Red Sox and Yankees. Austin and McMahon. Celtics and Lakers. Lindsay Lohan and sobriety. There’s nothing like a battle between mortal enemies..
In the city of Pittsburgh, there is no more natural rival than the Cleveland Browns. When the Browns moved to Baltimore many years ago, Iron City Beer even issued a commemorative can saluting “The Rivalry 1950-1995” That’s some serious hatred when you dislike somebody so much you’ll actually miss hating them.
Unfortunately, since the Browns were resurrected in 1999, The Rivalry hasn’t been what it once was because the Brownies, well, they’ve sucked. Beating them has given us all the joy of beating Corky from “Life Goes On” in a game of Scrabble.
How quickly things change in the ever wacky NFL. Cleveland actually has a pretty good team this year. Once might even argue they’re the hottest team in the AFC not illegally videotaping their opponents. They’re an up-and-coming team which is currently only one game behind us in the standings. This game might very well decide the AFC North.
Steelers Defense vs. Browns Offense
The Browns have suffered from massive suckage in seasons past because of four issues:
1. Poor QBing
2. Bad O-Line play
3. Oft-injured sissy-boys
4. Drafts which make Mel Kiper weep
Tim Couch played about as well as an unmade bed. Charlie Frye was supposed to be the savior but was a false prophet. Enter Derek Anderson.
Anderson finally gives them the steady passer they’ve been searching for. He’s smart, calm, can make all the throws, and doesn’t make the soul-crushing mistakes of his predecessors. Anderson is being helped by an O-line which is playing very solidly, led by first round pick Joe Thomas and former Steeler (by way of the Eagles) Hank Fraley.
As an aside, this brings me to a point about the Browns; while Joe Thomas is shaping up to be an excellent pick, they could’ve drafted Adrian Peterson instead. Imagine a Browns offense with Quinn, Peterson, Edwards, and Winslow, Jr. Instead, they have broken down Jamal Lewis. In the past 20 years, the Browns have only had one running back run for over 1,000 yards (Ruben Droughns). Droughns was replaced by Jamal Lewis who is so far, far, far past his prime, it’s like replacing Filet Mignon with Chipped Ham.
The Browns offense has gelled with the quarterback, line, and playmakers Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow. Edwards is fast becoming one of the elite receivers in the game. Winslow has overcome the injury problems which plagued him to be a top TE. In fact, Winslow’s career turnaround seemingly began around the time Joey Porter questioned his sexual orientation in some pre-game trash talking. Now, far be it for me to engage in such juvenile antics but it did lead to one of the all-time great Porter quotes after being fined for the slurs: “I didn’t mean to offend nobody but Kellen Winslow.”
Aaron Smith is supposed to be back this week but since the Browns don’t have much of a running threat, I don’t see run defense being an issue. Troy Polamalu, perhaps reading our posts, gave the entire blogosphere the figurative finger by playing his best game of the season last week. He’ll have to be on this week because defensively, the pressure will be on the secondary. Ike Taylor has to cover Edwards and either Anthony Smith or Troy will be matched up with Winslow. The secondary has to play big for the Steelers to be in this game. Of course, I’d like James Harrison to do his one-man army act again but I’ll settle for just enough pressure to make Anderson hurry his throws.
Steelers Offense vs. Browns Defense
Outside of offensive categories, the Browns are abysmal in all the other rankings. The Browns are one of only six teams playing the 3-4 as their base defense (New England, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, San Diego, and Dallas). They have some young talent in CB Leigh Bodden, S Sean Jones, and LB Kamerion Wimbley but they’re all still developing their skills. Unfortunately, the heart of the 3-4 is the linebackers and the Browns rely on rickety old Willie McGinest to bring the heat. This has resulted in a hellacious pass rush which has generated all of 7 sacks and is allowing on average close to 300 passing yards per game.
Which I’m sure is music to Ben Roethlisberger’s ass. That’s where he ended up when he suffered that “contusion” (NFLspeak for “big ‘ol bruise”) in the third quarter of the Ravens game. Big Ben has been under siege this year and only his amazing ability to avoid sacks by being Too Big To Tackle™ has saved us from one disaster after the other. Ben obviously likes his arms like he likes his drinks, very very stiff. I’ve never seen a QB shrug off, straight arm, and swat away so many would-be tacklers. I don’t know how badly his leg is hurting but it would be nice if our line could keep his uniform clean for once.
Despite Willie Parker having a great year rushing the ball, our O-line hasn’t really played that well. Obviously teams stack the box and concentrate on stopping the run against us but that’s never prevented us from cramming it down their throats before. A key to this game will be if we’re able to get our running game going early because the best thing the Steelers can do is grind out drives and keep the Cleveland offense on the bench. If we get into a 1998 SNES John Madden Football-like scoring contest, it could be a long day for the boys in Black and Gold.