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Najee Harris
Pittsburgh Steelers

Browns vs Steelers: 3 MNF Matchups To Watch

  • Justin Melo
  • January 3, 2022
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Monday night's primetime showdown between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns lost a bit of its jam when the Browns were eliminated from playoff contention on Sunday afternoon. The Steelers, however, are still alive in their quest to earn an unlikely playoff berth, and a victory over the Browns on Monday would keep them mathematically in contention heading into Week 18's finale against their fellow AFC North rival Baltimore Ravens. The Browns, meanwhile, will attempt to play spoiler as they aim to theoretically bring an end to Pittsburgh's season for the second consecutive campaign. Canton-bound Ben Roethlisberger may be playing his final game at Heinz Field, which only adds to the intrigue of Monday's contest. We've identified three player-vs-player matchups which will help determine the outcome of Monday's playoff-implications game.

MYLES GARRETT VS. DAN MOORE JR.

The cornerstone and face of Cleveland's franchise, star pass rusher Myles Garrett will relish his opportunity to impact Monday's game while helping his Browns prevent the Steelers from reaching the postseason. Garrett has recorded a career-high 15 sacks throughout the first 15 games while clinching his fourth consecutive double-digit sack season. Garrett remains the most feared pass rusher in all of football despite currently trailing T.J. Watt (17.5) and Robert Quinn (18) for the league-lead in quarterback takedowns. Garrett will be licking his chops while favoring his chances to add to his astounding sack totals when he lines up across from Steelers left tackle Dan Moore Jr. Pittsburgh's offensive line has struggled mightily throughout 2021 both as pass protectors and run blockers, and Moore is unfortunately a part of that. A rookie fourth-round selection out of Texas A&M, Moore has given up a healthy seven sacks, per Pro Football Focus. A day-two rookie is understandably going to take his bumps and bruises while acclimating to the professional game. Lining up across from Garrett qualifies as one of those "Welcome to the NFL" moments.

CHASE CLAYPOOL VS. DENZEL WARD

Chase Claypool has come under scrutiny as of late, but he's undeniably Pittsburgh's alpha-like receiver on the boundary. The former Notre Dame standout was a polarizing prospect as he entered the 2020 draft, but Claypool has quickly developed into a high-quality receiver on the outside. The British Columbia native is just nine receptions (51) and 67 receiving yards (806) away from topping his 2020 totals despite appearing in three fewer contests thus far. Pittsburgh's passing game has struggled in all facets, from the aging and less-effective Roethlisberger to an offensive line that's struggled to give Roethlisberger the time often necessary to chuck the ball up to his receiving threats. Claypool has undoubtedly been hindered by the less-than-ideal environment around him but has found a way to remain productive in a below-average offense. When Claypool lines up on Monday, he'll encounter one of the most talented cover-men in the league in Denzel Ward more often than not. The Browns rarely ask their corners to shadow opposing receivers, but we anticipate Claypool and Ward squaring off on a relatively healthy basis. This matchup has mouth-watering potential.

NAJEE HARRIS VS. CLEVELAND’S FRONT SEVEN

An extremely talented rookie out of Alabama, Najee Harris' statistical outputs have also been hindered by Pittsburgh's difficult surroundings. It doesn't make what Harris has achieved in his initial campaign any less impressive. Part of Pittsburgh's offensive game plans to navigate through their struggles in search of solutions has often included handing (or throwing) the ball to Harris as often as possible. The first-round selection has handled 335 touches in 15 appearances, which equates to more than 22 touches per game. It's the type of workload you'd typically find a seasoned vet handling as opposed to a 23-year-old rookie. Harris should continue to find himself plenty busy on Monday night as his Steelers prepare for a physical contest against their storied divisional foes. Harris has found life quite difficult as of late while failing to reach the end zone in his last two showings. Things won't get easier against a Browns defense that's allowing just 321 yards per game, which ranks seventh across all 32 franchises. The Browns own a fierce front seven that includes the fearless Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney, and the excellent second-round rookie linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada needs to get Harris going early and often. Keeping their playoff hopes alive may hinge on their ability to do so.

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Justin Melo