It's been a fast week in Berea.
With a four-day turnaround between games, the Browns turned the page quickly from a stunning Week 2 loss against the Jets that highlighted some big problems they'll look to fix before a crucial Thursday night game against the Steelers. The matchup is Cleveland's first AFC North battle of the year, and the stakes are high even know the season is still young — the winner will be first in the division, and the loser will absorb a loss that creates an uphill battle back up the standings.
What problems have the Browns addressed? Are there any lingering injuries from either side that will factor into Week 3? What is there to know about the new Steelers QB, one who is not named Ben Roethlisberger?
We'll tackle all of that below:
1. What's the defense doing to stop blown coverages?
The problems in the secondary have been obvious in the first two games, and no period showed it more than the final two minutes Sunday when they allowed the Jets to come back from a 13-point deficit.
We don’t need to cover that sequence again, right? To fix the issues, the secondary has overemphasized the need to over-communicate this week. They're going to be talking more on the field, on the sidelines and, really, at all points of the game to make sure everyone knows their assignments each play.
"I think it's an easy fix," CB Denzel Ward said. "I say we have to over-communicate when we're out there and make sure everyone is on the same page."
Ward said the defense often practices with crowd noise blaring from a speaker next to the field to replicate the environment of a home game. That speaker was likely cranked to an even louder volume in Tuesday's practice, but the fix will ultimately come down to being more efficient and clear in relaying signals on the field during the game.
The group is too talented for the mistakes to keep happening, and they know there's no excuse when it comes to blown coverages — especially in critical late-game moments when the opposing team is guaranteed to pass on nearly every play.
"We have to be problem-solvers," head coach Stefanski said. "We have to find solutions any which way. There are a bunch of different ways you can do it, but we have to find solutions so that when we are in a position like we were yesterday, and it's an obvious passing situation, we just can't let that happen."
Check out photos of players and coaches working to prepare for the teams regular season game against the Pittsburgh Steelers Thursday Night Football
2. How big of a challenge is the Steelers offense with Trubisky?
The defense has an opportunity to turn things around against a Steelers offense that hasn't exactly been clicking in their first two games.
The results so far in the Mitchell Trubisky era have arguably been worse than expected — and the expectations were mediocre at best. Pittsburgh has only produced two offensive touchdowns in the first two games, and Trubisky didn't top 200 passing yards in a game with a receiving core that includes Dionate Johnson, Chase Claypool and George Pickens at WR and 2021 second-round pick Pat Freiermuth at TE. Pickens, a 2022 second-round pick, only has two catches.
The Browns, however, aren't taking anything lightly about the Steelers, and nor should they after they allowed a 37-year-old Joe Flacco to pass for 307 yards and four touchdowns. Despite the slow start from the Steelers, the offense still has a full brass of playmakers that could change the tides for the group any week.
"(They have an offense) that is well-coached," LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah said. "A bunch of guys, a bunch of skill players who are good. They have a decent line. They are a solid team, and they are experienced and able to use those to their benefit."
Stefanski saw plenty of Trubisky when he was the offensive coordinator for the Vikings and Trubisky was with the NFC North division-rival Bears. They had three seasons of overlap in the NFC South before Stefanski accepted the Browns' coaching job in 2020, so he has a good foundation of Trubisky's strengths and weaknesses and how the Steelers might attempt to turn their offensive results around Thursday.
"He's very, very athletic," Stefanski said. "He can really move around. He can make plays with his feet. He can take off and run. He can throw while scrambling. I think they do a nice job of utilizing his athleticism. They have skill players really all over the field outside and inside that can hurt you."
3. Injury updates on Garrett, Conklin, Bitonio?
It's good news on all fronts here.
Jack Conklin is expected to make his season debut Thursday, which means he's completed his recovery from the torn patellar tendon he suffered in his knee that ended his season in Week 12 last year. The Browns have been cautious in easing Conklin back to work and didn't feel the need to rush him because of how important he'll be to the offensive line whenever he was able to return. He was a first-team All-Pro player in 2020 and was given a 78.8 grade by Pro Football Focus last year in the seven games.
Myles Garrett (neck) and Joel Bitonio (biceps) each landed on the injury report this week but didn't have a game status listed Wednesday, which means they're both expected to play.
4. Will T.J. Watt play for Pittsburgh?
No. Watt, a four-time Pro Bowler, was placed on injured reserve after he suffered a pectoral injury in Week 1.
It's a significant early-season loss for the Steelers defense, and they've replaced Watt with Malik Reed, who signed with Pittsburgh this offseason after spending the first three years of his career with the Broncos as a backup for Bradley Chubb and Von Miller. He has 15 career sacks and totaled four tackles and one quarterback hit last week against the Patriots.
"(The Steelers) still look good to me," QB Jacoby Brissett said. "I think New England still did things to help mitigate as much as possible. They still have good players. Obviously, I know they wish they had T.J. out there, but I am sure those guys on the other side of the ball are happy that they get to go out there and play some football, play in the National Football League, make plays and make names for themselves. Watching that film, you can see that."
5. Can Chubb pass Kevin Mack?
If he continues his torrid pace to the season, then yeah, Chubb probably will pass Kevin Mack for fifth all-time on the Browns rushing leaderboard on Thursday night.
Chubb is 80 yards away from Mack, a Browns legend who accrued his career total of 5,123 yards over nine NFL seasons from 1985-1993. The fact that Chubb is on the doorstep of passing Mack's mark a few games into just his fifth season shows just how special of a runner he is.
Chubb is currently second in the league in rushing yards after totaling 141 and 87 yards in the first two weeks. The Browns aren't going to stop giving him the ball anytime soon, so he could also move ahead of Greg Pruitt (5,496 yards) and into fourth on the leaderboard before the season is over.
After that, there's a bit more work to keep moving up. The remainder of the list looks like this:
1. Jim Brown - 12,312 yards
2. Leroy Kelly - 7,274 yards
3. Mike Pruitt - 6,540 yards