The Steelers are now back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, facing down a long regular season that looks a lot more promising given how things have gone leading up to it. Finishing just above .500 last year, they anticipate being able to compete with any team in the league this season with second-year QB Kenny Pickett leading the way.
They’ve done a great deal to address what they identified as their shortcomings during the offseason, which included addressing the offensive and defensive lines as well as the secondary and the inside linebacker room, which is nearly entirely different from last year. The results have been positive so far.
Even well into the regular season and beyond, there are going to be plenty of questions that need to be answered. When will the core rookies get to play, or even start? Is the depth sufficient where they upgraded? Can they stand toe-to-toe with the Bengals and the other top teams in the league? We’ll try to frame the conversation in relevant ways as long as you stick with us throughout the season, as we have for many years.
Question: Who has the most cause for concern: the Browns’ QBs or the Steelers’ DBs?
While much has been made of the health status of the AFC North’s quarterbacks, the Browns may be better positioned to withstand an injury at that position than most. They have a defense playing at an elite level more often than not, and a running game that has found success without Nick Chubb.
The Steelers’ secondary, on the other hand, was already an issue before the injuries. With both Minkah Fitzpatrick and Keanu Neal out, they will be starting a former undrafted free agent who is dressing for a game for just the third time in his career in Trenton Thompson.
Cleveland is going to start rookie QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson for this game, who lost his only start earlier this year. Overall, he threw 20-for-37 for 130 yards with zero touchdowns and three interceptions, so needless to say, there was a lot of room for improvement.
The Browns were trounced in that one, 28-3, by the Baltimore Ravens, but that was nearly a month and a half ago, and he did seem to be much better in the preseason. Then again, the Steelers’ Kenny Pickett looked much better in the preseason, too.
Everyone in the AFC North is worse for wear at this point in the season, perhaps more than usual. Even the Baltimore Ravens lost TE Mark Andrews for the remainder of the season. The Steelers don’t have any inside linebackers that they want to leave on the field for more than half the snaps.
And of course, we’re talking about the state of the secondary in this article. The cornerbacks are healthy, but Fitzpatrick missing a third straight game will be tough, especially down Neal as well. Two positions—linebacker and safety—at which they thought they were sufficiently insulated for depth, now relying upon practice squad players to start today. Will they be enough to handle Thompson-Robinson?