The Steelers replaced one legendary, Ohio-native quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, with another, Mentor's own Mitchell Trubisky, the former Ohio Mr. Football from his high school days. (USA Today)
Cleveland Browns scouting report: Pittsburgh Steelers
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is an analyst on the Cleveland Browns for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.
Browns v. Pittsburgh Steelers
Thursday, 8:15 p.m., in FirstEnergy Stadium
Last game: Lost to New England Patriots, 17-14, Sept. 18 in Pittsburgh.
Coach: Mike Tomlin, 155-86-2, 16th year.
Series record: Steelers lead, 79-61-1 (counting postseason).
Last meeting: Steelers won, 26-14, Jan. 3 in Pittsburgh.
League rankings: Offense is 30th overall (26th rushing, 28th passing), defense is 27th overall (22nd rushing, 30th passing) and turnover differential is plus-4
Things to watch
1. The first year of the post-Big Ben era is off to a slow start. The Steelers have scored 37 points in two games -- and the defense forced five turnovers in one of them. With Mitchell Trubisky at the helm, the offense has been a plodding, dump-off passing game with no explosive plays downfield. But it’s not the new quarterback’s fault. It’s the same style that coordinator Matt Canada displayed in Ben Roethlisberger’s last season. The difference is in the fourth quarter, Ben would run the offense himself in a no-huddle, hurry-up mode. So far, Trubisky has not been given that latitude.
2. As usual, the Steelers have a stable of good receivers – Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson and rookie George Pickens. But their offense has run a lot of 12 personnel – featuring tight ends Pat Freiermuth and Zach Gentry – and has dumped off a lot to running back Najee Harris instead. Harris was a 1,200-yard rusher last season, but has been slow recovering from a foot injury and is averaging 2.9 yards a rush on 25 attempts.
3. Trubisky is not in danger of losing the starting job to rookie first-round pick Kenny Pickett. Tomlin does not want to throw Pickett to the wolves. A losing streak of, say, three games could accelerate a change, however. For that reason, every loss mounts a little more pressure on Tomlin to make a move at quarterback. That always happens when a team takes a quarterback in the first round.
4. Defending NFL defensive player of the year T.J. Watt is out another five weeks with a torn pectoral muscle. The Steelers’ pass rush was non-existent against the Patriots in the first game without Watt. Replacement Malik Reed, a 2019 undrafted free agent acquired in trade from Denver, takes Watt’s place. There is no emerging edge rusher on the roster. Alex Highsmith had three sacks of Joe Burrow with Watt on the field and did nothing against Mac Jones without Watt. With a big falloff in pass rush, the Steelers are forced to play more zone coverage and they are susceptible to the shorter throws that Jacoby Brissett succeeded with against the Jets.
5. Minkah Fitzpatrick is the defensive player for Brissett to be most concerned with. The all-purpose safety has an interception in both games so far and returned one for a touchdown against the Bengals.
Did you know … ?
1. Watt has missed five games in his career. The Steelers have lost all five games. Watt’s 14.5 career sacks are the most for him against any NFL team.
2. Rookie receiver George Pickens had an outstanding, highlight reel preseason. But he has been ignored in the two real games. Pickens has been targeted six times and has two catches for 26 yards.
3. Tomlin’s record against the Browns is 23-5-1, including a loss in the AFC wild card round in 2020.
4. Chris Boswell’s field-goal percentage of .882 ranks fourth all-time. His miss from 55 yards against the Bengals broke a streak of nine consecutive field goals made from 50 yards or more.
Small world: Defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi was a third-round draft pick of the Browns in 2017 and played with them through 2020 … Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is a native of Mentor and earned Ohio’s Mr. Football award as a senior in 2012 … Assistant head coach John Mitchell was Browns defensive line coach 1991-93 … Receivers coach Frisman Jackson played for the Browns 2002-05 and was receivers coach at Akron 2010-11 … Tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts had the same role with the Browns 2007-08.