantages of the previously mentioned O-Line spend will be holes for The Crow to fly through.
The Browns desperately need a receiver or receivers to step up. Who does so against the Steelers?
Gerberry: With health comes production, or at least one hopes, and a healthy Corey Coleman against the Pittsburgh defense is something we can all be excited about. We saw flashes last year of the player Coleman could be, but injuries took their toll on him and with the quarterback carousel last year, he could never find a rhythm. I expect a big year out of Coleman and Week 1 will be the opening number.
Gilbert: I think the first game could be a coming out party for Corey Coleman. Coleman showed against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the preseason that he has already shown some continuity with quarterback DeShone Kizer. Coleman suffered from multiple injuries during his rookie campaign that really curtailed his season. I think at full health, Coleman will show why the team took him in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. With a very average Pittsburgh secondary, Coleman should have a prime opportunity to open the season with a bang.
Josh: Corey Coleman. If he can stay healthy, I think he has a big sophomore season and Sunday’s opener will be just the start he needs.
Bode: It depends on who Joe Haden matches up against. That might sound mean, but Haden doesn’t have the speed or explosion to keep up with receivers anymore and no one knows that better than the Browns. The cushion he gives will need to be exploited and perhaps a double-move long pass mixed in. Pittsburgh would be wise to keep him on Kenny Britt rather than Corey Coleman, but we shall see.
Scott: It has to be Corey Coleman. I’m looking for at least eight targets with six snags, but the game may hinge on how many of these are completed for first downs and not seven-yard hitches on 3rd-and-8. I desperately want Kenny Britt to make me forget about Terrelle Pryor, but the Browns hitting on their first round pick from a year ago would be a huge bonus.
Craig: I hope it’s Sammie Coates over the top of the Steelers defense. Early on it will be difficult to get much going in the passing game, but if the Browns run the ball and play-fake well, Coates can get past the safeties and run under a Kizer bomb.
Dave: While I’m excited for the new additions to the WR group, I don’t see them having much impact for a few weeks. I expect whatever receiver gets covered by Joe Haden to excel this week (SALT ALERT!).
Cleveland Browns defense versus Pittsburgh Steeler offense
The Browns first-team defense looked like a much-improved unit in the preseason. How much does Myles Garrett missing Sunday affect your expectations to how they can perform against the Steelers?
Gerberry: With the ankle injury Garrett suffered on Wednesday’s practice keeping the No. 1 overall pick out of Week 1 and beyond, Garrett’s ability to give quarterbacks nightmares will bypass Big Ben Roethlisberger this time. It definitely hinders what they will be able to do on defense, as they will now have to patch together more of a pass rush with Carl Nassib and Nate Orchard.
Gilbert: Myles Garrett may have been the single most exciting person or part of the opener for me. I am so bummed about the Garrett injury. I have never looked forward to a rookie more than Garrett. Just sucks.
Josh: Outside of the talent the Browns have at the linebacker group, without Myles Garrett, nothing else excites me on the defense. He was supposed to be the game-changing pass rusher the Browns have needed for years. It just sucks that he may miss the first 4-6 weeks of the season. I feel bad for the kid.
Bode: The biggest need of the Browns defense the past several years has been a game-changing talent. Myles Garrett was that game-changing talent. Without him, it will be up to Gregg Williams to duct tape together enough of a pass rush to make Roethlisberger uncomfortable. A tough task just got much more difficult.
Scott: It will be huge, honestly. Giving Ben Roethlisberger time in the pocket means giving Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant more time to spread the field, which means not good things for the Cleveland Browns defense. And not that the rest of the Browns cannot rush the passer, it’s that the Steelers can afford to put that much more attention on guys like Emmanuel Ogbah to keep him at bay. I wouldn’t be surprised if the 10-point line moves given this news.
Craig: The Browns need Myles Garrett. Even without stats, he was someone the Steelers had to account for. Now, I’m not so sure the Browns can disrupt the Steelers all that easily.
Dave: I want Garrett to stand on the sidelines and make the “I’m watching you” finger points at Ben for the whole game.
The Steelers suggested LeVeon Bell might receive his normal workload despite sitting out the entire preseason. What can the Browns do to limit him?
Gerberry: Wear him down. Our linebacking corps have explicit instructions to “find ball, see ball, get ball” from Gregg Williams. Give him the same amount of carries and they will do their job. Assuredly, even Jabrill “I Want To Call Him Julius” Peppers will get in on the fun.
Gilbert: The Browns need to get early penetration on the Pittsburgh offensive line. LeVeon Bell is one of the patient runners in the league and allows his blocking to develop. So, if the Browns can quickly beat their blocker and penetrate into the backfield early, the Browns should be in better shape to slowing down the talented runner.
Josh: If the Browns get blown out like many seek to think, it’s hard to see Bell not having a big game. Then again, since he missed all of the preseason, maybe they can wear him down as the game goes along.
