Steelers vs. Browns sit/start tips for Thursday night football

The NFL knows us too well. They drop us into the season as a fantasy battle royale game with a potential Super Bowl contest. Then we get another banger after pitting Patrick Mahomes against Justin Herbert in Week 2.

I need a break. The season is a marathon, not a sprint.

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The league decided to help us. This game may not be a future playoff game – a way to ease us into the weekend instead of an adrenaline rush – but it still packs some weight. And there are still fantastic storylines despite the relative lack of star power in this game.

The battle for AFC North begins in Cleveland

My Bengals fandom made me unhappy (read: embarrassed) about being last in the division. But tonight’s winner will sit alone atop AFC North. At least until Baltimore plays. I was sure Cincinnati would go through Pittsburgh, but the Steelers offense still has some firepower.

I was concerned Diontae JohnsonThe role of would not evolve with the new offense. Ben RoethlisbergerJohnson’s “grab and rip” approach resulted in Johnson having an aDOT of 8.8. For reference, Cooper Kuppwas 8.6. We will take a target share of 28.8% all day. But we need goals *and* yards. He only had half of this recipe to succeed.

Johnson’s 618 airyards ranked 25th among its peers. Again, primary slot machine receivers like Christian Kirk had similar measurements. This offense needed more verticality, and Mitchell Trubisky has risen to the challenge so far.

The Steelers always have a pass-friendly attack, and Trubisky is in the top 12 in aerial yards per attempt (8.0). It can therefore be said that this infringement is progressive. It’s also aggressive. Trubisky’s 14.1% deep ball rate is well above his predecessor’s (10.1%). But given their clash, he may not need to look down much to claim his second division victory.

To their credit, Cleveland put together a solid offense. They’re fifth in EPA per game, and it’s not like a big performance tips the scales. They have been consistent.

The Browns are averaging 36.3 and 44.9 yards per rush to start the season. Both brands would have them in the top 8. However, they demanded a “dink and dunk” approach to the passing game.

Jacoby Brisset only completed one 20-yard pass. He is 26th in aDOT but still 20th in completion percentage against expectations. Their backfield is the “engine” of offense, which is the only way they’ve been able to generate explosive plays.

Nick Chubb and hunt kareem are in the top 10 in runs of 10 yards or more. They are both top 12 in EPA per attempt. But Pittsburgh was 12th in EPA-allowed emergency before losing TJ Watt. Also, the Browns will be without Jack Conklin.

The Browns RB duo have been a fantastic bargain so far this season. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images)

Any successful attempt to short Cleveland’s running game may leave them unanswered. Either way, we still have a few fantastic options left to consider as we head into Week 3.

Don’t bench these guys

The past week has left me with more questions than answers. A few of the top performers from Week 1 are gone while others try to get noticed. But tonight’s contest is shaping up well for a few players.

So if you’re on the fence, let’s see if I can help you.

hunt kareem

Hunt led the backfield with two scores in Cleveland’s opener. However, his Week 2 miss reminded fantasy managers that this is still a split backfield. Still, Chubb’s monstrous performance didn’t come at the expense of using Hunt:

Situation

Chubb

Hunt

First episodes

16

13

Red zone

6

2

Short distance

3

0

third down

1

0

Targets

3

2

We knew what to expect from that backfield in draft season. Nothing has changed. The only change was that Chubb decided to convert half of his touches in the red zone into touchdowns. Not serious.

Either way, Hunt’s role is secure. Both are top-12 in rushing success, but Hunt was the more effective receiver. Pittsburgh finished 12th in EPA rush allowed in their final AFC North battle. If the defense thwarts their running game, Hunt has a path to fantasy utility.

Pat Freiermuth

I would start Pat Freiermuth without much hesitation, but fantasy managers are fickle. I cast no shadow since I am the same. I would at least take a look at the waiver wire if I saw my tight end with only 22 yards. But we have to watch past the boxscore with such a volatile position.

Freiermuth’s 71.8 percent stake on the roads ranks eighth among all tight ends. Using solid routes is a good start, but it doesn’t help if they only get cardio training. We need goals.

Fortunately, the second has a top 5 goals per route (TPRR) at 30.4%. Thus, it travels routes and earns glances at a higher rate than Travis Kelce. OK cool. But we need some efficiency or an ability to create after the take. We can’t rely on Trubisky’s arm.

Again, Freiermuth gets away with it.

He is third in the YAC by reception. Additionally, Freiermuth leads the team into red zone targets. I understand we may be squeezing our luck by tying ourselves to an anemic offense. But there is no doubting its use and potential production as a starter on your list.

Chase Claypool

I will be honest. I’m not so sure about Claypool compared to the previous two recommendations. He has yet to score a touchdown. If anything, we should start with the #GetClaypoolOver50YardsInAGame challenge.

I’ll workshop the title, but you get the idea. Claypool was hard to equalise. Anyway, I’m curious about its usage and how it fits into tonight’s game.

Go back to my rant on routes and targets from earlier. Claypool traveled the same number of routes as Johnson. However, the third-year starter mostly runs wind sprints. Its TPRR is down to 17.1%. But, at least for tonight, I’m less concerned with the number of targets and more interested in their location.

Claypool leads the team in slot snaps, with 10 of his 11 targets coming from inside. Garrett Wilson saw 10 of his 14 targets after flying a route from a similar position. One of his Week 2 touchdowns also came while he was lined up near the formation.

Claypool’s road attendance already indicates he will be on the pitch. He will also have the game to exploit, making him a potential flexible option.

Maybe it’s time to let go

It’s been two weeks, and we’re still hoping some of these guys will show us something. And you don’t have time to wait unless you’re undefeated. If you need roster spots, put these guys back on the waiver thread for now.

David Njoku

“[Njoku’s] his ability to generate explosive plays with his athleticism, speed and ability to run after catch along with his productivity as a blocker at the line of scrimmage is a combination hard to find in a single player. – Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry.

We have been deceived, deceived and misled. The Browns gave Njoku a heavy overtime, making him the sixth-highest paid tight end, and the fantastic managers took the bait. We were expecting a late flight and ended up with the bag. And there’s not much hope on the horizon.

Again, back to routes and targets. Njoku has positive route participation (74.3%) but an abysmal TPRR of 11.5%. Harrison Bryant, Njoku’s direct competitor, stands at 25.0%. Bryant also has a 21.0% Airyard share. Njoku has only 17 airyards.

Njoku had a red zone target as they battled the Jets. Thus, a rumble in the end zone is possible. But I’d rather try my luck with any other option on your waiver thread.

George Pickens

I can see Pickens’ vision in a future version of this offense. He presented himself as a classic X receiver in college, playing mostly on the perimeter and asked to regularly beat media coverage. And the Steelers are asking him to do the same now. But it doesn’t turn into a fantastic production.

The Steelers used 11 on 73 of Trubisky’s 78 folds. This is why participation in the Pickens route is 92.3%. However, Trubisky is 28th in pass rate. Pittsburgh wide receivers have the fifth-highest contested catch rate in the league. And Pickens has yet to run a single route from the slot.

Its target usage (8.3%) is similar to Olamide Zaccheaus‘s (8.6%).

You don’t cast Zacchaeus. Keep Pickens out of your range.

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