The Steelers Week 11 injury report could give the offense a boost. Mike Tomlin said he's hopeful James Conner (shoulder) and Ramon Foster (concussion) will be available for Thursday against the Browns. Both have missed the last two weeks.
Pittsburgh mixed up their offensive line against the Rams as they prepared for Aaron Donald. Matt Feiler moved to left guard and Chuks Okorafor started at right tackle. Tomlin says, how their offensive line looks will depend on who's available by Thursday. If Foster is back in the starting lineup, chances are they return to their normal five.
Outside of Conner and Foster, Ryan Switzer (back), Benny Snell Jr. (knee), Anthony Chickillo (ribs), Ola Adeniyi (hip) all suffered injuries in Week 10. Tomlin said with the short week, it's uncertain what their availability will be like in Cleveland.
A major competent to the Steelers' injury list and readiness comes with the short week. Pittsburgh will practice once before heading to Cleveland to take on the Browns for Week 11. The shortness of the week means they'll need to adjust everything to prepare for the Browns and overcome whatever obstacles they need to before Thursday.
"The shortness of the week is just an element of it," Tomlin said. "The health of the unit is probably a bigger variable because you don't get a lot of information in terms of people working themselves to readiness. Practice settings, you don't get an opportunity to let things play out in the way that they usually play out on Fridays and Saturdays in terms of the availability things. Time provides clarity, you just don't have it. You have to make quick decisions, especially from a planning standpoint, we're making decisions today that we usually make on a Tuesday afternoon in the evening, at night, so that 24 hour period in terms of knowledge and who's available, and potentially who's available and to what degree they're available is a big component to planning."
Mason Rudolph heads into his first Thursday night game of his career. The second-year quarterback hasn't seen a week with such limited time to prepare, but Tomlin says it's something that comes with the learning curve. Rudolph has seen a number of things he never has before and needed to overcome all of them, much like he'll do in Week 11.
"I'm sure there's challenges every time he faces something he's never done before, but not anything that's going to change how we approach how it is what we're doing or create addition angst," Tomlin said. "It's just when you're working with a guy who lacks experience, every time you get into a new setting or a new environment or new set of circumstances, it's going to be the first time for him."
The Steelers take their four-game winning streak to Cleveland on a short week. Thursday night, they take on the 3-6 Browns in a game both teams are in need of winning.
It's always an exciting matchup when two AFC North teams battle it out. Pittsburgh is no stranger to winning against the Browns, but Baker Mayfield pushed the limits with a tie in Week 1 of 2018.
This season, Mike Tomlin knows what to expect, and he's looking forward to a tough matchup with a highly-talent Cleveland team.
"We're excited about being a part of this rivalry," Tomlin said. "We understand the environment that we're going into. We understand how important this game is to them and to us. It's just AFC North football. Got a lot of respect for those guys, they have a lot of talent in all areas."
On the offensive end, Tomlin highlighted the Browns newly acquired and activated running back, Kareem Hunt. Hunt played his first game of the season against the Buffalo Bills after serving a suspension for violating the NFL's domestic violence policy.
"With the recent use of Hunt, the backfield tandem with him and Nick Chubb, is going to be a big challenge and I think you were talking about their offense, we better start there," Tomlin explained. "Chubbs almost has 1,000 yards on the season. If you don't slow him down, there's no need to talk about the wide receiver tandem and the things that you need do to minimize their impact on a game. All you have to do is watch the Baltimore tape to have an understand of that.
We need to minimize their running game and what that guy brings and what Hunt potentially brings, and not only those guys individually but increasingly so as of late, their use of both of them. Looking at the Buffalo tape, and the both of those guys employed in the game at the same time, it's particular challenging and I'd imagine as Hunt is more available to them, he's just going to continue to grow."
Cleveland also has a new wide receiving core the Steelers haven't seen before. Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry may not be seeing the production they'd like to this season, but they're still one of the best duos in football. Tomlin and the Steelers are aware of this and are looking to bring the same success they had against Cooper Kupp to the Browns showdown.
"Landry and Beckham, from a talent standpoint there's no tandem that approaches those guys," Tomlin said. "They're impactful, both guys are the type of guys that merit the attention that we gave to Cooper Kupp last week. But shoot, if you can't do that for both guys and work to minimize Nick Chubb and the run game and so forth. We've got pick or poison for sure, tough decisions to make not only just globally but also in game and situationally in terms of the way we do things to minimize their many weapons."
Cleveland's defense is also a concern for the Steelers. Like the Rams and Donald, the Browns front seven is highlighted by one of the best defensive ends in the NFL. Myles Garrett has 10 sacks and 11 tackles for loss this season, and he was the first name Tomlin addressed on Tuesday.
"They've got talent at every level," Tomlin said. "Obviously, Myles Garrett is where you start. Top draft pick and 10 sack man, they move him around up front. We've got to do a great job of not only protecting but we've also got to do a really good job of making quick decisions and getting the ball out on rhythm."
Tomlin's concerns don't stop at the front seven, though. He continued to discussing the cornerbacks and how their young, versatile group only compliment the power they have up front.
"That's complicated because they've got some really good guys on the backend," Tomlin said. "Guys like [Denzel] Ward and Greedy Williams are first round players and first round talents and obviously graded as such. They're capable of steering really close, they're great in man-to-man coverage."