Bode: With Peppers at free safety and Garrett on the shelf, it will be interesting to see how the Browns set the edge well enough to force Bell into the grasp of the linebackers. Emmanual Ogbah needs to have a big game. The hope is that Bell is not prepared for the grind of the NFL without any preseason and won’t have the endurance necessary to complete the game with full force.
Scott: The loss of Garrett is huge here. Having athletic linebackers helps as the speed of the starting three will give the Steelers something to think about, but it will all start in the trenches with guys like Jamie Meder—which, as I type it, makes me shudder.
Craig: I don’t know. The Browns have lacked discipline in their lanes. I hope their youthful exuberance doesn’t cause them to play overeager because Bell’s cutback will hit for homers if they’re not careful. The Browns will almost have to play a bit cautious with the shifty runner.
Dave: The interior line of the Junkyard Dawgs proved quite effective in the pre-season, and I expect them to do good work containing him. But I also want Bell to break one to the second level so he can meet Jabrill Peppers.
What defender on the Browns are you watching closely in hopes of seeing something spectacular?
Gerberry: With Garrett missing the game, I expect to see a good deal of Carl Nassib and Nate Orchard on the outside. I’ve long been a fan of Orchard and his ability on the defensive line and I’m excited to see what he can do when he’s played in the right position.
Gilbert: I am really excited to see the growth of Emmanuel Ogbah. I am interested to see his development from Year 1 to Year 2. With Garrett out, Ogbah will need to be the consistent pressure maker on the edge. It will be interesting to see how he does without Garrett taking a lot of the attention, too.
Josh: Jabrill Peppers. Not only because of his versatility, but with Garrett out, all eyes will be on the rookie safety to see what he can do. How awesome would it be if he had a breakout performance in his NFL debut?
Bode: Y’all know I’m tabbing Jabrill Peppers here. He is so much fun to watch in all three phases of the game. On defense, I want to see Gregg Williams use him all over the field rather than just throwing him back as the center field option, but I think Peppers will find a way to make some WOW plays even if he is relegated to free safety duties. I’m all in on Peppers.
Scott: Without a doubt, Jabrill Peppers. This kid has the most big play potential out of anyone on that starting 11. I’ll be watching No. 22 all season, even when Garrett returns.
Craig: Peppers. He plays with an edge and fire.
Dave: Briean Boddy-Calhoun, AKA “BBC” AKA “Downtown Abbey.” He plays his heart out, and he is always around the ball. I expect him to be our number one corner by the end of the season.
Cleveland Browns outlook
Can the Browns, being led by rookies on both sides of the ball, compete with the Steelers?
Gerberry: Can compete? Yes. Will compete? Yes. Does that lead to wins? Only time will tell. The games between the Steelers and Browns are always hard fought games, and this is the best Browns team in almost a decade.
Gilbert: I really think the Browns can compete with the Pittsburgh Steelers because I think the team actually boasts a defense who can stop an offense consistently. This is the most talented defense the Browns have had in quite some time. Even with Garrett out, I think the defense can help the team stick close to Pittsburgh and allow the young offense to settle into the game.
Josh: Withouy Myles Garrett, it’s hard to see the Browns being able to compete with the Steelers for the entire 60 minutes. Cleveland is just so young and inexperienced at so many different positions. If they cover the spread I’ll be happy.
Bode: A rookie quarterback, newly formed offensive line, new defensive co-ordinator and many new players on defense all going against one of the more veteran and stable franchises in the NFL. Yeah, it is going to be a tough first week for the Browns with a better chance at a blowout loss than a close win. Don’t lose your mind over it though as it doesn’t mean much for the Browns overall competitive outlook in 2017.
Scott: Can? Probably, for at least a half or so. The cream, however, will rise to the top by the end of the game. The Browns may be able to get a garbage time touchdown or two in the game’s final minutes to make the score look closer than the game truly was, but the Steelers will win this game by at least one score. (This, of course, should be expected given a veteran team playing for the postseason competing with an upstart team led by rookies.)
Craig: For the first half of the game and not much more than that. These Browns are likely going to get smoked in the second half. They could shock the Steelers with their improved athleticism and talent in the first half, but their lack of experience will show in the second half I think.
Dave: As the staff optimist here at WFNY I believe that this group will not be like last years group. Not sure when the wins will come, but these guys will be in every game.
Are you excited for NFL games to actually matter again?
Gilbert: Heck yeah! Is it Sunday yet?!
Josh: Yes. This is the first time in quite awhile that I’ve been somewhat excited for the Browns season to start. While the Myles Garrett injury tampers my enthusiasm quite a bit, I’m still looking forward to seeing Kizer, Peppers, the linebacker group, offensive line, and a number of others. Oh, and I definitely missed fantasy football as well.
Bode: Considering it has been since just before Thanksgiving in 2015, it will be a refreshing change to be caring about NFL football rather than scouting college quarterbacks in mid-September.
Craig: Especially now that the Patriots lost their perfect season bid in the opening week at home!
Dave: So much. So So Much!
- Editor’s note: Dave does not know how to count to seven, but we still love him anyway. [↩]