Sunday, November 25, 2012

Week Twelve: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns Preview

Raise your hand if you thought that in the 2012 season, we would see Charlie Batch throwing passes to Plaxico Burress. Now put your hand down because you are a terrible liar. Injuries, injuries, and more injuries have left the Steelers desperate enough to call one of their former first round picks from over a decade ago. They are also left starting a quarterback who seems like the players viewed more as a coach than a teammate. All of this isn't necessarily bad though. Batch has a good history as a Steeler against the Cleveland Browns. And as much as people want to say that they Browns are better than their record, they still only have two wins. That doesn't mean they should be taken lightly. It just means that we need to be realistic.

Steelers Offense vs. Browns Defense: The Browns have some talent on defense. They just don't have a lot of talent in certain spots. They have a defensive line that can get after the quarterback with guys like Jabaal Sheard who Steeler fans are familiar with from his time at Pitt. The problem with their line is that it doesn't have an identity. When they are committed to stopping the run, they can do it. When they are committed to getting after the quarterback, they can do it. They just haven't been very good at doing both in the same game. In this game, you can bet that they are going to sell out to stop the run and make Batch beat them with his arm.

The Steelers offensive effectiveness is going to depend largely on who's beat up group on the outside is better. Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders will be starting at wide receiver and then after that, you're relying on Burress or guys ripped from the practice squad. The positive is that they will be facing a beat up secondary. Joe Haden, by far their best corner, is likely going to play but he's been battling an injury. And he isn't going to have much help. Dimitri Patterson and Buster Skrine are both going to be missing from the secondary with their injuries. On this side of the ball, it's going to look a lot like a preseason game.

Even though the Browns are going to want Batch to beat them, it's not going to stop Haley from trying to establish the run seeing as that's where the Steelers are the healthiest. Which is kind of funny seeing as up until this point, it has been the running back having to deal with the most injuries. The best way for the running game to be effective is to ride the hot hand. Just because Rashard Mendenhall is a first round pick and possibly the most talented back on the roster does not mean that you need to force feed him. Jonathan Dwyer has been the most effective back this entire season. He was the most effective back against Baltimore last week. He runs hard. He runs straight. He is going to have the best chance of loosening up the eight man fronts that the Steelers are going to see from the Browns.

Steelers Defense vs. Browns Offense: The times where Cleveland has the ball is when we're actually going to see starters play football. Both sides are relatively healthy outside of the guys on the Steelers side that have had injury problems all season. The Steelers are going to take the same strategy as the Browns are when it comes to defense. It's going to all about stopping the run even though the Browns have shown all year that they aren't afraid to put games in the hands of their rookie quarterback.

Stopping the passing game really shouldn't be much of a problem. Outside of the first few weeks of the season, shutting down teams in the air is what the Steelers have done. And they have done it against much more talented receiving corps than that of the Browns. Josh Gordon is their leading receiver to this point of the season and he has barely cracked the 400 yard mark. Ike Taylor should have no problem taking care of business against him.

Putting eight men in the box may be exactly what is needed to stop the run game. Trent Richardson has been fantastic in his rookie campaign. And it's no secret that the Steelers, in certain situations, have struggled to stop the run. The problem has been compounded when teams commit to running the ball to the side that Ziggy Hood occupies. Filling gaps on the inside and sealing the edge on the outside is going to be the biggest job for the linebackers as long as the game remains close.

Prediction: There are a ton of injuries on offense. The Steelers have struggled against bad teams all season. But if you really expect me to say that the Steelers are going to lose against a two win Browns team, you're smoking. The game may be closer than I want it to be but it will be a win. Steelers 21, Browns 17.

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