Thursday Night Football DFS Breakdown: Browns vs. Steelers

Thursday Night Football DFS Breakdown: Browns vs. Steelers

This article is part of our Showdown/Single Game DFS Breakdown series.

We'd prefer to have an entertaining shootout in every game, but bad offenses need their share of primetime exposure, too. Or look at it this way: Thursday games often feature lower passing production and scoring than Sunday or Monday ones, so at least we're burning two passing games who would have projected poorly on those days anyway. Jacoby Brissett is just a bridge to Deshaun Watson, and Mitch Trubisky not much more than a wrecked nearby ship in that metaphor. The over/under has dropped from 40 to 38.5, though the opening spread remains the same, favoring Cleveland by 3.5 points. This will likely be a windy game, which might make it more difficult yet on our troubled quarterbacks and funnel even more usage toward the running backs in both offenses.

QUARTERBACKS

Even the ugly are worth serious consideration in showdown slates, so if there were ever a time to hold your nose and pick either of Mitch Trubisky ($8600 DK, $14500 FD) or Jacoby Brissett ($8800 DK, $14000 FD) it might be here. There will be high winds, though, which neither of these quarterbacks need. The good news for Brissett is that he has the better offense at his disposal, especially with regard to the pass blocking and run game – and he gets to face the Steelers without T.J. Watt. The good news for Trubisky is that the Browns are without Jadeveon Clowney. The news is mostly bad otherwise, especially for Trubisky, who thus far has averaged 5.1 yards per pass and has done nothing on the ground to offset it, running just four times for 16 yards. If Trubisky is ever going to justify himself in Pittsburgh they'll need to get him running more, because he just doesn't have it as a passer. Brissett doesn't really have it as a passer, either, but his still-meager completion percentage of 65.6 and YPA of 6.2 are vastly superior to Trubisky's numbers. Brissett has already done a bit on the ground, too, running for 53 yards on 10 carries. The Steelers defense will no doubt lay disguised coverage traps to bait Brissett, but Pittsburgh's vulnerable run defense might leave Brissett in favorable down/distances, keeping the game easy for him in the process. The Steelers don't have as obvious of a way to prop up Trubisky – he's just a target you can't hide.

RUNNING BACKS

These guys are going to be busy. Nick Chubb ($12000 DK, $16000 FD) is an extreme danger to any run defense, and the Steelers are not among the strongest. The only thing that might work against Chubb here is the fact that it's a short week and he's seen a big workload to this point in 2022, logging 39 carries and four catches through two games. If the Browns don't limit Chubb's workload then the Steelers are unlikely to limit his production. Kareem Hunt ($7600 DK, $13000 FD) will be busy either way, as he has played just one less snap than Chubb (73 to 72) while seeing most of the passing down work. If Chubb's workload is lightened at all, then Hunt could see even more work than usual, especially as a runner. Like Chubb, Hunt can do a lot of damage against this defense. D'Ernest Johnson ($200 DK, $5000 FD) has been a healthy scratch to this point while the rookie Jerome Ford ($200 DK, $5500 FD) returned kicks in the first two weeks. Ford might have some talent himself, and he or Johnson could conceivably see offensive snaps if the Browns limit Chubb's workload at all.

Najee Harris ($9800 DK, $13500 FD) is in a difficult spot overall – his offense is horrendous due to poor quarterback play, and he might be dealing with all of this on a painful foot. Harris wasn't fast to begin with, so any hindrance in his foot is a problem. With that said, the Steelers are desperate and have no choice but to feed him as heavily as they can, and the Browns run defense is not good. If the Steelers show up to play it would almost necessarily involve Harris posting numbers sufficient to lead to points scored by the Pittsburgh offense, because Trubisky kills the passing game and Harris is the only good player in the Steelers backfield. No offense intended to Jaylen Warren ($3200 DK, $7000 FD), who is the clear backup to Harris, but Warren isn't the sort of talent to raise a tide himself, and the tide is low. Benny Snell ($2200 DK, $6500 FD) has only played special teams to this point but probably is no worse than Warren if he gets another shot. Derek Watt ($1000 DK, $5000 FD) is hanging around at fullback but has just one carry on seven snaps through two games.

WIDE RECEIVERS + TIGHT ENDS

Amari Cooper ($9400 DK, $12500 FD) torched the Jets in Week 2, instilling hope after a dreary Week 1. After turning 10 targets into nine receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown – an impressive feat given the quarterback – Cooper will get a more physical test in this game. There's no doubt, however, that the Steelers corners categorically cannot cover him if Brissett has time to set up comfortably in the pocket. That last condition is more easily met at the moment given the absence of T.J. Watt. Donovan Peoples-Jones ($5400 DK, $8500 FD) had to take a back seat to subsidize Cooper's production in Week 2, so he saw just one target against the Jets after drawing 11 the week prior. Peoples-Jones is clearly running ahead of Co-WR3s David Bell ($1400 DK, $6000 FD) and Anthony Schwartz ($2800 DK, $5000 FD), so the latter two might be big-play or touchdown-dependent to produce in the likely absence of volume. Demetric Felton ($400 DK, $5500 FD) should be the Browns punt returner, if you'd like to pair him with the Browns DST. David Njoku ($5200 DK, $7500 FD) and Harrison Bryant ($4600 DK, $8000 FD) are both better candidates to draw targets than Bell or Schwartz, with Njoku playing more snaps but Bryant drawing much more usage per-snap than Njoku. It's about time the Browns dialed up something for Njoku for once – perhaps Cooper breakout Week 2 might set that stage.

