Steelers Dodge Matchup With Browns’ 3-Time Pro Bowler

Getty Najee Harris runs the ball against Browns defenders.

The short week hasn’t been kind to the Cleveland Browns from an injury standpoint. Cleveland and the Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off losses and need a critical division win in the worst way, but the Browns will have to attempt it without two key defenders.

Head coach Kevin Stefanski said in a Sept. 19 press conference that his team will be down Jadeveon Clowney (ankle), Chase Winovich (hamstring) and former Steelers tight end Jesse James (biceps).

It’s a tough blow for a team that lost a 13-point lead in 90 seconds to Joe Flacco and the New York Jets in Week 2.

Clowney, a former first-overall draft pick and three-time Pro Bowler, was seen in a walking boot after the loss. He’s managed just one healthy season since being named a full-time starter in 2016.

Here’s some of what Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin had to say in his Sept. 19 press conference about Clowney (and Garrett) before Stefanski ruled him out.

“I think it starts with not allowing Myles Garrett and 90 [Jadeveon Clowney] to wreck the game,” Tomlin said.

“They wreak a lot of havoc. They’re capable of changing the game at any moment, not just the weighty moments, not just the situational moments, third-and-12, and things of that nature. The sack-fumble component of play and the things that they do is critical.”

“We’d better be working to minimize them, and it goes beyond just wishing Chuks [Okorafor] and Dan [Moore Jr.] good luck,” said Tomlin. “There’d better be some schematic components to work in to minimize those guys. But again, good players at every level.”

Cleveland is extremely thin at defensive end with Stephen Weatherly and Chris Odom on injured reserve. It appears Okorafor will take on Clowney’s backup, Alex Wright. Moore, who’s faired surprisingly well taking on Myles Garrett in previous matchups, will have to do it again to save Mitch Trubisky from the turf.

Pittsburgh looks near 100 percent (T.J. Watt aside) as it travels to take on their division rival. Devin Bush, who suffered a foot injury in the Sept. 18 loss to the Patriots, could potentially play. Tomlin said that Bush would be limited if they’d practiced, and participation this week would dictate his availability for Thursday Night Football.

Problems With Steelers Offense

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense is not the problem through the first two weeks of the 2022 NFL season. Their offense, simply put, isn’t getting the job done. We knew they’d struggle out of the gate with all the changes, but they’ve shown no signs of life through nine quarters of play. Nothing is working right now on running plays or passing plays.

It’s early in the season, and Pittsburgh’s offense is searching for an identity.

“I think we do have to have an identity, and I think that’s part of our issue right now,” said Steelers center Mason Cole. “I don’t know what our identity is exactly right now. We need to find that as a group, whatever that is. I think it’s huge for us to try to find an identity.”

Cole pointed to a significant aspect of the Steelers game that’s missing and suggested a solution.

“We have to establish a run first of all,” Cole said. “Whatever our run game schematically is going to be, we have to establish it and get Najee some yards and just be efficient. That will help with time of possession, and those long possessions will help our defense.”

That’s easier said and done with Najee Harris nursing some kind of foot injury that Tomlin won’t go into detail about. Several have questioned Harris’ ability to see holes this season.

Whatever Harris’ problem is, he needs to address it. It’s the one aspect of the Steelers’ game that was expected to work.

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