Five Storylines Ahead Of Steelers-Browns

Which franchise has more at stake?

Matt Koll
November 14, 2019 - 11:51 am
Freddie Kitchens

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

As Mike Tomlin once (or twice, thrice, 4 times? More?) said, "AFC North road action." Steelers-Browns on a chilly Thursday night. Storylines aplenty as always, here's five to fire you up for tonight. 

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5. OBJ's Happiness

Ah, yes it always come with the territory with Odell doesn't it? That's been one of the big stories of the year for Cleveland and a point of contention for head coach Freddie Kitchens. Back in late October, after the Browns lost to the Patriots 27-13, Beckham griped that the team "shied away" from him and challenging his matchup with Stephon Gilmore. Kitchens was asked about later and said, "Odell had seven balls thrown to him. He caught five of them. I am not responding to that. We need to win a football game. That is what I am worried about.”

Good for him, honestly. But it hasn't stopped there. Now every week since, it's been something the Cleveland media and the NFL media at-large has kept track of. How many targets is he getting? What was his stat line? How involved is he in the offense? Kitchens was again asked about it this week and the question was prefaced with a note that the Browns did go to Beckham a little more in their win over the Bills last week. Kitchens responded with, "I think any time we get the ball in our playmakers hands it's a good thing. He uh....(awkward pause)...yeah." He trailed off his comments as if he had a little more to say and thought better of it. Or maybe didn't want to spend too much time on it. 

From the outside, things seem a little steamy at best between Beckham and Kitchens, on the verge of blowing up week to week. This is what comes with having him on your team and the Browns surely knew that. Let's see how much they force the ball his way tonight. Kitchens inability to make a big part of the offense deserves blame in this as well.  A big factor could be the status of Joe Haden, as he was listed as questionable heading into Thursday with an illness. You'd figure he would be the one to match up on Beckham the most and if it is something serious that keeps him out and Artie Burns finds his way onto the field more....

Look out. 

4. Does The Short Week Matter? 

It's always a topic when talking about Thursday night games. The week being cut in half, the short turnaround from Sunday to Thursday. The preparation involved in getting a team ready to play another game just four days later. 

Related: Conner, Foster To Return, Haden Questionable Heading Into Cleveland Game

But how much does that really factor in to things? What differences do we see on Thursday nights than any other? While I can't speak for what exactly goes on day to day in team preparation, I can see how other TNF games have gone this year. 

They are usually more sloppy games, with penalties on an uptick and either huge defensive gaffes being more frequent or ugly looking turnovers from the offense being more prevalent. Thursday night has also shown that there is very little home field advantage. In fact, this year it's been completely eliminated. Road teams have won 6 of the 10 TNF games. Good news for Pittsburgh. 

Also, it's not uncommon for one team to just not show up at all. The Jaguars beat the Titans 20-7 in Week 3. The Chiefs beat down the Broncos 30-6 in Week 7. The Giants looked even worse than normal against New England in Week 6 and lost 35-14. 

I would think a lot of it comes down to coaching to be able to turn it around on a short week. If there is any tangible effect, I would think it's the ability for the coaching staff to get the team to fire on all cylinders again so quickly. If you compare Mike Tomlin, now in his 13th season to Freddie Kitchens who is in his first year as a head coach at any level and is 3-6....I think I'm going Coach T. 

3. Baker v. Steelers Front 7 

While it hasn't necessarily been a sophomore slump for Baker in his wallet with all his endorsements and commercials (seriously, how did he land so many so quickly?), it certainly has been one on the field to this point. Nine touchdowns to twelve interceptions doesn't exactly scream franchise quarterback. Mayfield has fallen victim to a shaky at best offensive line in front of him and dealing with blitzes, albeit not well. 

In come the Pittsburgh Steelers, 3rd in the league in sacks with 33 and second in the league in interceptions with 14. All signs point to this potentially being a nightmare matchup for Mayfield. The silver lining for the Browns may lie in the fact that after having it hover in the 50's for most of the season, Mayfield's completion percentage has hopped back up over 60% each of the past three games and he hasn't thrown a pick in his past two contests. 

But there's also this...Mayfield has taken multiple sacks in every game but 2 this season and the Steelers have had at least 4 sacks in each of the last three. 

Baker was known for rolling right this year, always going to that side and trying to keep plays alive once the pocket completely collapsed on him. He took a safety against the Bills as well instead of throwing it away. 

Let's how he handles himself tonight.  

2. Browns Dynamic Duo Actually Being Dynamic 

They've got the most talented backfield in the league. At least that's what I see. Now, can they actually use that talent correctly? That's an entirely different story. 

Nick Chubb has 919 rushing yards through the first nine games and is a freakish mix of great open field, straight line speed and power running skill. He's one of the best in the NFL, no doubt. Then enter in Kareem Hunt. We might forget just how good he was in Kansas City because it's been a while since he's been on a football field. He was pure speed and was a dynamic weapon in a KC offense that was full of speed. The Browns were already able to run the ball well and if they can figure out the best way to utilize Hunt and Chubb so that they feed and compliment off each other and keep each other fresh...yikes.

If the Browns start to pick up first downs consistently without Baker Mayfield having to throw the ball, it's a game changer. The offense is much more efficient and risk averse when it goes through the running game. Without the Steelers being able to take the ball away, as has been their signature this season, who knows what happens. 

This is the area in which things can get away from them. 

 1. The Results From The Game Results  

Let's consider all that's at stake here for both teams. 

Steelers: 

This might be a "hot take" but I don't think this game has nearly the pressure on it to win than just about every game has before it this season. I know it's a rivalry game within the division, but if the Steelers lose I don't think the season is dashed. They would be 5-5. Currently, the Raiders are 5-4 right behind them in the AFC playoff race and the Bills are ahead of them at 6-3. 

Both Oakland and Buffalo just might win this week. Bills have the Dolphins. Oakland has Cincinnati. So, in the short term it may look like things are getting out of hand for the Steelers. But in a deeper look, there's no reason why the Steelers STILL can't win 9 games this year with their remaining schedule. Bengals on the road after this, then Browns at home, Cardinals on the road, Bills at home, Jets on the road, Baltimore on the road. I can see four wins that mix.

I still think 9-7 will be good enough for a Wild Card spot when all is said and done. Plus, I don't know about you, but I think the Steelers are flat out better than Oakland and Buffalo seems awfully fraudulent to me. The team that would actually concern me most is Indianapolis but the Steelers already hold the tie breaker over them.

It wouldn't be comfortable from here with a loss tonight, but it wouldn't be completely debilitating either. 

Browns: 

If Cleveland loses tonight to the Steelers, a divisional foe, at home, with their backup QB, already with a winning record that flies in the face of all they haven't been able to accomplish with essentially a full deck...there's a possibility Freddie Kitchens gets fired tomorrow. Especially with this front office and the history of this organization. Do I expect something that drastic? No. But it feels like it would be the nail in the proverbial coffin for Kitchens who would likely go at the end of the year at the very least. You're not coming back from 3-7. There's no reason a roster with this much talent should be 3-7, either. 

It's been a failed experiment. Kitchens is essentially coaching for his job tonight and if he fails, it's back to square one once again for Cleveland. 

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