The Browns know about the Steelers wide receivers, at least most of them. Cleveland saw George Pickens twice last year, has faced Allen Robinson II before on other teams, and Pat Freiermuth at tight end is nothing new. But the Steelers’ speed threat in Calvin Austin III is a dynamic threat that the Browns have not seen yet.
With Diontae Johnson out, Austin steps into his usual spot. Undoubtedly, the Steelers will miss Johnson, who is expected to miss multiple weeks with a hamstring injury. However, Austin’s speed brings something at his size that few other players can bring to an offense at the NFL level.
Still, Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome, and Martin Emerson are one of the best trios in football at cornerback. They expect to shut down Austin and minimize his impact on the game a week after they shut down Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd from a Joe Burrow-led offense.
“He’s a speed receiver, speed guy, and good vertical threat. Those are one of the guys that we’re going to try to eliminate out of the game on Monday,” Ward said.
It is not just at receiver where Austin can make his presence felt. In his first home game, Calvin Austin torched the Buffalo Bills for a massive 54-yard return. He did the same thing the week after that against the Atlanta Falcons. Austin should be a player that sticks out on offense. He’s growing and breaking out as a player takes the team’s group of weapons to another level, and it becomes an offense where Kenny Pickett has a lot to work with.
Pickett endorsed Austin this week multiple times. The Steelers need Austin to reward that faith and become the guy on the offense who can defeat press coverage and get open often. They can get creative in how they try to use him and scheme him open, but the Browns have to watch out for Austin, who could be an under-the-radar X-Factor in this game.