What will Pittsburgh Steelers game reveal about Browns, Deshaun Watson? – Terry Pluto’s Pregame Scribbles

PITTSBURGH – Scribbles in my notebook as the Browns end their season in Pittsburgh:

1. This is a huge game for the Steelers who enter Sunday with an 8-8 record and a chance to make the playoffs. The Browns are 7-9 and have been out of the playoff race for two weeks. The Steelers are at home. Will the Browns simply be thinking about getting through the day without getting hurt – and then going home?

2. How will the Browns react after Jadeveon Clowney’s venting to cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot about the coaching, favoritism towards Myles Garrett and how he is being mistreated. The Browns sent Clowney home from the practice facility. Soon to be a free agent, Clowney will not play Sunday. But how will those on the field perform? Sometimes, a controversy like this can bring a team together. Or else, it could be a sign of more “internal discord,” to quote a Browns phrase from 2018 when coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley were fired at midseason.

3. The Browns have been hyping the game as a chance to kill the Steelers’ playoff dreams. It would also end coach Mike Tomlin’s streak of 15 consecutive seasons without a losing record. Is that enough to motivate the Browns? They have been such a strange team in 2022, I doubt anyone can answer that question.

4. Then there’s Deshaun Watson. This is his first clash with Pittsburgh while wearing an orange helmet. In his first five Cleveland games, he had one excellent half. That was the final two quarters of last week’s 24-10 victory over Washington. He threw three TD passes after the intermission.

5. Since coming off his 11-game suspension, Watson has been very inconsistent. He was sacked four times in the first half vs. Washington, when he was 3 of 8 for 28 yards. I was told two of the bags were a problem with protection. The two others were on Watson, holding the ball too long. A few times, receivers failed to run precise routes.

6. In the second half, Watson didn’t scramble quite as much and was more confident where he wanted to throw the ball. He hit Amari Cooper twice for TD passes.

7. Tomlin on Watson: “Stepping into a stadium with Deshaun Watson has our attention … We also have to do a better job with Cooper. He’s a featured, central guy. With each exposure (Watson and Cooper playing more together), it’s reasonable to expect it to be better – so that’s an agenda for us.”

8. Tomlin also said the Browns had five third-and-1 situations when Cleveland beat Pittsburgh 29-17 on Sept. 22. He talked about the Browns running game setting up those short yardage, third-down situations. He said the Browns won “the attrition,” meaning they wore down the Pittsburgh defense with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt rushing for 160 yards in 35 carries. QB Jacoby Brissett was 21 of 31 for 220 yards and a pair of TDs.

9. This is Watson’s sixth and final game of the season. All the talk of “rust” from not playing for 700 days is now irrelevant. Nor should the weather be a problem. Sunday’s high temperature in Pittsburgh is supposed to be 43. But not a lot of wind or snow. It’s January. It’s the AFC North. Watson will play in a lot of games like this for the Browns, so he must learn how to deal with it.

10. The last time these two teams met, Mentor product Mitch Trubisky started at QB for Pittsburgh. Now, rookie Kenny Pickett has the job. He has been the starter during Pittsburgh’s 6-2 record since the bye week. He has led game-winning drives in the last two Pittsburgh contests, victories over Baltimore (16-13) and Las Vegas (13-10).

11. Pickett has very modest stats: Six TDs vs. nine interceptions, completing 64% of his passes. He’s mobile, rushing for 236 yards (4.5 average). He has a 6-5 record as a starter. Pittsburgh won’t put up big numbers on offense. They’ll run the ball a lot at the Browns, play good defense and try to win a close, low-scoring game.

12. My Prediction: The Browns are 1-19 vs. the Steelers in the regular season since Pittsburgh moved to Acrisure Stadium, which used to be called Heinz Field. The one playoff game here between the two teams was won by the Browns in 2020. But this is the regular season and Pittsburgh wins, 19-17.

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