Steelers vs Browns tale of the tape: Defense

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The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns are some fascinating parallels to their respective defenses. When Cleveland and Pittsburgh square off this weekend, the outcome will depend heavily on which defense plays better. Let’s compare the two defenses and see who has the advantage.

Browns EDGE Myles Garrett vs Steelers EDGE T.J. Watt

The two best players on the field on Sunday play essentially the same position. Garrett and Watt are the two most dominant pass rushers in the NFL and are going to terrorize the quarterbacks in this game all game long.

(AP Photo/David Richard)

Garrett currently has 9.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss, both of which lead the NFL. Watt is just behind Garrett with seven sacks and seven tackles for loss but Watt has played two fewer games.

Which guy has the advantage? There are two ways to look at it. In terms of talent and all-around game, Watt has a pretty clear edge. He’s better in coverage and has an excellent nose for the football.

But don’t be shocked if Garrett has a better game just because of who he is going against. Cleveland’s tackles do a much better job than the Steelers and so if there is an advantage to be had it could be that Garrett will face less resistance.

Steelers DE Cam Heyward vs Browns DE Jadeveon Clowney

(AP Photo/Matt Durisko)

Watt and Garrett aren’t the only two guys up front who are premier talents in this game. The Steelers have leaned heavily on Cam Heyward this season with so many injuries on the defensive line and Jadeveon Clowney is making his presence felt in his first season with the Browns.

But let’s take a look at the defensive lines as a whole. The Steelers lost two of three starters with Tyson Alualu and Stephon Tuitt both on IR. The Browns are largely healthy along the defensive line. Looking at depth, the Browns also have the edge there with more talent behind their four starters than the Steelers do with three. In fact the Steelers depth is such a problem. the defense often only runs two defensive linemen.

Steelers linebackers vs Browns linebackers

Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers are still hoping to get much more out of inside linebackers Devin Bush and Joe Schobert. But if we compare them to Cleveland linebackers Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Anthony Walker, the numbers are comparable. All four guys can be playmakers at times and are at or near the top in tackles for their teams.

Who has the edge here? Similar to the argument for Garrett over Watt, the Browns defensive line helps its linebackers more than the Steelers defensive line does for Bush and Schobert. The Pittsburgh tandem have more overall talent however and so this one might just be a push.

Browns CB Denzel Ward vs Steelers CB Joe Haden

Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Both of these guys will be tasked with trying to slow down the other team’s top receiver. For the Browns this remains to be seen as their top guys are dealing with injuries while the Steelers seem to have found a No. 1 in Diontae Johnson.

Haden has been the best cornerback on the Steelers since the day he was signed and is truly an anchor for this defense. He’s a smart, savvy defender who doesn’t make mental mistakes.

Meanwhile Ward is eight years younger but has all the skills of a polished veteran. his run defense has really stood out this year but he remains strong in coverage as well. Ward is fearless and will line up over any receiver.

The edge here goes to Haden just based on his veteran experience. Ward is definitely an up-and-coming cornerback in the AFC but their coverage grades are nearly identical and

Steelers S Minkah Fitzpatrick vs Browns S John Johnson

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers and Browns both boast one of the top safeties on the AFC on their respective rosters. These teams rely heavily on the players to not only be the last line of defense, literally but are also the best big-play threat on the back end for both teams.

We could sit here and nitpick which player is better when the reality is both are great. Cleveland probably asks a bit more of Johnson on the back end and Fitzpatrick seems to be doing more to freestyle this season. For two teams that want to establish the run, both of these guys will be key in keeping that part of the opposing offenses in check.

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