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Steelers Analysis

4 Key Players to Watch in Steelers-Browns



Steelers Raiders Calvin Austin
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Calvin Austin III returns a punt against the Buffalo Bills, Aug. 19, 2023. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

The Steelers and Browns will meet on Monday night, each looking to change history. Pittsburgh does not want to get out to a rare 0-2 start for the team, while the Browns hope to go 2-0 for the first time in 30 years. However, it will take AFC North ball to change any of that.  I want to highlight some secondary pieces outside of the stars in Myles Garrett, T.J. Watt, Nick Chubb, and others to watch in a matchup that should end up a close one.

WR Elijah Moore

The Browns and Steelers each have questions at wide receiver heading into this one. Diontae Johnson is out with a hamstring injury, while Amari Cooper reaggravated a groin injury, forcing him onto the injury report as questionable for Monday’s game. If that happens, Elijah Moore will become the top wide receiver for the Browns against the Steelers.

RELATED: Browns Star WR Amari Cooper Could Miss Steelers Game

Moore does a little of everything. And the Browns use him similarly to how the 49ers use Deebo Samuel. He comes into the backfield and takes handoffs, can take screens as a serious YAC generator, and is a downfield threat with speed. Moore does it all for the Browns as the complementary piece, but this could be a chance for him to prove he is more than that. If he can, the Browns could have a dynamic passing attack against the Steelers by working off the contributions of Chubb in the run game.

WR Calvin Austin III

On the other side of the coin, Calvin Austin III has a chance to take a massive leap in the eyes of the Steelers. He will take over Johnson’s role and play outside more than in the slot. Allen Robinson II will remain in the slot, which the Steelers wanted to do to keep continuity in the room. Despite his size,  Austin’s quickness and release packages give him the best opportunity to win on the outside against the press coverage the Steelers should see.

Austin’s speed could end up as a game-breaking element for the Steelers if they can get him in the right areas. It won’t be easy against a solid cornerbacks group that just played their hair off against the Bengals, but Austin presents a unique challenge with his speed, and Pittsburgh needs him to play well.

EDGE Za’Darius Smith

The Browns have a new complement to Myles Garrett in veteran edge rusher Za’Darius Smith. Smith has played in the NFL for nearly a decade, and the way the Browns use him unlocks his potential. As much as people harp on the fact that Garrett moves all around the line and can play over the interior, so can Smith, who has enough burst and athleticism to be a significant factor for the Steelers on the interior.

Smith holds a decisive edge as a run defender and plays with fantastic pad level. It’s hard to envision him giving up the edge and allowing that run to get outside of him the way he controls the point of attack with his hands and eyes. So, while the Steelers will focus heavily on Garrett, and rightfully so, Smith, on the other side, could cause problems much like Drake Jackson did in Week 1.

LB Cole Holcomb

For the Steelers, the second level will be huge in this game. For as much emphasis as we have placed on the interior defensive line, the linebackers must play better in both the run and passing game. Cole Holcomb, in particular, struggled mightily against the 49ers to fill gaps and shed blocks. In the passing game, he sometimes looked lost, not feeling receivers in his zone and making those plays.

The Steelers need a bounce-back performance from Holcomb for the guy who wears the green dot. All three inside linebackers could use a boon to their stock, but Holcomb even more so than Elandon Roberts and Kwon Alexander. Stopping Chubb is a team effort, and Holcomb is front and center.

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