Game of the Week: Steelers at Browns
Sure, Cleveland was held sackless. Also: They allowed 167 rushing yards, including a completely effortless 11-yard score by rookie
Fine. But there were two spirited series early in the second quarter, when Cleveland was still in it and needed a stop desperately, and those downs have to provide a glimmer of hope if you're a Browns fan.
The first drive came at the opening of the second half with Cleveland trailing 21-7. First play: Cleveland swarms on
The following series offered less consistency, but still demonstrates how vicious Cleveland's pass rush potentially can be. On second down at the Dallas 30 Cleveland got a nice rush from
A proper analysis of Browns-Cowboys might have put the blame more squarely on Cleveland's defensive backfield, which certainly could have bought Rogers and Co. a little more time. If that doesn't happen this week the Browns have got their work cut out for them because they're facing a Pittsburgh line that is: a.) seemingly improved from '07, if their romping of Houston was any indication; and b.) comparable to Dallas's in size. Dallas's linemen average 324 pounds; Pittsburgh's run about 321, and they don't have the same reputation for wearing down late in games that Dallas's do. They also have a center,
In short, no, Cleveland's defensive front is not that bad. Remember who they played in Week 1. But they will need to show more consistency and work much faster on Sunday. If they can bully
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh is the type of team that knows when to step on an opponent's throat. There were only three occasions during all of last season in which Pittsburgh surrendered a lead of any kind. (At least one of those, a squandered 3-0 lead against the 16-0 Patriots, can be forgiven.) Then they opened '08 by dropping 21 unanswered on the Texans. When Houston finally managed a field goal, Pittsburgh drew a line at their opponents' 48-yard line and kept them from passing it on the next three possessions. Meanwhile, the offense laid on 14 more points while practicing smart ball-control offense, including seven straight runs to open the second half.
As a Browns fan, you have to wince at hearing that. On your sideline, you've got guys like
News flash, Cleveland: If you fall behind Pittsburgh early on, then 0-2 is a near-lock, and only three teams have come back from 0-2 to make the playoffs in the past five years.
...Of course, one of those was the '08 Super Bowl Giants, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Roethlisberger averaged 10.5 yards per completion (down from a career 12.9) in dissecting Houston, and he only threw one incompletion. His longest pass went 29 yards and nothing else went more than 17. He took what the Texans gave him, thus limiting their sack opportunities at the same time.
A similar approach might be smart against Cleveland, whose exploitable corners tended to play far off the line of scrimmage against Dallas. If Roethlisberger keeps it short,
When they do get inside the 20s, presumably Pittsburgh will look to
Cleveland, meanwhile, let Dallas score last week on three short runs, stood pat with a meaningless interception late, and watched Romo kneel out the clock on their 13. If Cleveland finds itself backed up against its own goal line this week, they'd be smart to get the plodding Rogers off the field in exchange for some faster personnel. All three of Parker's running scores last week were kicked to the outside.
But it's still the stinkers that stand out. For example, each team has handed the other its all-time greatest defeat. Cleveland has had periods where they've won 16 of 18 and 11 of 12. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh has gone 12 of 14 before. And we're smack in the middle of one of those lopsided runs at the moment. The Steelers have currently won 19 of 22 by 251 points combined. Think
"Well, he's a year down the road, but when we played him, he was very good. He had gone in having only been sacked [a few] times, they did a good job protecting him, and he did a very good job with the short passing game. He had a good enough arm to get the seven-cuts and the daggers in there, that kind of thing. It appeared that he managed the team very well and played with a lot of poise. We thought he was very, very capable."
On whether there are any obvious areas where he can be exposed: "I don't think so other than that we couldn't get any pressure on him. I don't know how he is under heavy pressure. But they do a very good job of protecting him."
...And we still don't know how Anderson is under pressure. In '07 he was sacked just 14 times, which was a league low among starters, much credit being owed to rookie left tackle
The Cowboys didn't do much to find out last week. They only got to Anderson once -- and he had, statistically, one of the worst games of his career, no thanks to Edwards, who dropped two easy balls, including a beautiful pass that had touchdown written all over it.
The Steelers seemingly have as good a chance of anybody to test Anderson's mettle this week, having accumulated 11 sacks over their last three games. But that's where the poise our scout saw comes in. Expect Anderson to sweat it out in the pocket and air a few balls to Edwards, who's a relatively safe bet in any jump ball situation. Browns fans just have to hope he holds on to the ball this week. He lead the league with 12 dropped balls in '07 and he's already off to a poor start in '08.
The Browns' offense will set the pace. If Edwards and Kellen Winslow can combine for at least 12 catches, and if Jamal Lewis can get at least 25 carries, then the defense should be afforded some breathing room, which is key when Rogers anchors your line. Also, they'll need to avoid mistakes against an opportunistic Pittsburgh team that started, on average, at the Houston 45-yard line on scoring drives last week. If all of that happens, the Browns eke it out. If not, then the