Five burning questions for Steelers-Browns on ‘TNF’

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Week 11 around the NFL world is going to start out with a bang in Cleveland. The three-win Browns will host a red-hot Pittsburgh Steelers team in an important AFC North clash.

A loss by Cleveland here would pretty much eliminate the team from playoff contention, furthering the possibility that Freddie Kitchens will be one-and-done as head coach. A victory would give Cleveland a two-game winning streak with the easiest remaining schedule in the NFL.

On the other side, Pittsburgh has won five of six since losing three consecutive to open the season. Can the Steelers remain relevant in the AFC Playoff race?

Whether you are watching this game on Amazon Prime or Fox, there’s a ton of burning questions to pay attention to for this mid-week game. Here’s some of the biggest.

Can James Conner finally get it going?

It’s pretty astonishing that Pittsburgh won both games Conner sat out due to a shoulder injury. That span saw the team put up a combined 132 rushing yards. Over the course of the remainder of the season, this just isn’t going to cut it.

For his part, the third-year back has regressed big time this season. Conner is averaging less than four yards per rush and is on pace for only 760 yards on the ground.

There’s certainly some good news on this front. Conner put up a season-high 145 rushing yards in his last outing against the Miami Dolphins. He’s also taking on a Browns defense that ranks in the bottom six of the NFL stopping the run.

Will Baker Mayfield avoid the turnover bug?

It’s rather simple. If Mayfield and the Browns’ offense can play a clean game Thursday night, they’ll come away with a huge home win. The issue here is that this has been far from the case thus far during the 2019 season.

Mayfield himself has turned the ball over in all but two of Cleveland’s nine games this season. The good news? He’s avoided the turnover bug over Cleveland’s past two outings.

The bad news? Led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Steelers have forced a whopping 26 turnovers this season. Can Cleveland keep it clean Thursday night? That’s one of the biggest questions heading in.

Can Minkah Fitzpatrick keep it up?

What we’ve seen from this former first-round pick since Pittsburgh acquired him earlier in the season has been nothing short of amazing. Last week alone, Fitzpatrick forced two turnovers. That included a fumble-six and an interception to seal a huge win over the Los Angeles Rams.

All said, Fitzpatrick has recorded eight passes defended, five interceptions, two touchdowns and a force fumble in seven games with Pittsburgh. As noted, those are Defensive Player of the Year numbers.

Now set to take on a quarterback in Baker Mayfield who has the most interceptions in the NFL since taking over as Cleveland’s starter last season, the expectation has to be that Fitzpatrick will continue his dominating performance.

Will Odell Beckham Jr. finally get going?

There’s nothing really concrete out there suggesting that Beckham’s days with the Browns are numbered. Rather, it’s rumors based on his struggles this season and the sense that OBJ could be better used elsewhere.

After all, it’s been a major struggle for one of the game’s most-talented receivers. Beckahm Jr. is catching less than 56% of his targets and has scored one touchdown through nine games.

In order for Cleveland to start a winning streak Thursday evening, both Beckham and Mayfield must step up. It’s not going to be an easy task against a Steelers pass defense that’s allowed 15 touchdowns compared to 14 interceptions on the season.

How will the trends go?

Cleveland has not won against Pittsburgh since back in October of 2014. That’s a span of eight games. In fact, the long-downtrodden Browns are 6-35-1 against the Steelers in their past 42 outings.

It’s rather obvious that the Browns have attempted to turn the corner since a magical late season run in 2018. Some of that has been quieted due to struggles this season. But with a win over a red-hot Steelers team on national television, the proverbial monkey will finally be off their back