Week 3 TNF Showdown: Steelers vs Browns

by Matt Babich · Analytics & Advanced Metrics

Welcome to the newest edition of TNF Showdown which features the Steelers at the Browns. I’ll be guiding you through the important aspects to watch in each Thursday night matchup. This Week 3 TNF Showdown features the Steelers at the Browns.
Without further ado, let’s see what the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns have in store for us as both teams look to bounce back from tough Week 2 losses.

Advanced stats and analytics will be utilized to identify favorable matchups and players to avoid. The purpose of this article is to paint a picture of how the teams play and matchup with one another in less than 1,000 words.

As the season continues, less emphasis will be put on last season and early season’s stats. Vegas trends will also be implemented to help predict the game flow. I’ll conclude the article with a Cliff Notes section and give the readers my prediction for the game.

Vegas Trends

  • The total has gone UNDER in 4 of Pittsburgh’s last 5 games.
  • Pittsburgh are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 games against Cleveland.
  • Pittsburgh are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 games against an opponent in the AFC North.
  • Cleveland are 1-5 ATS in their last 6 games at home.
  • The total has gone UNDER in 6 of Cleveland’s last 9 games.

Notable Injuries

Pittsburgh Steelers

Cleveland Browns

The Pittsburgh Steelers

The Mitchell Trubisky era in Pittsburgh has gotten off to a shaky start. He’s led the anemic offense to less than 200 passing yards in each of the last two weeks. Completing less than 60-percent of his passes, he’s struggling to develop a connection with his pass catchers. He’s finding success through the deep ball, posting a 90.9-percent (No. 4 of qualified quarterbacks) Deep Ball Catchable Pass Rate on 11 (No .6) Deep Ball Attempts. It’s the simple throws that trip up Mitch. Facing a wounded and demoralized Browns defense may be just what Trubisky needs to find his groove. If he pulls a Kirk Cousins in the spotlight, we may see Kenny Pickett in action.

Despite Najee Harris staying off of the injury report, he’s not being used like he’s at 100-percent health. In two close games, he’s ran the ball 10 and 15 times, respectively, and has averaged a laughable 2.9 Yards per Carry. While the lisfranc injury is clearly inhibiting his rushing ability, he’s struggling to see the field clearly. Harris is finding some success in the passing game as he earned six targets in Week 2. He converted five of those six for receptions. He’s still the start by a wide margin and is an auto-start in PPR leagues for now.

Still the target hog we know and love, Diontae Johnson finds himself in a great spot tonight. He’s earned 10 and 12 targets, respectively, through two weeks, compiling a 31.4-percent (No. 8) Target Share. Due to uncatchable passes, he’s only converted 59-percent of his targets to receptions. Pittsburgh’s inability to produce red zone trips forces Johnson to fend for himself. That skill is in Johnson’s tool box, and a matchup against burnt toast impersonator Denzel Ward should allow Johnson to have himself a day.

Take the OVER on Diontae Johnson O/U 60.5 receiving yards.

The state of the Steelers passing game has left Chase Claypool and George Pickens fending for scraps. Claypool has earned six targets in each of the first two games, but his Average Depth of Target has plummeted down to an unhealthy 5.9 yards. George Pickens has been used more in the deep threat role. He’s earned a 23.5 yard (No. 1) Average Depth of Target. Still, Pickens has yet to earn a 10-percent Target Rate. There isn’t enough passing volume to start either player.

George Pickens Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Finally, we have Pat Freiermuth, the true second option in the Steelers passing attack. The sophomore tight end has earned a 24.3-percent (No. 3) Target Share and a 38.1-percent (No. 1) Dominator Rating to start the season. He and Trubisky must eat breakfast together because they’ve displayed quite the connection early on. The Browns gave up six receptions on nine targets to Tyler Conklin and over 50 receiving yards to Ian Thomas. Freiermuth is in a smash spot tonight.

The Cleveland Browns

After a poor debut against Carolina, Jacoby Brissett looked comfortable against the Jets. He completed 22 of his 27 passes at 8.5 yards per attempt. We know exactly what Brissett is. He is an accurate game manager who can win you real football games but not necessarily fantasy football games. Last week, his point total was cushioned by 43 rushing yards. However, that’s not the standard for the fill-in. Against poor pass rushes (the Steelers sans T.J. Watt fit this description), Brissett is a start in 2-QB leagues.

Nick Chubb is truly fully torqued this season. Through two weeks, he’s totaled 256 total yards with an emphatic 141 rushing yard performance in Week 1. He also found pay-dirt three separate times on Sunday. While Jacoby Brissett steps in for Deshaun Watson, the Browns are going to be more reliant on the run game. Chubb is a lock for 20 opportunities and should churn out another top-10 RB performance this week against a struggling Steelers rush defense.

Coming off of a two touchdown and 20 fantasy-point performance against Carolina, Kareem Hunt disappointed fantasy owners on Sunday with a mere nine points on 15 touches. His role is Game Script dependent as it’s always been. He’s still very involved in the passing game and the red zone, but his fantasy relevance mainly depends on whether or not he finds the end zone.

With a tight Game Script and favorable matchup in store, Hunt is a flex play in PPR leagues.

Amari Cooper has already exceeded the expectations set before him by the fantasy community. He’s been the focal point of the passing offense, earning a 28.1-percent (No. 16) Target Share and a 45.6-percent (No. 2) Air Yards Share. After a rough Week 1 showing, which the entire team experienced, Cooper exploded against the Jets. Matching up against Levi Wallace, Cooper has some work cut out for him. Trust in the opportunity and roll out him out in Week 3. Amari Cooper‘s receiving line being set at 49.5 is flat out disrespectful. Take the over to the bank.

Surprisingly, Donovan Peoples-Jones went from seeing 11 targets in Week 1 to just one in Week 2. Potentially, this was merely a result of the Game Script. The Browns possessed control of the game until the very end and focused on the run. Pittsburgh is likely going to focus on the run game and Amari Cooper making Peoples-Jones who is a sneaky DFS or deep league play.

Freshly extended, David Njoku is playing like a man with financial security. 24 (No. 33) Air Yards on six (No. 25) targets is not going to cut it. He’s running 65.6-percent (No. 18 ) of routes despite playing 23.2-percent of his snaps from the slot. Preparing for a softer matchup, he has an opening to play a large role in this game. However, his forgettable usage makes him a desperation play.

Cliff Notes


Tonight, the Browns are favored by 5 points. Given the health of the Browns and how they’ve performed through two weeks, this feels way off base. Both team wield similarly-statured defenses, with the Browns getting the slight edge with T.J. Watt missing time. The Browns have more firepower on offense, but this has been the case in prior matchups versus Pittsburgh. Tomlin is capable of out-coaching Cleveland year in and year out, and I fully expect him to lead his team to a close matchup. I’m taking the points on Pittsburgh in tonight’s matchup.

The point total is set at 38.5 points. It appears that I’m cursed whenever I pick the over, but I can’t help salivating over this line. Both teams are facing health issues and saw massive changes over the offseason. After two weeks of settling in, a primetime divisional battle is exactly what these two teams need to put points on the board. Scoring 39 points is not a tough task for two NFL teams to accomplish, so I’m fading the trends and breaking the over curse tonight.

Prediction: Steelers 24-22