2022 NFL season, Week 3: What We Learned from Browns' win over Steelers on Thursday

  1. Amari Cooper paying off early. Think the Dallas Cowboys might be regretting the Cooper trade? In what amounted to a salary dump, the Browns picked up a potential game-changer. Through three games, he's been as good as expected. After a quiet opener, Cooper had a big Week 2 game that largely was forgotten when the Browns blew a two-score lead late (and Cooper admitted he was partly at fault in that loss). But in Week 3, Cooper was mainly excellent, turning in his second-straight 100-yard game and got the Browns in business Thursday with an 11-yard score. When Ahkello Witherspoon -- arguably the Steelers' best corner -- went down in the third quarter due to injury, the Browns immediately ran a vertical route for Cooper and he delivered with a 32-yard catch that led to an important touchdown that put the game away. Even with a fourth-quarter drop on a Jacoby Brissett bullet, Cooper has proven his worth in the early going.
  2. Heat rising for Trubisky. Everyone knew this was a big game for Mitchell Trubisky. And he started out pretty hot, completing eight of his first nine passes -- with a big assist from George Pickens -- and a rushing touchdown, leading the Steelers to a 14-13 halftime edge. He mostly attacked the sidelines and avoided the middle of the field, true to his scouting report. The Browns couldn't stop it at first, but the Browns made necessary second-half adjustments and forced Trubisky to look more inside. It didn't go well. The Steelers opened with back-to-back three-and-outs, and the Browns turned a one-point deficit into a 23-14 lead. The Steelers made it three straight three-and-outs before Trubisky led the team on a late field-goal drive. To be fair, not everything was Trubisky's fault. While the Steelers threw the kitchen sink at Myles Garrett, the Browns' star pass rusher eventually broke through in the second half. The receivers were guilty of a few third-quarter drops, and offensive coordinator Matt Canada abandoned the run game after a certain point, too. But it's hard not to wonder, with a semi-bye this week, whether the Steelers will start mulling a switch to rookie Kenny Pickett, even though Mike Tomlin shot that idea down quickly after the game.
  3. Run-defense leaks not yet plugged. The Steelers run defense couldn't get a stop when it needed one (or two or three) against the Patriots last week. Thursday night was more of the same. The Browns pummeled away at the Steelers' front and stressed the back seven with several second-level runs. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are as good a duo as there is in the NFL, and the Browns have a gnarly offensive line. But this kind of dominance won't go over well with a Mike Tomlin-coached team. This is not just an absent-T.J. Watt problem -- and it's not as if this issue just arose from thin air. Last season's run defense was borderline ugly; through three 2022 games, it's merely frustrating as heck. They made several personnel changes, changed coordinators (from Keith Butler to Teryl Austin) and added Brian Flores to the coaching staff. So far, the changes have not taken. Cleveland finished the game with 171 yards rushing on 38 carries for a 4.5-yard average. With several multi-faceted offenses coming up on the schedule, the Steelers have a glaring issue to fix on defense.
  4. No joke: Njoku shines in prime time. David Njoku tied a career-high for catches in a game before the first half's two-minute warning -- and he'd pass his personal best midway through the third quarter. When the Browns signed Njoku to a four-year, $56.75 million deal in May, more than a few eyebrows were raised. He's had some big moments and flash plays but rarely took over games. We can't say Njoku did that exactly on Thursday, but this is the kind of performance he should turn in two or three times a season. He finished with nine catches for 89 yards (the second-highest game total in his career) and a big early score. Njoku dropped a slightly high pass inside the Steelers' 5-yard line late in the third quarter, and the Browns settled for a field goal in a tight game. But that was about the only complaint about his performance against the a Steelers team that had pretty much put a lid on him previously in his career.
  5. Banged-up Browns defense turns in gutsy effort. Coming off the loss to the Jets, the Browns' young, talented defense faced some heat this week. Understandably, too. But Thursday night was a positive step in the right direction -- and a step backward in another area. The Steelers had some juice early, but the Browns' defense finished the game strong, allowing only one conversion on nine third downs. Even more impressive? They did it without several key performers on that side of the ball. Cleveland was already without Jadeveon Clowney and Chase Winovich, who were ruled out earlier in the week. But during the game, three more key defenders went down with injuries: Linebackers Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (quad) and Anthony Walker (knee), and safety Ronnie Harrison (hamstring). All the injuries left the Browns extremely short-handed, and it's fair to wonder if all the missing personnel led to communication errors -- hence the three (!) too-many-men-on-the-field penalties. But overall, this was a gutsy effort by a thinned-out unit that badly needed this performance.

Next Gen stat of the game: On Nick Chubb's 1-yard touchdown on fourth down, the Browns had seven offensive linemen on the field. That was the first time in the 2022 NFL season that any team used more than six on any offensive play.

NFL Research: Amari Cooper had back-to-back 100-yard games for the first time since 2016 with the Raiders. The last Browns wide receiver to achieve that before Cooper on Thursday was Josh Gordon, who had four straight 100-yard games in 2013.

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