NFL Week 1 Preview: Steelers at Browns
Each week, the PFF analysis team will bring you break downs of the most important matchups for each game of the NFL season.
Coverage by: Mike Manning
Matchup: Pittsburgh Steelers offense vs. Cleveland Browns defense
- WR Antonio Brown vs CB Jamar Taylor – With the departure of Joe Haden to the Steelers, Jamar Taylor is expected to take over as the Browns’ No. 1 cornerback. That means that Taylor’s first assignment is to cover Brown, the third-highest graded wide receiver in 2016 (89.9 overall). Taylor was the most improved cornerback from 2015-2016, he increased his overall grade by 46.1 points to 82.8 overall in 2016. But Taylor has been susceptible to the deep ball, allowing three touchdowns on “go” routes last season while Brown led the league with six receiving touchdowns on such routes.
- T Marcus Gilbert vs EDGE Emmanuel Ogbah – The Steelers’ line was ranked as the third-best offensive line unit in the league entering the 2017 season by PFF. Gilbert had a career year in 2016 earning a pass-blocking grade of 87.9, the seventh-highest in the league among tackles. He allowed only 21 total pressures in 2016 with a pass-blocking efficiency of 96.5 in 472 pass-blocking snaps last season. Ogbah seemed to play well against the Steelers in 2016, two of his five highest game grades came against Pittsburgh in Weeks 11 and 17. Ogbah pass-rush productivity improved from 5.6 from Weeks 1-9 to 10.5 from Weeks 10-17 in 2016. With the injury to first-overall pick Myles Garrett, the Browns will depend on Ogbah to continue his progression from last season.
- RB Le’Veon Bell vs DI Danny Shelton – Bell led the league among running backs with an overall grade of 91.9 in 2016, the third-year straight year that he has ranked over 90 overall. But while running inside between the left or right A-gap, Bell’s yards per carry average dropped from 4.9 to 3.8. Bell would be running into the Brown’s run stuffing interior defender Shelton, who has the seventh-highest run defense grade (87.8 run defense grade). Shelton also is second in the league among defensive tackles with 29 run stops.
Coverage by: David Neumann
Matchup: Cleveland Browns offense vs. Pittsburgh Steelers defense
- WR Corey Coleman vs. CB Joe Haden — Pittsburgh likes to play their cornerbacks primarily to one side of the field, while Coleman will move around a bit, so this one won’t be an every-snap battle. However, it will certainly be worth watching to see if Coleman can create some big plays against his former teammate. Haden is coming off a pair of poor seasons, including a 2016 effort in which his 46.0 overall grade ranked 88th out of 110 qualifying cornerbacks. Since 2015, Haden has allowed 1.75 yards per cover snap, the fifth-worst figure among 98 cornerbacks with at least 500 coverage snaps over the past two seasons. Coleman is looking to prove he can be the team’s top wide receiver after a down rookie season in which he averaged just 1.15 yards per route run, 76th out of 96 qualifying receivers, and should have an opportunity to get off to a good start.
- RB Duke Johnson Jr. vs. LB Ryan Shazier — Johnson’s 76.9 receiving grade during his sophomore campaign ranked ninth among 52 qualifying running backs, and reports throughout the offseason indicate the Browns want to get him even more involved in the pass game in 2017. Hue Jackson is likely to try and get his receiving back matched up with Ryan Shazier as often as possible on Sunday. Shazier’s 58.8 coverage grade ranked 57th out of 75 qualifying linebackers in 2016, and his 1.55 yards per cover snap allowed was the fourth-worst of 82 linebackers with at least 150 snaps in coverage.
- T Shon Coleman vs. EDGE T.J. Watt — Coleman is the one question mark on what is expected to be one of the league’s very best offensive lines in 2017. Coleman was in pass protection on only 32 snaps last season, but held up well during the preseason, allowing no sacks and just three pressures in 96 pass-block snaps. Watt split his time between the left and right sides of the defense during the preseason (29 pass-rush snaps from the left; 32 from the right), but considering Joe Thomas is manning the opposite side, it would make sense for the Steelers to match him up with Coleman more often, particularly in obvious pass situations. Watt recorded four quarterback pressures in 29 pass-rush snaps from the left side during the warm-up games.