Pittsburgh Steelers (3-3, 2-4 ATS) at Cleveland Browns (4-3, 4-3), 1 p.m.
Brolley’s Steelers Stats and Trends
The Steelers, Chargers, Seahawks, and Bears are the only teams that have played over the total just once this season.
Pittsburgh is 1-4 ATS in its last five games.
Najee Harris hung 21+ FP in four straight games before their bye last week, averaging 26.0 touches, 125.6 scrimmage yards, and 9.5 targets per game with three overall touchdowns. He posted a healthy 6/46/1 receiving on seven targets in his first game without JuJu Smith-Schuster (shoulder, IR). The Browns are giving up the fifth-fewest FPG (18.7) to RBs, but Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon combined for 20/84/2 scrimmage last week.
Ben Roethlisberger failed to reach 18+ FP in each of his first six games, and he posted an ugly 13.4 FPG (QB29) Weeks 4-6. He had his best performance of the season in their victory over the Broncos in Week 5, but he went back to looking shaky in Week 6 against the Seahawks. It took him 40 attempts to get to 229/1 passing (5.7 YPA), and he lost a fumble in their overtime victory. The Browns limited Teddy Bridgewater to 187/2 passing for 14.8 FP last week.
Diontae Johnson had a bizarre two-target game against the Broncos in Week 5 — he still produced 2/72/1 receiving — but he’s averaging 12.0 targets per game in his other four contests. He’s scored 14+ FP in every game, and he had 11/117 receiving on 16 targets in their matchup with Cleveland in the postseason.
Chase Claypool posted just 2/17 receiving on seven targets in his first game without JuJu on the field in Week 6. His slot rate did rise from 19% in Weeks 1-5 to 28% in Week 6, and he saw his second-best snap share at 84%. Claypool posted 11+ FP in all three games against the Browns last season, including 5/59/2 receiving and 4/74 in his two games with Big Ben at quarterback.
Pat Freiermuth had his best game in Smith-Schuster’s first game out of the lineup before their bye, catching all seven of his targets for 58 yards with a season-high 60% of the snaps. He also topped Eric Ebron in routes (22 to 19) for just the second time this season. The Browns limited Noah Fant to 5/39 receiving on seven targets last week.
Brolley’s Browns Stats and Trends
The Browns snapped a two-game ATS losing streak and a two-game over streak with their 17-14 victory over the Broncos last week as 1.5-point favorites.
Nick Chubb is expected to return off of his calf injury. The big question is whether he’s going to hog all of the work in this backfield while Kareem Hunt (calf, IR) is out for the next couple of weeks or is D’Ernest Johnson going to see a decent role after his impressive performance in Week 7. The third-year pro stepped into a bell-cow role and produced 22/146/1 rushing and 2/22 receiving on three targets in a victory over the Broncos. Hunt averaged 18.8/80.3 scrimmage per game with two touchdowns in the four games that Chubb missed last season. He also topped 70% of the snaps in the three games when they didn’t lose by 31 points to the Steelers. Chubb has yet to reach even a 60% snap share in any of his five games this season so he has elite RB1 potential if he can sit in the 65-75% range while Hunt is out of the lineup. The Seahawks’ RBs gashed the Steelers for 26/145/1 rushing and 5.6 YPC in their last game, and the Steelers won’t be getting DL Stephon Tuitt (knee, IR) back to help their run defense this week.
Case Keenum acquitted himself fairly well in his first major action since he last started in Washington during the 2019 season. He completed 21/33 passes for 199 yards (6.0 YPA) and one touchdown in Cleveland’s victory over the Broncos in Week 7. He could be looking at more starts after FOX’s Jay Glazer reported that Baker Mayfield is also dealing with a fracture in his non-throwing shoulder in addition to his torn labrum. Seattle backup QB Geno Smith managed 209/1 passing for 11.3 FP in Pittsburgh’s last game.
Jarvis Landry (knee) and Odell Beckham (shoulder) are playing through injuries right now, and Donovan Peoples-Jones picked up a groin injury in pregame warmups last week. OBJ had a miserable performance against the Broncos in Week 7 with just 2/23 receiving on six targets. He also dropped a pass, he committed a pre-snap penalty to wipe out a big play, and he slipped on a route that nearly caused a pick-six. Landry asserted himself as the top option in his first game back from a knee injury with 5/37 receiving on eight targets, but he banged up the knee again late in the game. The Steelers are giving up the fourth-most FPG (41.7) to WRs this season, and Landry went for 5/92/1 against Pittsburgh in the playoffs last season.
