Back to a winning record, the Cleveland Browns improve to a record of 2-1 after beating the Pittsburgh Steelers by a score of 29-17. As the Atlanta Falcons are next on the docket for Cleveland, the Browns will look to come out of these first four games well over .500.
In this one, quarterback Jacoby Brissett once again played an efficient brand of football, going 21-of-31 passing for 220 yards and two touchdowns. Most importantly, Brissett played another game of turnover-free football as he favorited both Amari Cooper (seven catches for 101 yards and a touchdown) and David Njoku (nine catches for 89 yards and a touchdown) on the night.
The running game continued to their usual standard, and Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for a massive 35 carries, tallying a total of 160 yards and a touchdown; 114 of those yards came from the legs of Chubb alone.
Before moving on to Atlanta, what stood out in this Thursday Night Showdown?
First Down: Time to tier Stefanski among the best playcallers in the league
Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski. Brownssteelers 16
Jacoby Brissett is playing the best football of his career right now with the Browns, and that has much to do with head coach Kevin Stefanski. Many wrote on it over and over again, but Stefanski is well-equipped to scheme targets open and just needs a quarterback who can get his eyes to the right spot.
This happened again against the Steelers as Brissett was able to pick apart the Steelers, as Stefanski highlighted the best playmakers in the passing game in Cooper, Njoku, and even Kareem Hunt reeling in some targets. With a wide receiver corps that is lacking talent, Stefanski continues to find ways to keep the passing game churning.
100%. With Chubb/Hunt grinding yards all night, the PIT defense had no choice but to be aggressive vs. the run on 3rd-and-short.
Great play-call by Stefanski, who trusted Brissett/Cooper to execute. https://t.co/xphBWotGWy
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) September 23, 2022
Don’t worry blue collar enthusiasts, Stefanski also ran 35 designed runs in this one against a pretty stout defensive interior from Pittsburgh. All-in-all, the Browns attacked the Steelers with balance and with a clear purpose. He will not run the ball just to run the football and vise-versa.
Stefanski truly has a clear grasp on his vision offensively and has been executing it well through three weeks with Brissett under center. And the national media is beginning to take notice.
So this is what it is like to have a true WR1?
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Amari Cooper. Brownssteelers 18
Sure, the Browns had Odell Beckham Jr. on their roster, and had a certain video to prove he was open quite a bit with no targets. But this is the first time in a very long time that a wide receiver has made a massive outcome on games as Cooper is doing.
While Week 1 looked like the Beckham Jr. era where Cooper was cutting up Carolina defensive backs, the former Oakland Raider and Dallas Cowboy has had a clear role and hand in the offensive success of the Browns. Going for 101 yards in back-to-back weeks, Cooper has also found the endzone twice for the Cleveland offense on a plethora of targets from Brissett.
We all know how dominant the run game is in Cleveland with Chubb and Hunt, but having a consistent target in the passing game that can stretch the field offensively is going to stretch opposing defenses extremely thin.
Defense does not instill much confidence despite win
Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
The good news: the Browns did not blow a single coverage against the Steelers on Thursday night. Baby steps. The bad news: their performance did not exactly instill confidence in future outings from this unit.
To be as blunt as possible: newly paid cornerback Denzel Ward got carved up by one of the better route runners in the league in Diontae Johnson. While Grant Delpit played much better working downhill, his counterpart in John Johnson III looked helpless trying to drag down Steelers’ running back Najee Harris in the open field.
And now with Anthony Walker Jr. working through an ankle sprain and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah coming up limp last night, the strength of this defense (yes, for once the linebackers have been the strength) just got thin as well.
The Browns enter a game against a quarterback who can impact situations with his legs next week as well, so while this defense is taking baby steps, the schedule gets much tougher in Week 5 and beyond.
This is the blueprint for David Njoku
Browns tight end David Njoku. Brownssteelers 1
The Browns made Njoku one of the highest paid tight ends in the NFL this past offseason, and this game was a blueprint as to why. They do not make tight ends like Njoku with frequency. His leaping ability is among the top in the league, and he has wheels to pull away in the open field.
And now he finally saw a high volume of targets and did not let that opportunity slip.
The touchdown grab in the back of the endzone was vintage Njoku as he skied above the defense to haul in a grab above the rim. He has also shown a great deal of refinement as a route runner, and his development as both a blocker and with his hands has been an astounding rise over the past three years.
Still only just 26 years old, the best football of Njoku’s career is in the present. Yards after catch, a massive red zone threat, and now a reliable and consistent threat underneath in tough third down situations, the sky is the limit and the potential of Njoku is finally being realized.