Dawg Days is a weekly feature by Chris McNeil on the Cleveland Browns. The Three Deep section tackles facets of the Browns’ upcoming game from all sides — advantages, disadvantages, and a final view on the contest.
One of the great mysteries in sports is that sometimes unexpected tragedy can destroy, and other times it can galvanize a team. The latter seems to have occurred in the aftermath of the injury to Browns all world running back Nick Chubb in the first matchup against the Steelers.
In that game, on a first-and-goal from the Steelers 8-yard line, Nick Chubb took a handoff from Deshaun Watson and plowed ahead for five yards when Steelers defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick flew in and delivered a blow on Chubbs’s knee — a hit so bad that color analyst Troy Aikman said, “We’re not going to show it. It’s as bad as you can imagine.”
The collective hopes and dreams of Browns fans seemed to die that day. The Browns lost the game and their best offensive weapon all at once and all in front of a national audience.
In the time since then the Browns have not only dealt with that injury, but other setbacks along the way. Watson has been in and out with a shoulder injury and was just ruled out all season in a surprise this week. The team has also suffered multiple injuries along the offensive line. All of that has not killed the Browns and has only made them stronger so far.
With the Watson news, that resolve is to be tested again.
One of the signature plays in last week’s win over the Ravens was a first and ten at the Ravens 39-yard line where RB Jerome Ford ran to his right and stumbled forward for a few yards when that entire hobbled line- including backups Geron Christian and James Hudson III formed a scrum (some have coined a Dawg Pile or a Cleveland Steamroller) and pushed Ford forward for a 12-yard gain. The play broke the spirit of the Ravens in their home confines and all but sealed the victory for the Browns.
Truly a defining moment in that game.
Despite all the positive momentum for the team- the Browns and the fans have not forgotten losing Nick Chubb during that Steelers game. There was such a groundswell online for Nick Chubb to rally the stadium on Sunday by performing the traditional pregame guitar smash — nearly 95 percent of the over 6,000 fans who voted wanted Chubb to do the smashing — that Browns EVP JW Johnson felt compelled to share this:
Trust me we have had this thought for awhile, but unfortunately Nick cannot do it this weekend. Stay tuned as we have more ahead for Sunday and be in the Stadium early! Go Browns!
— JW Johnson (@JDubsIII) November 14, 2023
Later that day it was revealed he had just come through his second surgery successfully — perhaps explaining further why he wasn’t available for the pregame ritual.
With Chubb firmly planted in the back of the mind of fans and players alike, the long and storied history of Browns vs Steelers enters another chapter this weekend as the vaunted Browns host the hated Steelers Sunday at 1:00 at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
After the Watson news broke, the Browns went from 4-point favorites on Tipico at home against the Steelers to -2.5 favorites.
We have been talking about this Browns defense here all year, and one of the keys we had last week was to force timely turnovers. It does not get any more timely than the turnover forced by Ogbo Okoronkwo’s head last Sunday. With the Browns trailing for literally the entire game, a Lamar Jackson pass hit Okoronkwo in the helmet and got picked off by CB Greg Newsome, who returned it for a 32-yard touchdown. The ensuing missed XP aside, it set the Browns up for an eventual field goal winner.
If all goes according to plan, the Browns should not be tested this week. The Steelers are an improbable 6-3 despite being outgained in all nine of their games so far this year. They are third from last in the league in passing yardage and in the bottom third in rushing. QB Kenny Pickett and the offense have done a nice job protecting the ball and not turning it over, but they just can’t move it very far.
As it is the Browns, and they have a flair for the dramatic, especially when it comes to bad news. Starting QB Deshaun Watson was unexpectedly ruled out on Wednesday for the rest of the entire season with a broken bone in his throwing shoulder. This creates mass chaos for the team as they try to cobble together a playoff run without their franchise signal-caller at the helm.
It now looks as if Dorian Thompson-Robinson, not PJ Walker, will take the helm and guide the Browns on Sunday. Hopefully a steady running game from Jerome Ford, Kareem Hunt, and Pierre Strong will provide much needed yards for the offense as DTR finds his way.
That three-headed monster will need to carry the afternoon. Because DTR, though great in the preseason, struggled in a short-notice start against Baltimore earlier this season. In that game, the rookie went 19-of-36 for 121 yards and three interceptions en route to a 28-3 loss at home. He had little preparation time for that start after being tapped that Sunday morning after Watson couldn’t go due to a shoulder injury.
Look for both TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith to come after the nimble Thompson-Robinson all day long. Both ends for Pittsburgh will be hungry, as they have combined for 15 sacks on the season so far. This will be a good test against a Browns line weakened by injury at both tackle positions, so watch those matchups on Sunday.
Look for the energy at Cleveland Browns Stadium to be off the charts on Sunday. I expect the fans to be rowdy and make the Steelers miserable when they are on offense. This is going to be an old-school matchup you love to see amongst these old foes.
Ultimately, the Browns capture some of that old school DAWG POUND spirit on Sunday and rally, despite not having Watson in the pocket.
Prediction: Browns 14-10
College Football Playoff History
by Alex Valdes
Power Shift: The Most Important Conference Title Games in College Football History
by Dale Weber
A Guide To NBA Prop Bets
MLB Free Agency Preview: Ohtani Leads the Pack
by Sasha Yodashkin
How to Bet on Hockey: Insider’s Guide