Diontae Johnson ($9200 DK, $12000 FD) faces a challenging duo of corners who match his traits well – Greg Newsome and Denzel Ward. Johnson can beat them and probably anyone else, but can the quarterback do his part to make the play? Getting double-digit targets helps, and Johnson has at least six catches in both games this year, not to mention 14 catches in two games against Cleveland last year. Chase Claypool ($6200 DK, $10000 FD) has a better trait counter to Newsome and especially Ward, who are more speedy than physical. Claypool had extreme height/weight/speed advantages over the last two corners he saw – the tinyish Mike Hilton and Myles Bryant – and yet Trubisky could do nothing with it. Claypool's matchups don't matter in this offense – he seems dependent on fluke for production as long as the quarterback plays like he has. George Pickens ($4800 DK, $7500 FD) has been doomed similarly to Claypool, but if the Browns match up corners by assignment then Pickens could be the one with the easiest matchup. Rookie Martin Emerson might be promising, but he had a rough time against the Jets and Pickens would probably have done damage against Emerson in a college setting. If Trubisky can hit the broad side of a barn then Pickens might have the opportunity to get going here. With all of that noted about Claypool and Pickens, Pat Freiermuth ($7000 DK, $10500 FD) has thus far been the real WR2 of the Steelers offense. Freiermuth is the real deal and Trubisky will always be drawn toward a safer target when available, which Freiermuth often is (17 targets on 101 snaps in 2022). Backup tight end Zach Gentry ($3000 DK, $5000 FD) usually plays about 20 snaps per game behind Freiermuth, while to this point Gunner Olszewski ($800 DK, $5500 FD) has been the main fouth receiver, though with less than 10 snaps in each game. Olszewski might have his role reevaluated after losing a costly fumble on special teams in Week 2, especially since he can't play receiver at all. Steven Sims ($200 DK, $5000 FD) is better if the Steelers choose to activate him, but so far they haven't. Conner Heyward ($200 DK, $5000 FD) and Miles Boykin ($200 DK, $5000 FD) are candidates to play fewer than 10 snaps if active.

KICKERS

While Chris Boswell ($4000 DK, $9500 FD) is the time-tested veteran and greater brand name, the rookie Cade York ($4200 DK, $8500 FD) projects at least as well in this matchup, and arguably better. Field goals are a fluky stat, though, and the Pittsburgh offense can stall out in the red zone probably as well as any, so Boswell could be busy even if the Steelers offense struggles. York, by some contrast, could be busy in the same respective scenario but with the upside of a scenario where the Browns move into scoring range regularly. It's difficult to imagine a scenario where the Steelers regularly enter scoring range, so Boswell might need a little luck to see the same level of opportunity that York might.

DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS

While the Pittsburgh defense is a little pricier on DraftKings, the Browns ($3800 DK, $9000 FD) defense probably projects better in this game. If Cleveland disappoints on defense it could have something to do with the absence of Jadeveon Clowney, but the Steelers offense has been even worse than expected through two weeks, and the short week doesn't figure to make Mitch Trubisky any better. Particularly if the Browns offense keeps it together and puts up some points, Trubisky could fall apart in a hurry. Neither the Bengals nor Patriots truly forced him to air it out.

While players like Minkah Fitzpatrick and Cam Heyward are still dangerous, the Steelers ($4400 DK, $9000 FD) are much less intimidating on defense without T.J. Watt. The Pittsburgh run defense really struggled in 2021 and didn't improve on that personnel in the offseason, meaning they might struggle to contain the Browns run game and when the Browns pass it might be both low frequency and in favorable setups, which if so would deprive the Steelers of turnover opportunities. With that said, Brissett can struggle badly when he's playing outside of easy mode, and if the Steelers somehow do contain the run then Brissett might make some turnover-worthy plays.

The author(s) of this article may play in daily fantasy contests including – but not limited to – games that they have provided recommendations or advice on in this article. In the course of playing in these games using their personal accounts, it's possible that they will use players in their lineups or other strategies that differ from the recommendations they have provided above. The recommendations in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of RotoWire. Mario Puig plays in daily fantasy contests using the following accounts: DraftKings: rotwireyasiel, FanDuel: rotowireyasiel, FantasyDraft: rwyasiel, DRAFT: rwyasiel.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mario Puig
Mario is a Senior Writer at RotoWire who primarily writes and projects for the NFL and college football sections.
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