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Browns vs. Steelers: Time, live streaming, how to watch, key matchups, pick for ‘Thursday Night Football’

The Week 3 edition of “Thursday Night Football” features an old-school AFC North rivalry as the Cleveland Browns host the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both teams suffered disheartening losses a week ago after clinching victories in the final moments of Week 1’s game.

The Browns blew a double-digit lead in the final two minutes of their game against the Jets, while the Steelers barely moved the ball all day against the Patriots. Each of these teams is trying to get back into the pillar of victory and jump to first place in the division, at least temporarily, and hopefully create some kind of foundation from which to playoffs.

Which of them will get back on the road to success? We’ll find out soon enough. Before we break down the matchup, here’s how to watch tonight’s competition.

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Date: Thursday 22 Sept | Time: 8:20 p.m. ET
Location: FirstEnergy Stadium (Cleveland)
Electricity: Amazon Prime Video
Consequences: CBS Sports App
opportunities: brown tones -4.5, O/U 38.5

When the Steelers have the ball

The Pittsburgh offensive is in deep trouble. In two games, the Steelers have rushed for just 510 yards, 30th in the NFL. On a per-play basis, they actually rank 31st. They are 26th in points per drive, 29th in Tru Media’s EPA per game, and 22nd in Football Outsiders’ Offensive DVOA.

Most problems start along the offensive line, where things get pretty bad. You just can’t generate boost in the running game. They have one of the highest first-down run rates in the league (50 percent) and averaged just 2.9 yards per rush in those games. Despite facing eight-man boxes on just 18 percent of runs, the Steelers have averaged just 1.30 yards from contact per attempt. In games where Najee Harris carried the ball (as opposed to Mitchell Trubisky, Jaylen Warren or Chase Claypool), that number is even worse – just 0.44 per try.

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But Harris, who was dealing with a Lisfranc injury in training camp and injured his foot again in Week 1, just doesn’t look healthy. Among the 44 players with at least 15 rush attempts this season, he ranks 32nd in avoided tackle rate and 31st in yards by contact per attempt. Last season, he ranked seventh in avoidance of tackle rates and 21st in yards after contact among the 53 players with 100 carries or more.

The Browns have conceded just 3.77 yards per rush so far this season and a paltry .33 from contact. The idea that the Steelers could find quick success in this game seems pretty far-fetched given how far this year has gone. And that puts the game in Trubisky’s hands, which is… not great.

Trubisky is 42 of 71 (59.2 percent) for 362 yards (5.2 per attempt), two touchdowns and one interception this season. And that’s despite a below-average print rate (28 percent) and one of the lowest blitz rates in the league (20 percent). According to NFL.com’s Next Gen Stats, he was thrown into a narrow window on 22.5 percent of his passes and missed his shots 16.7 percent of the time, according to Tru Media. He couldn’t find a connection with explosive rookie George Pickens, who was on the field for 78 percent of the team’s offensive snaps but was only targeted five times. His other passing numbers aren’t much better: Claypool has eight receptions for just 44 yards on 12 shots. Diontae Johnson has lost a career-low 8.6 yards per reception. Pat Freiermuth’s catch rate has dropped to 52.9 percent (from 75.9 a year ago).

This is not a viable situation for an attack, and there is no reason to expect it to improve anytime soon. Pickett’s time will come, maybe tonight if Trubisky has problems. With a mini goodbye ahead of the team’s Week 4 game against the Jets, there’s probably no better opportunity to make the switch.

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If Trubisky (or Pickett) can figure out a way to push the ball down the field, a few opportunities could actually arise. Cleveland has conceded more shots on throws over 20 air yards than any other team in the NFL except for the Jaguars, despite playing against Baker Mayfield and Joe Flacco. However, getting the ball down usually requires time in the pocket, and the more time in the pocket, the more opportunity for the defense to apply pressure. Cleveland is ranked seventh in the NFL in pressure rate so far this season, with Myles Garrett taking the lead. Trubisky has long been extremely vulnerable to pressure and would much rather get rid of the ball quickly and in short areas than take his chances with rushers to the face. For these reasons, it seems far more likely that he’ll aim further under throws and therefore make few, if any, explosive moves.

When the Browns have the ball

Predictably, the Browns ran the ball early and often with great success. The Nick Chubb/Kareem Hunt duo is one of the NFL’s best and has brought the Browns to 5.28 yards per carry despite facing eight-man boxing at the second-highest rate in the NFL (33 percent of carries, according to TruMedia). They have the NFL-best 12 carries of 15 yards or more, good for a league-high 15.8 percent of their total carries.

The ability to generate explosives in the running game is particularly important as the passing game is more of a possession-based, chain-moving unit at the moment, with Jacoby Brissett in the middle. Pittsburgh has done a strong job against the run so far this season, but has also played against two relatively weak offensive lines (Cincinnati, New England) compared to what it expects against Cleveland on Thursday night. Without TJ Watt, the Steelers could be more vulnerable to ground attacks than they have been now that they are tasked with taking on one of the league’s best run-blocking units.

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Of course, the Steelers are no weaklings up front – even without Watts. They still bring Cameron Heyward, Tyson Alualu, Larry Ogunjobi, Chris Wormley, Alex Highsmith and even Malik Reed to the table. You can still go after the quarterback and take him to the ground or just pocket him where he has to deal with heavy pressure.

The Browns will certainly look to get Jacoby Brissett moving with play-action and bootleg concepts, with the only major downfield perimeter they currently have being Amari Cooper. Tight end David Njoku, a top athlete, has seen his snap rate increase after a big contract this offseason, but has yet to get much more involved in the passing game. It’s tempting to say this would be a good week to finally get him up and running, but he may have to deal with Minkah Fitzpatrick’s focus for most of the evening. Fitzpatrick has made a great start to the season with two interceptions in as many weeks, and he covers as much from the back end of the field as any safety in football. Any Brissett pass into his deep half of the field is likely to be picked if it strays far from target.

In the end, this game seems to boil down to a matter of trust where the offense can be reasonably successful in moving the ball. Given the relative strength of Cleveland’s running game compared to every aspect of Pittsburgh’s offense, that’s how we have to lean.

Prognosis: Browns 20, Steelers 13

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