Austin Hooper had a season-high 42 yards last week but he’s yet to reach double-digit FP this season. David Njoku exploded for 7/149/1 receiving against the Chargers in Week 5, but he’s managed just 3/24 receiving in his two games since then. The Steelers are giving up the 12th-fewest FPG (9.8) to TEs this season.
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Pace (seconds in between plays): 29.2 (23rd)
Plays per game: 66.0 (18th)
Pass: 66.7% (4th) | Run: 33.3% (29th)
Pace: 31.1 (29th)
Plays per game: 68.9 (13th)
Pass: 52.4% (31st) | Run: 47.6% (2nd)
This is a huge game for both sides in the AFC hunt. With a win, the Browns would be right in the thick of the North division with the Ravens and Bengals. And, if the Steelers lose, they’d probably have too much ground to make up. While there is obviously a lot at stake, this game is short on fantasy upside. This matchup is the slowest of the Week 8 slate in adjusted combined pace and the Steelers (1-4-1 towards overs) have been far from a team we want to target in fantasy because of their sluggish offense and still sturdy defense. Luckily, the guys we want to play from this game are very straight forward – Chubb, Najee, Diontae, and Claypool – so we’re bailed out by the limited options in these two offenses naturally.
Huber’s Key Matchup Notes
Individuals on both offenses stand out, but this is a clash of top-five defenses with the potential for the type of nuclear offensive output that we witnessed in the Browns’ 48-37 victory in the Wildcard Round last season. The decisive factor for both teams will be at QB. Will it be Baker Mayfield or Case Keenum? And what version of Ben Roethlisberger will show up? During Pittsburgh’s last two matchups with Cleveland, Diontae Johnson has averaged 17.7 FPG. That said, Diontae only played with Big Ben in one of those two, and he posted 22.7 FPs. The Steelers have played the seventh-most difficult schedule this season.
In all five games Johnson has played this season, the opposing defense ranked within the bottom-10 teams in FPG permitted to WRs at the time of the matchup. That hasn’t prevented Diontae from averaging 19 FPG. And he’s accomplished that through target shares of at least 32% in four-of-five games. Diontae will square off with Denzel Ward on half of his routes. Ward is releasing 1.13 YPCS (32nd), 0.25 FP/CS (31st), and a 100.2 TPR (44th). Ward only allowing 0.18 AY/CS (eight-best) will not be an issue for Johnson’s underneath style that’s only averaging 10.3 air yards/target.
Dolan’s Vantage Points
Our Scott Barrett did a ton of writing about the Steelers in the Week 8 XFP Report. Pittsburgh’s becoming one of the most narrow teams for fantasy, and Scott covered them extensively:
On WR Diontae Johnson:
“FantasyPoints-favorite Diontae Johnson remains an absolute monster. And, I assure you, he is still being severely underrated.
Over the past two seasons, Johnson has played in 20 games with Ben Roethlisberger under center. He's been hurt in five of those games and was once benched for drops. Including the two injury games this season, but removing the other four games, Johnson has hit double-digit targets in 15 of 16 games, averaging 12.1 targets, 79.7 receiving yards, and 19.6 FPG.
And he’s even more of a monster this season, hitting at least 14.5 fantasy points in 5 of 5 games (despite 2 injury games). He's finished top-10 in XFP in 4 of his 5 games this year. You can contrast that to the position leader in XFP Cooper Kupp, who has 3 top-10 finishes in 7 games.
On a per game basis, he ranks: 10th in FPG (20.9), 3rd in deep targets (2.6), 2nd in targets (11.6), 2nd in XFP (20.9), and 3rd in XTD (0.74). So, keep in mind, Johnson's usage is not only significantly better, but he's being used in an entirely different way. He's jumped 2X in deep targets per game and 2X in XTD per game from his numbers last season.
Coming off the bye, Johnson gets an ideal matchup against the Browns, who rank worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing WR1s (+7.5).”
On WR Chase Claypool:
“[Claypool] ranks just 35th in FPG (13.2) but 19th in XFP per game (15.6). The bulk of his value comes as a deep threat, averaging 2.2 deep targets per game (8th-most). Of course, Ben Roethlisberger has been woefully inaccurate on deep passes, completing just 29% of his deep throws (4th-worst). And Johnson is being used more as a deep threat (2.6 deep targets per game, 3rd-most), and more often than Claypool. But, I guess, who knows. Maybe Roethlisberger’s arm strength and accuracy will be a little bit better this week coming off of the team’s bye.”
