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Steelers Must Stop ‘Most Complete Tandem’ In Football vs. Browns

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The Steelers need to bounce back from a 17-14 defeat against the Patriots as they stroll into a high-profile Thursday Night Football showdown against the AFC North rival Cleveland Browns.

In the wake of that loss to the Patriots, many fans and media members alike discussed the Steelers’ anemic offense at length –– and for good reason.

The Steelers rank 30th in the NFL with just 255.0 yards per game and 24th in the league with 18.5 points per game. Keep in mind: That points-per-game stat includes a pick-six from Minkah Fitzpatrick in the team’s opener against the Bengals.

So it makes sense. Focus on new starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky and his lackluster performances. Zero in on Matt Canada and his questionable playcalling.

Worry about Najee Harris’ injured foot and his inability to make plays.

These concerns are justified and valid.

They’re also missing a larger, more important point for the Steelers as they take on the Browns.

If the Steelers do not stifle the Browns’ dynamic duo of Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb and stop the run, they will lose the game.

“I think if you’re playing these guys and you’re looking at their offense, boy, you better minimize Chubb and Hunt,” Mike Tomlin said Monday during his press conference. “A lot of ball rolls through those guys.”

He’s right.

The Browns rank second in the NFL with 200.5 rushing yards per game and may very well snag the top spot after the Eagles (currently ranked first at 216.0 yards per game) play the Vikings Week 2 on Monday Night Football.

Chubb trails Saquon Barkley by just eight yards (228 vs. 236) for the league lead in rushing yards, while Hunt clocks in at 22nd with 104 yards.

“They’re not 1 and 2; they’re 1 and 1a,” Tomlin said.

It’s not just the stats, though. Chubb and Hunt represent complete backs, and they complement each other perfectly. They’re able to give each other rest when they need it, allowing each to be near-maximum effectiveness at all times.

“I think Chubb’s got 76 snaps on the season. I think Hunt’s got 74,” Tomlin said. “Man, both guys are capable. Both guys are good in all schematic circumstances, be it the run game, the passing game, checkdowns, screens, what have you, inside and outside.

“They’re a formidable tandem and probably the most complete tandem in football, and so we got our work cut out for us there.”

Failure to stop the run plagued the Steelers late against the Patriots. New England ran out the final six minutes of the game –– literally –– keeping the Steelers’ offense on the sidelines and unable to mount a comeback.

“It’s just frustrating,” Larry Ogunjobi said after that loss. “You always want to give the offense a chance to get the ball back, put points on the board, so we just got to be better in that aspect. We gotta find a way to make more plays.” 

There’s a trickle-down effect, too. When the team can’t stop the run, it can’t rush the passer, either. The Steelers registered zero sacks against the Patriots, partly because of T.J. Watt’s absence and partly because they couldn’t contain the Patriots’ rushing attack.

Cam Heyward believes it’s more of the latter and less of the former.

“Cuz we didn’t stop the run enough,” Heyward responded when asked why the Steelers’ pass rush disappeared following a seven-sack effort in Week 1. “We didn’t put them in enough situations where they had to throw the ball… [It] came down to if we were ever going to get after their o-line, it had to start with stopping the run first.” 

Currently, the Steelers rank 22nd in the NFL at stopping the run, allowing 128.5 yards per game. That’s 10 positions better than their dead-last 2021-22 effort, but it leaves a lot to be desired heading into this matchup with the Browns.

On that front, some players remain positive and feel encouraged by their early-season efforts.

“I feel like we did a good job against the run, especially early on,” Malik Reed said following the team’s loss to the Patriots. “We knew that that’s something that they like to do well and we knew that they were going to do that coming into this game. So I feel like we stood up against it earlier on. They popped a few plays at the end to pretty much end the game, but overall, I feel like we were pretty much ready for it and, yeah, we’re just going to keep getting better.”

The Steelers better hope they do indeed “keep getting better” as they head to Cleveland.

If they fail to stop Chubb and Hunt, it’s going to be a long, lonely ride back to Pittsburgh.

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