Funny you mention that, Scott! Ben Roethlisberger did say this week that the Steelers’ bye was well-timed. Perhaps that will help Claypool in a good matchup.
Ben Roethlisberger said the bye week especially helped him heal from the early hip and shoulder (pec) injuries.— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) October 27, 2021
"It was very nice to have some time to rest, relax and get it back."
On top of everything else for these pass-catchers, Browns CB Denzel Ward (hamstring) is out.
But Scott wasn’t done! The real star for Pittsburgh so far, for fantasy purposes, has been RB Najee Harris.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Harris is now your new XFP leader (23.1). Yes, ahead of Derrick Henry (22.2).
With Ben Roethlisberger looking 2015 Peyton Manning-levels of cooked, and with Pittsburgh’s offensive line playing about as poorly as we all anticipated (3rd-worst in PFF run block grade), Harris is understandably a little inefficient (-2.8 PAR). But that doesn’t really matter much at all, given the elite levels of volume he’s seeing.
Harris has three top-3 XFP finishes over his last four games. Over this span, he ranks 4th in carries per game (20), 1st in targets per game (9.8), 4th in XTD per game (0.88), 1st in XFP per game (27.3), and 2nd in FPG (24.2, just 0.16 off of Henry for the lead). Across the full season, he ranks 1st in snap share (87%), 2nd in XFP market share (28%), and 1st in XFP positional market share (93%).
Basically, he’s like a slightly less efficient (healthy) Christian McCaffrey. Or, a more consistent and gamescript-proof but less efficient Derrick Henry. Or, a deeper cut for loyal XFP devotees, if 2019 Leonard Fournette were allowed to score touchdowns. Which is to say, he’s an elite bell cow and an easy top-3 RB at least until McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley return from injury.”
One potential wrench for Harris coming off the bye is the return of Anthony McFarland from IR. I’m not expecting much — maybe McFarland takes the snaps of the useless Kalen Ballage — but Ben was talking him up.
Roethlisberger on RB Anthony McFarland this morning: "I think he was doing some really good stuff before he got hurt.— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) October 27, 2021
"People that have been out here have seen a guy that has got a little burst, a guy that maybe can add a little something extra to this offense. " https://t.co/U7xadfV939
Also, if you need a TE this week, rookie Pat Freirmuth is viable, with Eric Ebron (hamstring) out.
The Browns remain a mess, for both fantasy and reality. It’s a testament to how deep this roster is and how well coached the team is that it’s staying afloat.
It looks like Baker Mayfield (shoulder) will be back to play this week — he was taking first-team reps as early as Wednesday — but obviously he’s going to be in some level of discomfort. And once again, we have no idea to whom he will be throwing the ball.
WR Jarvis Landry returned from an MCL sprain in Week 7… only to suffer an unrelated injury to the same knee. Landry seems likely to be questionable when final designations come out.
#Browns Kevin Stefanski said Jarvis Landry (knee) not practicing today because of injury suffered on late play Thursday. Said it’s unrelated to sprained MCL that kept him out previous 4 games. Hopes he can practice later in week.— Scott Petrak ct (@ScottPetrak) October 27, 2021
And Odell Beckham is dealing with what seems to be a pretty severe AC joint sprain in his shoulder. OBJ has 2 catches for fewer than 30 yards in three of five games this season. He hasn’t gotten into the endzone nor has he reached 80 receiving yards in a game. And we know he and Baker go together like water and oil:
Baker Mayfield (2020)— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) October 19, 2021
OBJ off the field: 0.14 EPA/attempt (QB7)
OBJ on the field: 0.05 EPA/attempt (QB24)
Baker Mayfield (2021)
OBJ off the field: 0.38 EPA/attempt (QB1)
OBJ on the field: 0.08 EPA/attempt (QB17)
Given the massive numbers the Steelers give up to WRs, I’d love to be able to trust somebody, but these injuries are no joke.
At the least, Nick Chubb (calf) will be back this week. He’s a must-start, but if he’s at all limited, expect Week 7 hero D’Ernest Johnson to get some looks, potentially enough to be a viable FLEX.